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Home arrow Tamilnadu arrow Mahabalipuram - Mamallapuram
Mahabalipuram - Mamallapuram E-mail

Mahabalipuram also called, as Mamallapuram is an ancient temple town situated along the shores of the Indian ocean in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The sheer sculptural extravaganza of the rock-cut temples is not only reflective of the artistic tastes of the erstwhile Pallava rulers: the temples are also regarded as the birthplace of an entirely new style of architecture, which came to be known as the South Indian temple architecture.

The proper name of the site is "Mamallapuram", after Mamalla, an honorific of the Pallava king, Narasimha Varman I (630-668), who created the earliest of its monuments. But it is popularly called "Mahabalipuram", or "The city of Bali", whom Lord Vishnu chastised for his pride and of whom there is a relief in one of the excavated temples here.

Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, was the chief seaport of the Pallavas who ruled over much of South India from as early as the first century B.C to the eighth century A.D., and it is now recognized as the site of some of the greatest architectural and sculptural achievements in India. Under the reign of Narasimha Varman (c. 630), this seaport began to grow as a great artistic center. The beautiful cave temples and gigantic open air reliefs carved from blocks of granite date to the seventh century.

Close to the sea, the beautiful shore temple consists of two temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and a small temple of Anantasayana or reclining Vishnu.

This group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel Coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air relief’s such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

Map of Mahabalipuram (click to enlarge)

mahabalipuram map
 Places you can see in Mahabalipuram

Arjuna's Penance
Arjuna's Penance, 27 mtrs long and 9 mtrs high, is a colossal relief made on two huge boulders. These bas-reliefs, carved in the 7th century, are among the largest in the world. The cleft in the rock describes the descent of the Ganga down from the Himalaya Mountains as described in the Panchatantra.
Legend says that King Bhagirath brought down the Ganges from Heaven to purify the souls of his ancestors.  His plan went awry when he realized that the flood would inundated the earth, so he had to undergo a penance to convince Shiva to intervene, who came down to earth and let the flood trickle through his hair, dispersing the waters safely in innumerable streams all over the world.  This strange sight aroused the curiosity of the world's animals, which gathered round the soaking God.
The two large elephants are notable for their artistic beauty, and so are the images from the Panchatantra. Amongst the images are a forest with tribal people and all forms of animal life, just as they would appear in their habitat. Also, the images present women clothed in an aura of ineffable grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them. The entire picture has a delicate edge of humor. Accordingly positioned against the ascetic is a cat doing rigorous penance too.

Cave Temples 'Ratha'
Scooping out the scarp of the hill excavated Cave Temples. The scooping work starts from front to back. The 'Ratha' cave temples, commonly called the Pancha Pandava ratha (the five chariots of the Pandavas), are a stylistic anomaly marking the point of transition between the earlier tradition of rock-carved cave temples and the later tradition of freestanding stone structures, of the type seen at the nearby Shore Temple. 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.The structural detailing of the Ratha temples carefully imitates wooden timber supports, pilasters, beams, and brackets, though of course none are necessary in stone.  Because each temple is carved from a single piece of living rock, the Rathas are in a suburb state of preservation and many of their carvings are as fresh today as they were 1,300 years ago.

Five Rathas – a small hill sloping from south to north has been segmented into five divisions & converted into monolithic temples. The heights of the segments have been cleverly used for temples with single tier to three-tiered vimana. Each monolithic temple shows different kind of sikhara. The five rathas are Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha and Nakul Sahadev Ratha.

The Arjuna and Draupadi rathas, facing west, are dedicated to Shiva and Durga respectively. The one storied Draupadi has an interesting thatch-like roof with imitation posts and beams. The whole looks as if it could be rendered as effortlessly in timber.  The largest of the series is the unfinished three-storey Dharmaraja Ratha.


Shore Temple
The Shore Temple on the Bay of Bengal was constructed in the 7th century during the rule of King Narsimha-Varman II Rajasimha (c. 690-728). The Shore temples is a temple complex consisting of two Siva temples and a carving of Anantasayana Vishnu.
The temple facing east is entered by a small gopura. On plan, it consists of a small sanctum & a front mandapa & is a two-tired vimana. The sanctum is housing a linga. The Somaskanda panel consisting of Siva & Parvati with baby Skanda is on the back wall of the sanctum. The dhara linga & Somaskanda panel on the back wall of the sanctum are the features of the Pallava temples only.
The temple facing west is also dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is large in plan comprising sanctum, mahamandapa, front mandapa, balipitha and dvajastamba. The temple’s vimana is four tiered with octagonal sikhara. It is important to note that stupis of both these temples are not covered by kalasa (copper finials).
The carving on Lord Vishnu on a boulder in Anantasayana form is lying in between these two temples. It belongs to the period of Narasimhavarman I and thus earlier than the Siva temples.


Krishna Mandapam
The Krishna Temple is one of the earliest rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram. The walls of the temples reflects scenes of pastoral life, one with the image of Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill in his fingertips to protect his people from Indra.

Kanchipuram
A 65-kilometre stretch of sun-scorched road connects Mahabalipuram to the fabled city of a thousand temples, Kanchipuram. There are 650 stone inscriptions in Kanchipuram belonging to different dynasties. The temples here reflect the maturity and efflorescence of Pallava art and the Chola, Vijayanagara and Chalukyan kings produced the ornate and often imposing embellishments later. There is a solemn grandeur, a grandiosity of vision and ornamental excess in the temples here. A disembodied otherworldly stillness impregnates their vast inner domains where time is a captive fugitive. The Ekambaranathar temple, the Kailasanatha temple, Sri Varadaraja temple, and Sri Vaikuntaperumal temple… the names stretch endlessly. The city itself is dedicated to the presiding deity, Sri Kamakshi (one with eyes of love) at the Kamakshi temple. In Sanskrit, the word Kanchi denotes girdle, and poets have allegorically characterized the city as a girdle to the earth.

Covelong
About 19 km from Mahabalipuram is situated the picturesque beach resort of Covelong, a peaceful fishing village with the remnants of a fort. Facilities for windsurfing, swimming and water sports are available here. If you are in Mahabalipuram, don't forget to visit this place.

Crocodile Bank
The Crocodile bank is located nearly 14 km away from Mahabalipuram on the Chennai-Mahabalipuram road. The bank is a perfect place to view large variety of crocodiles. Located nearby is a snake farm where anti-venom is produced for treating snakebites.

Vedanthangal
Located 53 km from Mahabalipuram, Vedanthangal is one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in India. The sheer number of birds that visit this sanctuary is amazing. It is said that almost 1,00,000 avian species of varied shapes, sizes and hues-including storks, egrets, cormorants, darter, and flamingos-visit this sanctuary between October and March.

Events and Festivals of Mahabalipuram
Festivals:

Pongal
Pongal, the most important festival of the Tamilnadu, 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.

Perumal temple festival
The Sthalasayana Perumal temple festivals, Masimagam and Brahmothsavam, are held in the month of March.

Events :

Dance Festival
The internationally acclaimed and globally renowned "Mahabalipuram Dance Festival" is organised by the Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu every year in Mahabalipuram - the renowned and ancient 7th century centre for Pallava culture and arts.
The Dance festival starts on the 25th of December every year and is conducted on all Saturdays and Government holidays, upto February first week. Dancers and musicians of repute from India and abroad thrill the crowds every year. Folk dances of India are an added attraction.
Sit before an open-air 'stage' created 13 centuries ago, the incredible monolithic rock sculptures of the Pallavas, next to the sea in this ancient city of Mahabalipuram. Lovers of dance will be treated to a very unique and unforgettably aesthetic event: Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Odissi , presented by the very best exponents of the art besides folk dances.

Reaching Mahabalipuram

Air
Chennai (58-km) is the nearest airport with both domestic and international terminus. Chennai is connected with all the major places in India through the numerous domestic flights. International flights operate from various parts of the world to Chennai.

Rail
The nearest railway stations are Chengalpattu (29-km) and Chennai (58-km). From these stations one has to take road to reach the Mahabalipuram.
 
Road
Buses are available from Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Chennai to Mahabalipuram daily. The road to Mahabalipuram is good. Tourists can also hire a taxi from Chennai.

Hotels in Mahabalipuram
While there are Plenty of Budget hotels and resorts around Mahabalipuram. mamalapuram is a favoriate among the forign tourists.

Weather:   Maximum 35 °C - Minimum 19°C (Through out the year)

Best Time to Visit: October to March

Languages: Tamil & English

STD Code: 04114

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