Mamallapuram, earlier known as Mahabalipuram, is an ancient coastal town about 60 km off Chennai along the Coromandel coast. Mahabalipuram is famous for its group of monuments and features in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. The monuments were built during the Pallava dynasty around the 7th and 8th century. The Europeans travelers in their accounts have mentioned Mahabalipuram as the “Seven Pagodas” presumably alluding to the magnificent shore temples which once lined the coast of Mahabalipuram. Today Mamallapuram is a prominent weekend getaway near Chennai and thousands of tourists visit the town everyday to cherish the history and architecture associated with these monuments.
I visited Mamallapuram during my second visit to Chennai. It takes little more that an hour to reach Mahabalipuram from Ramapuram (in Chennai).
Here are some pics of the day:
There are caves dedicated to various Hindu gods. The most prominent of all being the Varaha cave. There are sculptures of lord Varha and lord Tribikrama etched on the inner walls of this cave.
Next is this open pavilion mantapa which was presumably used for various cultural and religious ceremonies.
Then I came across a large rock known as the “Krishna’s butter ball” hinged on a steep surface. There have been many futile attempts to tip over this rock. This rock is one of the top things to see in Mahabalipuram. However, I expected it to be much larger or on a much steeper surface and was little disappointed on seeing this. I had already seen much larger rocks hinged on much more precarious positions so this was hardly anything exciting for me. Maybe the coastal people who were not familiar with the hills were awed by this made this place famous in the past.
Next, I came across the Penance of Arjuna or the Descent of the Ganges. It is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The carvings have different interpretations. Some believe that they depict the descent of the Ganga through the hairs of Lord Shiva after extreme austerities performed by sage Bhagiratha while others interpret the carvings as penance of the legendary warrior Arjuna prior to the mythical battle of Mahabharata. There are few other interpretations as well. Irrespective of the validity of either interpretation, the carvings are immaculate and a treat to watch.
I couldn’t perfectly capture it and this picture does great injustice to the artistry of the carvings which are at the least sublime.
One can see gods, goddesses, mythical figures of the Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene of descent of the Ganga.
It took around one and half hours to explore this place. Next, we went to the shore temple. The shore temple is the most iconic point in Mahabalipuram.
The shore temple was built in the 8th century during the regime of Narasimhavarman II, of the Pallava Dynasty and is one of the oldest monuments of south India. At the time of its construction, the site served as a busy port handling trade between the south Indian empires and countries like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma, etc. The temple is also mentioned in memoirs of popular European travelers like Marco Polo.
It is believed that the temple is the last among a series of temples, known as the “Seven Pagodas” by the Europeans. The others are believed to have been submerged under the sea, parts of which were uncovered during the 2004 tsunami which exposed the seabed. The temple has many stone sculptures and gives the impression of being a Shiva temple with sculptures of many miniature Nandi bulls in the premises. The architecture of the temple is different from the typical Dravidian architecture of the south Indian temples and resembles with the tiered roof structured temples of the south east Asian countries alluding to the close cultural ties between the regions in the past. The temple was accorded World Heritage site status by UNESCO in 1984. There are various smaller shrines in the premises. Do hire a guide who can explain you in details about the sculptures so that you can truly appreciate the legends associated with this magnificent monument.
By the time we competed exploring the shore temple, the scorching heat of Tamil Nadu had already started taking its toll on us. We drove to famous Moonrakers restaurant. Its a small, open balcony restaurant and is renowned for its seafood. We had a nice, satiating lunch there; the food though a bit costly, lived up to the expectations. If you visit Mamallapuram, do check in at the Moonrakers.
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