Sunday, December 02, 2012

Rendzevous with History - Mahabalipuram

The Famous Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram
 Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is located right on the Coromandel Coast next to Bay of Bengal and was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of Pallavas. Around 60 Kms south from the city of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), this is a perfect weekend getaway with a perfect blend of history, a beautiful beach and handicraft shops. 

 An 8th century Tamil text described this place “Kadal Mallai” (Sea Mountain). Another name by which Mahabalipuram has been known to Mariners is “Seven Pagodas” alluding to the seven pagodas that stood on the shore of which only the Shore Temple survives now. This city was actually the 2nd capital of the Pallavas and was named after the cruel and arrogant king Mahabali. 


During the rule of Pallavas new styles of art and architecture were pioneered, and it is believed that some areas served as the school for young sculptors. Hence one can find various artistic and architectural creations at this site. 

Some Interesting Facts
Just before the 2004 Tsunami struck the Indian Ocean, including Bay of Bengal, the water at Mahabalipuram pulled back exposing a straight row of large rocks. Soon after the Tsunami and large stone lion emerged that was dated to 7th century. 

May have been a community bathing center or a Fountain
Several search operations conducted by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and Indian Navy indicated that a large complex of temples were in Mahabalipuram most of which got submerged in the water due to a Tsunami during the 13th Century.   

How to Reach
 Mahabalipuram is very close to Chennai, approx 55 Kms away from the city and is well connected by road from Chennai. You can also take a train to Chengalpattu (the nearest railway station) and then take taxis from there.
We were a group of 4 people and so hired a cab from Chennai that charged us Rs 2500 for the entire trip.

What to See
 After driving for almost 1.5 hrs we finally reached the site. Surrounded by a beautiful beach, Mahabalipuram is worth seeing. You would me amazed at the marvel of the sculptors who made this beautiful temple complex in the absence of many modern tools and techniques.

The Shore Temple:  

The doors of this temple are locked and one can only peep inside it. The temple is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva however; there are some statues of Lord Vishnu as well. 

A Carving of Lord Vishnu
The Shore Temple is best viewed from the shores of Mahabalipuram beach. As mentioned earlier, it is the sole surviving part of the 7 temples famously known as the “Seven Pagodas”, of which 6 have already been engulfed by Tsunamis in past. As we stood at the site and looked around we realized how lucky we were to witness this marvelous structure before the Bay of Bengal swallows this as well.
At the temple complex there were multiple statues of Bulls, some complete and few incomplete.

A Bull
The monuments at the site are mostly monolithic rock-cuts.   

You can find several styles of architecture as some monuments are modeled on Buddhist Viharas while some resemble Dravidian architecture.

A Lion carved out of a single rock
Mahishasurmardhini Cave Temple: We climbed on top of a small hillock to reach this site. 

View from Mahishasurmardhini Cave Temple
 You would be tempted to click photos here as one can get a beautiful overview of the entire Mahabalipuram site surrounded by the sea from this hillock. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and has scenes from Vedic Puranas depicted on its mandapam.

The Five Rathas


These have been carved from single piece of rocks and have been named on each of the Five Pandavas (Mahabharata).

Arjuna’s Penance: It is World’s largest Bas-relief and depicts various deities, animals as well as stories from Panchatantra.

After visiting all the monuments at Mahabalipuram, we went to a nearby cafe and had some refreshments before we could leave. While moving around in the area, you can also find plenty of Sculpture shops displaying beautiful carvings out of granite stones. 

While our way back home, I was constantly imagining how the life would have been when this temple complex was alive. The beautiful carvings, organization of the monuments, the roaring sea behind… I just loved my rendezvous with History.


1 comment:

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