If you are making a trip to South India, you must include a one day trip to Mahabalipuram as its easy on the pockets, on the eyes, and definitely on your time. You can check out the major attractions in half a day. We started the tour at 10:30 am and were done by 1:30 pm. The town is 60 kms from Chennai and boasts of a group of beautiful monuments carved out of rocks. This group has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is collectivly known as the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram.
We took a guide mostly because my aunt felt sorry for the poor young man but it turned out to be a very well spent 300 rupees because without him, we would have missed out on many significant structures, and the significance of many of the structures. He started with the very famous Krishna's Butter Ball, and went on to show us nine other spots in that site itself, some of them which I would have totally overlooked if I was not guided. This includes the old lighthouse, a temple hidden behind the rocks, a couple of monolithic stones signifying the old techniques of cutting, and a rock from where you can have a panoramic view of the town, with the Shore Temple and the Bay of Bengal in the distance.
We looked at, and listened to the history, and the myths about the Varaha temple, the Descent of the Ganges and the Pancha Pandava Temple. Needless to say, the architecture, the monolithic motifs and the legends behind these structures blew us away. We proceeded to see the Pancha Rathas and then the Shore Temple. And every time we went to a new place, we were amazed by the beauty, not to mention the way the archeological society has preserved the place.
The Shore temple is a complex of three temples, one large and two small, located right at the shore of the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. It is believed that there were seven magnificent temples known as the seven pagodas, built near the sea shore. But the lonely survivor is the shore temples.
This is my personal favorite.The Descent of the Ganges or Arjuna's Penance is a giant open-air bas relief carved of two monolithic rock boulders. It features Arjuna, the heroic warrior of the Mahabharata who had qualms about the fratricidal battle he was due to fight. It also depicts the legend of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens while being watched by scores of gods, goddesses, mythical figurines of Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also wild and domestic animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene. The total number of carvings is probably about 146. The carvings of elephants on the open air bas-relief is almost life-size and is reported as the best animal carving in India. Ensure that you ask your guide about each and every carving depicted there.
Pancha Rathas is a collection of five monolithic pyramidal structures named after the five Pandavas and Draupadi. An interesting aspect of the rathas is that, despite their sizes they are not assembled – each of these is carved from one single large piece of stone. In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha.
This is a fine completed architecture which lies besides the Arjuna penance. The entrance has two pillars engraved with two horned lion – bases, and a cell protected by two gatekeepers. There are four striking bas-reliefs, the northern one with Lord Vishnu as the Varaha avatar, the southern wall portraying Lord Vishnu as Vamana , on the eastern wall is a portrayal of Goddess Lakshmi and another one has the carving of Goddess Durga standing on a lotus. You will find a replica of this in the Draupadi Ratha.
This is a massive natural rock boulder in a shape of a huge ball, precariously balanced on a smooth slope. Known as Krishna’s butterball, this colossal boulder, which is about five meters in diameter, is perilously resting at an angle of 45 degrees. We spent 15 mins here only to take clever pictures trying to hold the butter ball in our hands or balance it like Atlas on our shoulders.
Thought of adding this because we had lunch at this hotel and all of us liked it a lot. Great value for money. Good service. Good choice of food. Separate vegetarian restaurant.