Megalithic burial urns, cairn circles and jars with burials dating to the very dawn of the Christian era have been discovered near Mamallapuram. The Sangam age poem Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai relates the rule of King Thondaiman Ilam Thiraiyar at Kanchipuram of the Tondai Nadu port Nirppeyyaru which scholars identify with the present-day Mamallapuram. Chinese coins and Roman coins of Theodosius I in the 4th century CE have been found at Mamallapuram revealing the port as an active hub of global trade in the late classical period. Two Pallava coins bearing legends read as Srihari and Srinidhi have been found at Mamallapuram. The Pallava kings ruled Mamallapuram from Kanchipuram; the capital of the Pallava dynasty from the 3rd century to 9th century CE, and used the port to launch diplomatic missions to Ceylon and Southeast Asia.
All but one of the rathas from the first phase of Pallava architecture are modelled on the Buddhist viharas or monasteries and chaitya halls with several cells arranged around a courtyard. Art historian Percy Brown, in fact, traces the possible roots of the Pallava Mandapa to the similar rock-cut caves of Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. Referring to Narasimhavarman’s victory in AD 642 over the Chalukyan king Pulakesin II, Brown says the Pallava king may have brought the sculptors and artisans back to Kanchi and Mamallapuram as ‘spoils of war’.
Believed to be ‘the city of great wrestler’ (Mamallavan or Mahabali), Mahabalipuram literally means ‘city of the Great Bali’. Derived from Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram is a modern name given to the town. An 8th century Tamil text written by Thirumangai Alvar described this place as Kadal Mallai, (Sea Mountain) ‘where the ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking laden as they were with wealth, big trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps’. It is also known by several other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. Another name by which Mahabalipuram has been known to mariners, at least since Marco Polo’s time is “Seven Pagodas” alluding to the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram that stood on the shore, of which one, the Shore Temple, survives.
The temples of Mamallapuram, portraying events described in the Mahabharata, built largely during the reigns of Narasimhavarman and his successor Rajasimhavarman, showcase the movement from rock-cut architecture to structural building. The city of Mahabalipuram was largely developed by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I in the 7th century AD. The mandapa or pavilions and the rathas or shrines shaped as temple chariots are hewn from the granite rock face, while the famed Shore Temple, erected half a century later, is built from dressed stone. What makes Mamallapuram so culturally resonant are the influences it absorbs and disseminates. The Shore Temple includes many bas reliefs, including one 100 ft. long and 45 ft. high, carved out of granite.
The fact that different shrines were dedicated to different deities is evidence of an increased sectarianism at the time of their construction. A bas-relief on a sculpted cliff has an image of Shiva and a shrine dedicated to Vishnu, indicating the growing importance of these Sangam period deities and a weakening of the roles of Vedic gods such as Indra and Soma. The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British in 1827.
Day 01: Chennai – Mahabalipuram
After breakfast, drive to Mahabalipuram (approx 57 Kms / 1-2 hrs) enroute visit Kanchipuram-the ancient capital of the Pallava’s, famous as the city of 1000 Temples. Visit Shiva temple. Kanchipuram is also famous for its silks. In the afternoon drive to Mahabalipuram. Breathtakingly real and artistic impressions of beauty and harmony, Mahabalipuram attracts tourists, due to its monumental splendour and sunny beaches. The visit is a spiritual refresher, with many artistic and period style temple displays representing various dynasties. Upon arrival check-in at the hotel. Later visit to the famous seven pagodas.
Day 02: Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry
In the morning after breakfast you are driven by car to Pondicherry (approx 96 Kms / 2-3 hrs). Upon arrival check in at the hotel. Rest and refresh. Later you visit the Aurbindo Ashram. This ashram promotes Aurbindo’s ideas in bringing about a synthesis of Yoga and modern science, so as to unite the material and soul. Later go on for a visit to Auroville – a unique experiment in international living and in creating a new environment where men and women of all nationalities live together in harmony.