When rocks come alive – Mahabalipuram

Posted On October 5, 2011 

Situated in the small town of Kancheepuram in the state of Tamil Nadu lies a beautiful place called Mahabalipuram. This is the place which was earlier a port during the reign of the Pallavas. It lies around 60 km from the city of Chennai. Mammalapuram was the name it had earlier and today it is known as Mahabalipuram. It is said that it was king Narasimhavarman I who gave it the name of Mahabalipuram after the epithet Maha Malla meaning the great wrestler. Wrestling was the favourite Pallavas sport. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many burial urns, jars and cairn circles that have been found near this place. There are Chinese coins and coins from Rome that have been found here revealing a past trade activity here. There are two Pallava coins reading Srihari and Srinidhi.  Mahabalipuram actually signifies the city of Bali. It has been described as the kadal mallai or the sea mountain. Here is where the ships came with bent anchor. This place is also known as the land of the Seven Pagodas. There were seven shore temples that stood here so Marco Polo gave it this name.


The rathas and the shrines here are all in the form of chariots and have been created from the rock faces. The shore temple was built around 50 years later. It is made of dressed stone. Mahabalipuram with its lovely relief structures and temples is indeed a great tourist spot.

There is a lot of Buddhist influence in the construction here and there are rooms like monasteries, chaitya halls and they also resemble the Ajanta and Ellora caves. It is said that the Pallava king could have brought sculptors from that region for building this place.

Ellora caves

There are different temples dedicated to different deities. There is a Shiva image and a temple for Vishnu thus indicating that these deities grew in importance and the Indra and Soma like Vedic Gods started declining in popularity.

The monolithic rocks have great Dravidian architecture with lot of rathas and cave temples. It is also believed that this might have been a school for architecture and sculptors as lot of unfinished structures have been found here. Besides there is the Pancha Ratha with each of the rathas have been sculpted differently thus indicating a lot of education going into these works.

Pancha Rathas

There is the Thirukadalmallai which is a temple with Lord Vishnu as the presiding deity. It was basically built to protect the sculptures. It is said that after this temple was built the sea never destroyed this place.

The descent of the Ganges is a great relief structure in open air. Then you have the Arjuna’s penance which is a great sculpture which shows the Indian epic Mahabharata. There is the rock cut temple of Varaha which is again a great sculpture from the 7th century.

Temple of Varaha

The shore temple is the best with the entry from the west which lies away from the sea waters. It is said that this temple was reconstructed. Then the Pancha Rathas which have been built after the five Pandavas showcase the best kind of sculpture work.

Shore temple

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