Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu settled on the Coromandel Coast facing the Bay of Bengal is one of the most impressive historic places in India. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mahabalipuram is home to some impressive rock-cut temples, caves, sculptures and bas-reliefs which are a wonder of artistic and sheer creativity. The coastal town was a well-established sea port during the rule of Pallavas in 7th to 10th centuries.
Lost in the passage of time, the magnificent temples and town of Mahabalipuram were re-discovered in the late 18th century. Tourist come exploring the ‘open-air museum’, walk along the silvery sandy beach, shop for classical handmade crafts and attend the amazing Classical Dance Festival.
Best Places to Visit in Mahabalipuram
- Shore Temple
- Arjuna’s Penance
- Pancha Pandava Rathas
- Dharmaraja Mandapa
- Mahishasurmardini Cave
- Varaha cave
- Krishna’s Butterball
- Koneri Mandapa
- Trimurthi cave
- India Seashell Museum
Shore temple as its name suggests is located on the Coromandel shore overseeing the Bay of Bengal. The icon of Mahabalipuram, was built during the rule of Pallava dynasty, the masterpiece of Dravidian style of architecture dates back to the 7-8th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu but there are many other sculptures of various Hindu deities. The magnificent structure is ‘poetry in stone’. The granite rock-cut carvings are proof of the absolute brilliance of the artisans.
Arjuna’s Penance (Descent of the Ganges)
Arjuna’s Penance also known as the Descent of the Ganges is one of the finest specimens of bas reliefs in the world. Carved in the mid-seventh century, the masterpiece measures approximately 30m (100ft) long by 15m (45ft) high. The relief is adorned with intricate life-like carvings of the Lord Shiva, demi-gods, mythological beasts and other beings.
Some sources interpret the meaning of monument as the legend of the descent of Ganges on the earthly plane after Bhagirath’s severe penance. Others believe that River Ganga does not flow in south India, so it is dedicated to Arjun, the hero of Mahabharata, as a legend states that he had penanced to attain blessings of Lord Shiva at the banks of River Krishna.
Pancha Pandava Rathas
The Pancha Pandava Rathas are a beautiful creation in the group of monuments in Mahabalipuram. The five rock-cut reliefs are designed in the form of chariots, dedicated to the Pandavas from the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. Built of pink granite, it represents characteristic Dravidian architectural style of the Pallavas. Sculptures of various gods and demi-gods of the Hindu mythology are carved in the chariot shaped temples. The five rathas are Draupadi’s Ratha, Arjuna’s Rath, Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, Bhima Rath and Dharamraja Yudhisthir’s Rath.
Named after Dharmaraja Yudhisthir, the eldest Pandava of Mahabharata, this monument is one of the impressive creations of architecture in the rule of Pallavas. The triple celled cave temple is a fine example of art created on stone. The 40 foot structure which is adorned with spectacular carvings of Ardhnareshwar, the combined deity of Shakti and Shiva.
One of the spectacular artistic sculptures in Mahabalipuram, next we come to the magnificent Mahishasuramardhini Cave. The intricate reliefs and carvings recreate the legend of Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasura. The cave showcase the Goddess Durga riding a lion, her several arms holding a bow and arrow and there are extraordinary detailed panels representing Seshasayi Vishnu and Siva Linga.
Another fine architectural delight of Mahabalipuram, Varaha Cava Temple is one of the things to not miss. The 7th century-rock-cut structure is the finest testimony of the Viswakarma Sthapathis. The marvelous sculpture of Varaha Swamy (Boar), an incarnation of Lord Vishnu rescuing Bhudevi (Mother Earth) from Seas is a remarkable beauty. Many mythical characters also adorn the walls.
A miracle in its own way, Krishna’s Butterball is a huge boulder that rests on a very narrow rock base and has been in the same position for centuries. As legends state, this boulder could not be ever moved even an inch from its position. The precarious site seems unbelievable and a rare feat one must not miss.
The unfinished five celled rock-cut temple of Koneri Mandapa is an extravagant beauty. The date of its construction is not known, neither are accounts found in the history. Four pillars supported by couchant lions and flanked by pilasters and with a central cell. Intricate carvings mark the cave but there is no confirmed information on the idol or devotion to any Hindu pantheon.
Trimurthi cave, one of the marvelous group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is one of the best masterpieces of architecture. Dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, the three gods of the Hindu pantheon, the cave is adorned with stunning carvings of Hindu mythology.
Built by Pallavas around the 8th century, Thirukadalmallai is one of the 108 Divya Desams, holy temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The awe-inspiring Dravidian Pallava style architecture is a white colored Gopuram, a marvel to behold.
India Seashell Museum
India’s first museum of this kind, the Sea shell Museum is a repository of different kinds of seashells. The museum displays around 40,000 specimens of rare and unique shells.