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Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

Experience the majestic Monuments at Mahabalipuram india

Explore the rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram showcasing India’s oldest examples of Dravidian buildings and sculpted rock – panels. Caves, sculptures, temples and ruins sprout like vegetation here are must sees. Experience the magnificent aura of the monuments of Mahabalipuram after dusk.

Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram) is a village 30 miles south of Chennai (Madras) on the Coromandel Coast in the south Indian state Tamilnadu. It was a busy port of Pallava Dynasty during the 7th and 8th centuries, the reign of Narasimhavarman II. Since 1985, the temple district of Mamallapuram has belonged to the UNESCO world cultural heritage list.

The temples were erected at the beach on rock between the 5th and 8th centuries under the rule of the Pallava dynasty. They were chiseled out of rocks. During this time, Mamallapuram was one of the most important harbor cities of the total Tamil empire. The sanctuaries served at that time, therefore, not only as a temple, but rather as a beacon for the navigator. On the chiseled rock relief, legends, myths and everyday life scenes are represented. Many of these reliefs have decomposed under the influence of the sea climate. In some of the temples, stand sculptures of Gods and animals. Many buildings remained however unfinished. After the downfall of the Tamil empire, Shivaism spread, which is why most of the holy towers are dedicated to Hindu God Shiva.

The temple district has a large number of Hindu monuments, which are dedicated to God Shiva and Vishnu, and to Krishna, the hero of the Epic Mahabharata. The three most important are: The Bas-Relief (known as Penance of the Arjuna or the Descent of Ganges), The ShoreTemples and the Pancha Ratha (temples in the form of chariots)

The Bas-Relief originated in the 7th and 8th centuries and is one of the largest (perhaps the largest) in the world. This giant open-air relief is chiseled out of monolithic rock. The bas-relief comprising of two gigantic rocks measuring 71 feet by 27 feet. The bas-relief is known as the Penance of Arjuna, because of the figure of Arjuna, hero of epic Mahabharata, showing him practicing penance in order to get the boon from God Shiva, which could help him while fighting the war of Mahabharata.

This relief is also called the Descent of Ganges, because of the story it depicts. The legend reports that the king Bhagiratha let the flow of the Ganges River from heaven in order to purify the souls of his ancestors and to overcome the scarcity of water on the earth. However, the things did not happen as planned and the king noticed that the Ganges would inundate the entire earth. Therefore, he practiced penance with the goal of receiving aid of Shiva, in order to turn away the catastrophe to be expected. Therefore, the God Shiva came down to the earth and conquered the Ganges, in which he let the Ganges flow through his hairs.

The most famous part of the base relief is the slit between both of the rocks; here the image of Shiva is found. Under that, one finds ruins of a water tank that let assumed that once here water flowed, that should represent the Ganges. Next to numerous divine images, the relief represents the village life of India in the 7th century. In the upper part, right of the slit, one sees the donor and patron Pallava king Mahendravarman (580-630) accompanying his three wives. Under that, one sees a figure of Yogi Cat, standing on one leg, posing as an ascetic in meditation posture with mice dancing around. The scene depicts an Indian saying that advises to distrust false Sadhus.

The Shore Temple is the only preserved temple out of a complex of seven temples that were built with granite blocks at the end of the 8th century by the Pallava king Rajasimha Narasimhavarman II. The complex should have covered 10 kilometers along the coast. These temples lie on the main coast of Bay of Bengal. In spite of other rock-cut temples lying in the ambiance, Shore temple is a five-storeyed structural Hindu temple. The temple is surrounded by a row of bulls carved out of rock. There are two shrines in the temple, of which one is dedicated to Shiva and the other to Vishnu.

The Pancha Ratha (five temples in the form of chariots), named after the heroes of great epic Mahabharatha – Yudhisthira (or Dharmaraja), Bhima, Arjuna, Draupadi and Nakula-Sahadeva, are the monolithic monuments of different size and forms, excavated out of a small hill south of the village. Each shrine (Ratha) is carved from one single large piece of granite stone. They are one of the best examples of monolith Indian rock-cut architecture in the late 7th century. These Ratha represent architectural models of the temple forms. The concept Ratha (chariot) actually denotes the vehicles for procession. The Ratha of Mamallapuram have however no wheels, in contrast to the Sun temple in Konark, that is formed in form of a vehicle with wheels, pulled by horses.

Features of the Pancha Ratha

  • Draupadi, in form of a hut with thatched roof, dedicated to the goddess Durga
  • Arjuna, in form of a pyramid, certainly dedicated to Shiva, as the presence of the bull Nandi suggests.
  • Bhima, a step temple, dedicated to Vishnu
  • Dharmaja (or Yudhistira), crowned by a three layered pyramid structure, unfinished, dedicated to Shiva, is the only Ratha that carries an inscription, which mentions the Pallava king Nârasimhavarman I.
  • Nakula-Sahadeva, unfinished, dedicated to Indra (God of the gods)

Today Mahabalipuram is a peaceful small town with its clean beaches. It is a secret tip for the beach lovers. Visitors and tourists come here not only to explore the world cultural heritage sites but also to relax at the quite beach resorts of Mahabalipuram.