Mamallapuram, 50km south of Chennai, was the major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom based at Kanchipuram. The town is all about ancient archaeological wonders, salty air and coastal beauty.
A wander round the town’s magnificent, World Heritage–listed temples and carvings inflames the imagination, especially at sunset.
Standing like a magnificent fist of rock-cut elegance overlooking the sea, surrounded by gardens and ruined courts, the two-towered Shore Temple symbolises the heights of Pallava architecture and the maritime ambitions of the Pallava kings. Its small size belies its excellent proportion and the supreme quality of the carvings, many now eroded into vaguely Impressionist embellishments. Built under Narasimhavarman II in the 8th century, it's the earliest significant free-standing stone temple in Tamil Nadu.
The two towers rise above shrines to Shiva and their original linga captured the sunrise and sunset. Between the Shiva shrines is one to Vishnu, shown sleeping. Rows of Nandi (Shiva's vehicle) statues frame the temple courtyard. A boulder-carved Durga sits on her lion-vehicle's knee on the temple's south side.
The five Rathas is a set of magnificent monolithic rock temples. Built on a sandy compound, the five Rathas or chariots are the perfect examples of the evolution of Dravidian style architecture. The chariots are constructed with Towers, The cars of gods, multipillared halls, and sculptured walls which are chissled out minutely.
The Rathas have an association to the great epic Mahabharata which describes the heroes of Mahabharata with their wife Draupadi which is termed as pancha pandava rathas. The five rathas are (i) Draupadi’s Ratha, (ii) Arjuna’s Rath, (iii) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (iv) Bhima Rath and (v) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath.
A gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline very near to the Panch Rathas.
In 1908, then-governor of the city Arthur Havelock made an attempt to use seven elephants to move the boulder from its position due to safety concerns, but with no success. It is said that Pallava king Narasimhavarman too made a failed attempt to move the boulder.
The Cave Temple:
Varaha Cave Temple (also Adivaraha Cave Temple) is a rock-cut cave which is a part of the hill top village, which is 4 kilometres to the north of the main Mahabalipurm sites of Rathas and the Shore Temple. It is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century. The temple is one of the finest testimonial to the ancient Vishwakarma Sthapathis, of rock-cur cave architecture, out of many such caves also called Mandapas making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea. Also carved are many mythical figures.
Descent of the Ganges:
It is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagirath. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna's Penance are portrayed in the stone at this Pallava heritage site. The relief is more of a canvas of Indian rock cut sculpture at its best not seen anywhere in India also making it a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You cannot get out of the town without visiting the beach which lies just on the shore of the Shore Temple.
View the entire town from the atop this lighthouse. This was built during the Pallava era to serve as a beacon this ancient sea port.
Indian Dance Festival:
The Mamallapuram Dance Festival is held every year during Dec-Jan in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. This dance festival is organised by Department of Tourism, Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Exponents of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kathakali perform against this magnificent backdrop of the Pallava rock sculptures. It is vibrant festival of dance where enormous audience enjoys this one month long festival.
This place will always be close to my heart as I had an informal but memorable pre-wedding photoshoot done at the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram.
PhotoCredit: Google, trawell.com and our friend-cum-photographer Arijit Chakraborty