Mahabalipuram, is a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, around 60 km south of the city of Chennai. Mahabalipuram was the earlier name of Mamallapuram because the demon king Mahabali was killed by Lord Vishnu. The name was changed later by the king of Pallava Narashima Varman who has got the title of Mamalla; the great wrestler. World Heritage–listed temples and carvings inflames the imagination, especially at sunset. In addition to ancient archaeological wonders, salty air and coastal beauty, there’s also the traveller hub of Othavadai and Othavadai Cross Sts, where restaurants serve pasta, pizza and pancakes, and shops sell Tibetan trinkets. The town’s buzzing, growing surf scene is another attraction.
Mahabalipuram is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu. And together with Chennai and Kanchipuram, it forms ‘Golden Tourism Triangle’ on the shore of Coromandel Coast. This 7th century port city of the Pallavas, which was a dynasty of Dravidian civilization, includes several historical monuments which were mainly structured in that era. This tourist destination has been listed amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its importance and ancientness of the sculptures and temples which depict its historical past and traditional legacy and also about the Dravidian civilization. The major attraction of Mahabalipuram is the Shore temple which is devoted to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, sited on the Bay of Bengal with the gateway from the Western side away from the sea. It is one of the world heritage sites and also one of the ancient rock cut temples in the country. Noted for its complex carvings embellished with beautiful motifs and craftsmanship, the architectural designs of this temple are absolutely fascinating.
Cave Temples were excavated by scooping out the scarp of the hill. The scooping work starts from front to back. The cave temple is usually divided into inner & outer mandapas, distinguished by the difference in levels. The front mandapa will have pillars & plasters numbering 4,6,8,10. The inner mandapa contains single, triple or five cells. The cave temple with little modification is categorized as Mamalla style. The pillars under this style are slender & taller with squatting lion at their base. The pillar is divided into distinct parts known as kalasa, tadi, kumba, padma etc. There are total 11 excavated temples in Mahabalipuram, called Mandapas, two open air bas reliefs, out of which one is incomplete. But the most famous Mahabalipuram temple, built from a rock is cut out temple, it is also known as ‘Ratha’. They were executed by chiseling out the exterior face of the boulder. Work started from top to bottom. The pyramidal vimana with sikhara at the top is an important feature of this style. It can be rightly said that these monolithic temples must have paved the way for the structural temples with elaborate architectural & sculptural details in the subsequent stage.
Places to Visit in Mahabalipuram :
Shore Temple :
Shore Temple, which dates back to 8th century AD, is a combination of three shrines. This temple also includes Vishnu temple, which is constructed in between two Shiva temples. Built using blocks of granite, the structure features Dravidian style, which is a beautiful creation by Pallavas and is situated on the seashore of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. Tradition has it that there once stood seven temples along the shore line in this area. Today, the only one that is there is the Shore Temple. It was built during the 7th century by the artisan Rajasimha under the rule of Narasimha Varman II. It is one of the oldest temples that can be found in South India that is built in the Dravidian style. The Shore Temple is the icon of the ancient monuments of Mahabalipuram. The temple gets its name from its location on the Coromandel shore overseeing the Bay of Bengal. The sculptural excellence symbolizes the heights of Pallava architecture.
Erected on a 50 feet square platform, the temple is a pyramidal structure rising to the heights of 60 feet. The characteristic specimen of Dravidian temple architecture, Shore Temple is one of the oldest structural stone temples of South India. The temple basks in the glow of the first rays of the rising sun and spotlights the waters after sunset. It has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of ‘Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram’. Which is located 2 km from Mahabalipuram.
Cave Temples :
Mahabalipuram houses a total number of 8 Rock-Cut Cave Temples built in the 7th century by the Pallava Kings. The temples feature a number of finely cut rock columns which vary in detail. The various rock carved sculptures are dedicated to the various Hindu deities and are considered as the finest masterpieces of Indian art. The mandapa in the front has two lion- pillars and two pilasters, and beyond this in the centre, the cell is guarded by two dwarapalas. There are four panels on the walls of front mandapa representing Varaha raising goddess earth from the ocean.
Arjuna’s Penance :
Arjuna’s Penance is one of the largest bas reliefs in the world, carved during mid 7th century. Arjuna’s Penance is approximately 30 m long and 9 m high relief that is made on two massive boulders. This rock bas-relief was built by king Narasimha I. This rock is shaped like that of a huge wale. The sculpture is carved at the back portion of the whale shaped stone. Arjuna’s Penance is one of the magnificent monuments of Mahabalipuram.The subject of the massive structure is either Arjuna’s Penance or the Descent of the Ganges, or possibly both. It is a temple carved out from a rock to resemble a chariot and is built in Dravidian style of temple architecture. It was once dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per its name Arjuna’s Penance this wonderful Mahabalipuram temple is also considered to be an illustration of Mahabharata, when Arjuna (one of the five Pandavas) rigorously worshiped to achieve Lord Shiva’s weapon to destroy enemies. While according to another legend the temple also depicts the instance of Bhagiratha, who did penance to bring holy river Ganga down to earth from heaven.
The Five Rathas :
Five Rathas is a rock-cut temple built in late 7th century by the Pallavas. These Five Rathas are named after the Pandavas and other characters of Mahabharata. Draupadi Ratha, Dharmaraja Ratha and others comprises the five rathas. a small hill sloping from south to north has been segmented into five divisions & converted into monolithic temples. These fine rock temples are located in a sandy compound. These five Rathas are the perfect examples of the evolution of Dravidian style architecture. There are built in the shaper of pagodas and they look similar to that of the Buddhist shrines and monasteries. Panch Rathas is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram. The coastal city along the shores of Bay of Bengal was a major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom. It is currently one of the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage sites. The distinctive Dravidian architectural style of the Pallavas is prevalent in the design. The intricately carved sculptures belonging to various gods and demi-gods of the Hindu mythology that are placed in the niches in the chariot shaped temples are a marvel to behold. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra. The Bhima Rath is huge. It measures 42 ft in length, 24ft in width, and 25ft in height.
Mahabalipuram Beach :
At a distance of 2 Kms from Mahabalipuram, the golden sandy Mamallapuram Beach is a picturesque place bounded by the shimmering sea and rolling hills. The beach is beautiful, white and clean, and can be enjoyed abundantly by tourists. Identified as the most pristine beaches of Tamil Nadu, the beach attracts thousands of tourists throughout the year. This 20 km long beach came into notice only after 20th century. The beach is popular among tourists for indulging in beach activities like sunbathing, diving, wind surfing and motor boating. Beside the beautiful beach are various monuments, rock-cut temples and Monolithic Rathas.
India Seashell Museum :
One of the newest attractions of Mahabalipuram, Sea Shell Museum is one of its kinds in India and the largest one in Asia. On display are around 40,000 kinds of shells along with details about them. This is a repository of different kinds of shells and educates the visitors about its details as well. There are car, ship, train, plane, etc. made from shell, which has been put on display. There are four galleries. The museum also has a shopping centre, called Maya bazaar, where visitors can get their hands on different interesting items that are made from sea products such as oysters and conch shells. The place has beautiful pearl jewelry. There is also a small aquarium in the complex, called Fish World, which houses colorful fishes. There is a seafood restaurant too, Fresh ‘n Live Sea Food. The museum complex is spread in an area one and a half acres of land.
Tiger’s Cave :
Tiger’s Cave is located near Salurankuppam village at a distance of 5 km to the north of Mahabalipuram. This is a magnificent mandapa which contains a shrine dedicated to goddess Durga which has big beautiful figures in front. There are massive yet impressive figures placed in front of the caves. As with most carvings in India, the carvings and figures tell a story. The stories here have to do with an event that occured with the goddess Durga. The Tiger’s Caves are a fantastic picnic spot and serves as a beautiful destination for nature lovers. Visitors can even travel to the beach, which is in the proximity of this cave.
Festivals at Mahabalipuram :
Open air dance festival is an annual celebration of Mahabalipuram temple, which is celebrated for a week. It is internationally famous as ‘Mahabalipuram Dance Festival’. Classical dances, music, tribal dances and puppet shows also entertain the mass gathering. Pongal, the most important festival of the Tamils, is celebrated in mid-January every year. The festival is celebrated amidst gaiety and joy not only in Tamil Nadu but also in most parts of South India. The Sthalasayana Perumal temple festivals, Masimagam and Brahmothsavam, are held in the month of March.
How to get there :
By Air : Chennai is nearest airport which is 60 km from Mahabalipuram. Chennai is well connected to all major city.
By Rail : The nearest railway station to Mahabalipuram is Chengalpattu, which is 29 km from Mahabalipuram. Chennai is also nearest railway station. which is well connected to all major railway station.
By Bus : Mahalabipuram is well connected by road with rest of Tamil Nadu. State and private buses ply at regular and frequent intervals from places like Chennai, Pondicherry, Chengalpattu, Kanchipuram, to name a few.
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