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Tourist Places To Visit In Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)
The ancient port town of Mamallapuram in the district of Kanchipuram was ruled by the Pallava Kings, from about the 3rd to 9th Century AD. The Shore Temple that we see in Mamallapuram today was built during the reign of Pallava King Narasimhavarman 11 in the 8th century AD. Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram as the temples were popularly known, were built, of which only one remains today, i.e. the Shore Temple dedicated to Shiva. There are various other temples scattered over the region, along with manmade caves and rathas or chariots.
Mythology says the remaining six temples were submerged due to a curse by Indra, the God of thunder and lightning. Underwater investigations by Great Britain’s Scientific Exploration Society and the Indian National Institute of Oceanography and the Tsunami that struck the seas of Mamallapuram in 2004, revealed sculptures, stone blocks and rock projections submerged in the sea. A few underwater silt covered sculptures like the lion, a sandstone urn and a half finished elephant remained aground after the Tsunami receded and you can see these sculptures on the seashore.
The Archaeological Society of India’s excavations at Mamallapuram keep throwing up more submerged surprises from the ancient world. Take a trip to Mamallapuram to experience the beaches and the temples and the many tourist places to visit by the sea shore.
The Cave Temples of Mamallapuram belong to the Mamalla style of the 7th century AD and are great examples of the Pallavas’ pre-eminence in art. The caves have smooth rock surfaces on which intricate bas reliefs are etched. The caves are called rock-cut caves or mandapas and some of them, like the bas relief in the Mahishasura Mardhini Cave Temple are popular for the elaborate craftsmanship. Trimurthi, Krishna, Dharmaraja, Ramanuja, Mahishasura Mardhini, Varaha, Kottikal, Atiranachanda, Panchapandava and the Tiger Caves show bas reliefs of mythological stories, Gods and animals. The Tiger Cave located at Saluvankuppan Village, about 4 km from Mamallapuram is carved out of a boulder and has a beautiful arched doorway decorated with Yali heads and is believed to have been used as a court for the Festival of Indra.
The Cave Temples are open from 8.00am-5.00pm.
The Shore Temple is located on the beach of the Bay of Bengal in Mamallapuram. It is the earliest of the structural temples built by the Pallavas, for their first monuments were the cave temples and rathas. The Shore Temple is the grandest symbol that showcases the dexterity of the Pallavas’ craftspeople and is one of the oldest structural temples of Southern India.
This temple for Shiva and Vishnu was built of solid blocks of granite, way back in the 8th century, when Mamallapuram was a busy sea port .Built in Dravidian architectural style, the five storied temple has three shrines, with two smaller shrines facing each other behind the larger temple. The iconic Shore Temple provides the backdrop for the Mamallapuram Dance Festival.
The temple is not used for worship, but the elaborate carvings and sculptures make the Shore Temple one of the most well visited tourist site of Mamallapuram. The temple is open from 6.00am-6.00pm.
The Pancha or Pandava Rathas are a monolithic rock cut architectural complex built during the reign of King Narasimhavarman 1. Each Ratha or Chariot is carved out of a single granite stone and what amazes the visitors are the intricate carvings on the walls and the roof. The Rathas do not look complete as work was discontinued with the death of King Narasimhavarman 1. The Pancha Rathas were named after the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata- Dharmaraja, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva and Draupadi, though the Pandavas had no association with the Rathas of Mamallapuram.
Descent of the Ganges
This is one of the most noteworthy among the monuments of Mamallapuram. The Descent of the Ganges is a huge open air rock relief carved on giant monolithic rocks of pink granite and is deemed to be one of the best rock reliefs ever made in ancient India. The Descent of the Ganges describes in carved detailing the story of the penance of Sage Bhagiratha who stands on one leg to bring the Ganges to Earth. The figure is also said to represent Arjuna’s Penance when he desired for the Pasupatha astra from Shiva, to aid him in his battle against the Kauravas. Check out the beautiful carved figures of the celestial musicians, ganas or the dwarf attendants of Shiva, Airavat, the celestial elephant and a scene from a hermitage frozen in time!
This is a structural temple built in the 8th century during the reign of Pallava King Rajasimha. The temple is built on a hillock and sits on top of the Mahishasura Mardini Mandapa. There are stone hewn steps you can use to climb up to the temple and right from top, you get a grand view of the countryside around. According to archaeologists, the roof of the temple might have served as a lighthouse before the first lighthouse was built. The temple that was built of grey white granite was used for worship till the 19th century. At present there are no idols in the temple, for the Shiv Linga was said to have been carried away in the late 18th century.
Mamallapuram was a busy seaport of the Pallavas who made their first Light House by burning bonfires on the hillocks to aid mariners through the darkness, and later on the rooftop of the Olakaneshwara Temple which became the oldest Light House. The older Light House is a protected site under the care of the Archaeological Society of India.
The new Light House which was commissioned in 1887 but started functioning from 1904, is a must see in your trip to Mamallapuram. A series of steep steps lead to the light house which is built on a rock and stands 85 ft high. A nominal fee is collected to enter the light House which offers an amazing view of the region. Time to visit the Light House is from 9.00am-5.00pm.
The Thirukadalmallai Temple is one of the 108 Divyadesha of Vishnu, with the idol of Vishnu in the reclining posture. Legends say that Vishnu appeared before Sage Pundarika and asked him for food. When the Sage returned with food, he found Vishnu quite patiently lying in wait for him. Since Vishnu remained in that place, he came to be called Stalasayana Perumal and his consort is Lakshmi as Nilamangai Thayar.
The temple was built by the Pallavas in Dravidian style of architecture with later additions by the Vijayanagara and the Cholas. The walls have a number of inscriptions detailing the grants of lands donated by the villages for the maintenance of the temple.
During the 14th century Parankusa, the Vijayanagara king relocated the temple from the sea shore to a site near Arjuna’s Penance where the temple is now. The Temple is maintained by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board. Daily rituals are offered at the temple which is open from 6.00am-12.00pm and from 3.00pm-8.30pm.
The Mamallapuram Beach is definitely not one to be missed. The windswept golden sands and the waters that get high frothy waves, are some of the prime characters of Mamallapuram, as it is on the shores of sea that the famous Shore Temples stand. The sight of the temples from the water’s edge is a photographer’s delight. The beach does get crowded during weekends, but spend a quiet evening watching the sunset at the beach, when the day trippers have left.
Visit India’s largest Seashell Museum. There are about 40,000 specimens of rare seashells, pearls, shark and whale fins, fossils and conch collections from all over the world so painstakingly accumulated over the years. The Museum is open from 8.00am-8.00pm and tickets have to be purchased for visiting the Museum, Aquarium and the Pearl Museum.There is a boutique where you can buy pearl jewellery and hand-crafted shell artefacts and a restaurant that serves delicious seafood. The Seashell Museum is at Kalpakkam Road in Mamallapuram.
The Sculpture Museum has an amazing collection of about 3,000 sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist gods, both ancient and contemporary art forms. There are miniatures of the temples, rathas and the monoliths of Mamallapuram made of metal, brass, wood and stone. The Sculpture Museum is about a kilometre from the Mamallapuram Bus Stand and is open from 10.00am-5.30pm.
According to mythology Lord Krishna’s favourite food were the dollops of butter stolen from the houses in the neighbourhood. Nobody knows if Krishna has ever stolen such a big ball, but that is the unique name given to this huge granite boulder in Mamallapuram. The boulder, also known as Vaanirai kal or the stone from space, is 6 m high and 5 m wide and weighs around 250 tons as it sits balanced on a slopy incline since the last 1200 years. It was in vain, that efforts were made to move the rock during the reign of Pallava King Narasimhavarman and later in 1908 by Governor Arthur Havelock, who is said to have sent orders to have the rock pulled away by seven elephants. But the rock wouldn’t budge an inch and it still stands there, though eroded by weathering.