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Mahabalipuram

Shore Temple, Mamallapuram TravelsThe lovely location of sandy beaches of Mahabalipuram is from where story of southern Indian stone architecture begins. It attains the incredible heights in Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, and Madurai. All evidence suggests that Mahabalipuram was an ancient port. It grew to such stature and importance that by the seventh to eighth centuries the Pallava rulers of the region invested in large-scale temple construction. The great Pallava ruler Mamalla (c.630-68) gave his name to this historic place and it was called Mamallapuram (the city of Mamalla, which evolved into Mahabalipuram). Today the place is world famous for its rock carved shore temples.

Arjuna's Penance is an enormous relief (27 meters by 9 meters) sculpted on two huge boulders. Rainwater cascades down the rift, simulating the descent of the mighty river Ganga. The other depictions from mythology are of Bhagirath doing the tapas to request Ganga to descent the earth to wash away the sins of the dead. Shiva offering assistance in the cause.

Mandapams: Further south is a constructed open mandap, believed to have been added during the Vijayanager period, to protect a huge bas relief on the back wall. Here Krishna, the divine cowherd, shelters his cattle under Govardhana mountain (which he lifted with one finger) to protect from the storm sent down by the jealous Indra, the lord of the skies.

Up the hill one can see rock-cut Mandapams of Adivaraha and Mahishamardini.One depicts Vishnu as a gigantic boar and varaha rescuing the earth. In the other goddess astride her ferocious lion vahana is attacking a buffalo-headed demon called Mahisha.

Pancha Rathas (chariots) is rock-cut shrines are in honour of heroes of Mahabharata. There are appreciable sculptural examples in rock cutting.

Shore Temple is a structural temple built block by block. The temple has several shrines. Seated Nandis, lyingVishnu, etc.

Pandava Rathas, Mamallapuram ToursNorth-east of the Rathas and east of the great bas relief of the Descent of the Ganges is the Shore Temple. This is a structural temple, built block by block rather than cut out of stone as in the case of the Rathas. The temple was built so close to the shore that its entrance is from the back, i.e. the west. The shrine was possibly built during the reign of the Pallava ruler Rajasimha (the king lion), which is possibly why it (and all Pallava architecture) have a profusion of rampant lions rearing their smiling heads from the base of the pillars. The temple has a compound wall with a charming line of seated Nandis, for this is a monument to Shiva. The temple actually has several shrines. The first has a figure of the lying Vishnu in the garbha griha. The east (the correct direction) to the garbha griha and its linga that looks out on to the rising sun each morning.

There are several local legends about six other temples (pagodas), and indeed about the entire city of Mamallapuram, which was said to have been consumed by the waves leaving treasures and beautiful temples at the bottom of the sea. But this seems unlikely; especially since the architects went to such pains to build the Shore Temple at the water's edge and worked the sanctum plans around it to suit the location.

The tower of the Shore Temple breaks free from its bondage with the Pancha Rathas and soars into the sky, its pyramidal shape no longer fat and dumpy, but elongated and elegant: a perfect blend of the parts and the whole. The next step in the evolution of temple architecture is to be found in the beautiful, very special Kailashnatha Temple at Kanchipuram, built by the Pallavas in their holy capital, and it is here that every experiment worked out at Mahabalipuram finds fruition.


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