Mahabalipuram is one of the 16 World Heritage Sites being protected and developed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Central Tourism Department. Just 56.4 km from Chennai, Mahabalipuram is a must-visit during your trip to Tamil Nadu.
The monuments are broadly in the form of Monoliths, most of which are called Rathas or Chariots, Rock-cut Caves excavated from hillocks, Structural Temples and Bas-reliefs carved on hill edges. It’s ideal for visitors to explore the resort beginning with the Five Rathas on the southern side, move towards the hillside to see the Caves, Mandapams and also the Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple, and proceed towards the sea to experience the beauty of the Shore Temple.
This majestic monument is situated in an enviable location – on the shore washed constantly by the waves. From Arjuna’s Penance, a straight path towards the sea leads one to this structural temple. It was built by Narasimha Varman II (690-715 AD), who was popularly known as Rajasimha. It was the same ruler who built the Kailasanatha temple at Kancheepuram.
But the Vimanam of the Shore Temple is narrower than the Kanchi shrine. The Shore Temple, with its paved forecourts, is the lone survivor out of seven such temples, the rest having fallen to the ravages of the sea. There are two rock-cut shrines – one dedicated to Lord Shiva as Kshatriyasimha Pallaveshwara and the other to Vishnu as Jalasayanar. As in other temples, one finds here the essential elements like the Balipeetam, Dwajasthambam, Gopuram, Dwarapalakas and so on.
In the Shiva shrine, behind the Linga, Somaskanda is portrayed on the wall. Rows of Nandis surrounding an enclosure arrest the visitors’ attention.
Adjoining the shrine, one can see a large sculpture of Devi Durga seated on the right hind leg of a lion. Spanning 12 centuries, the temple stands as a symbol of the soaring aesthetic aspirations of the Pallavas. In order to prevent further sea erosion of the structure, periodic pulp and chemical treatments are being given. Under a beautification plan, the hitherto-neglected Shore Temple has a lush green lawn around it enhancing the natural atmosphere. Both sunrise and sunset offer brilliant views.
Five Rathas at Mahabalipuram:
These Rathas resemble pagodas and are mini-shrines chiseled out of huge boulders in the form of temple chariots, but in different styles. They are known as Pancha Pandava Rathas. Four of them have been named after four of the five Mahabharata heroes, while the fifth Ratha has been named after their spouse, Draupadi.
These Five Rathas are in one place. Besides this cluster of chariots, there are a few more Rathas – one near Arjuna’s Penance (Ganesha Ratha) and two others on the outskirts (Valayankuttai Ratha and Pidari Rathas). While the Ganesha Ratha is a fine chariot similar to the Bhima Ratha, the other two Rathas remedially incomplete.
After enjoying the artistic beauty of the Five Rathas, one proceeds about 200 meters to the north towards the hillside, which is located in the central part of Mahabalipuram. Here lie a number of caves and bas-reliels surrounding the hills.
It is one of the best finished gems of Pallava art. It portrays two incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The Varaha panel depicis the story of Vishnu taking the form of a mighty boar and plunging into the ocean to rescue Bhoodevi, the Mother Earth, during Mahapralayam. The Lord emerges from the ocean triumphantly, holding Bhoodevi, who is seated on His knee. Vishnu as Trivikrama overcoming asura king
Mahabalipurm’s Kirshna’s Butterball:
Discover Krishna’s Butterball in Mahabalipuram—a 250-ton rock defying gravity. This 20-ft high, 5-meter wide boulder stands on a slippery hill slope with a base of less than 4 ft. Named after Lord Krishna’s supposed favorite food, butter, it has mystified visitors for over 1200 years. Despite its precarious position, the rock remains unmoved by natural calamities, making it a fascinating and enduring marvel.
Mahabalipuram Stone Art:
Explore Mahabalipuram’s renowned stone art scene by wandering through its quaint market lanes. Immerse yourself in the creativity on display, featuring intricate stone sculptures, charming dolls, depictions of animals, and ornate decorative pieces. The artists skillfully carve these masterpieces from soapstone, green stone, soft granite, Bijri stone, durki stone, and marbles, showcasing the rich diversity of materials used in this traditional craft. Don’t miss the chance to witness the skilled craftsmanship that breathes life into these unique and culturally significant creations.
Explore Mahabalipuram Beaches:
Embark on a journey of tranquility as you explore the sun-kissed beaches of Mahabalipuram. The gentle waves rhythmically caress the golden shores, creating a picturesque backdrop for relaxation and contemplation. Stroll along the sandy expanses, where the salty sea breeze invigorates your senses and the soothing sound of the waves provides a therapeutic soundtrack.
Take in the panoramic views of the azure waters, dotted with fishing boats, and witness the vibrant hues of the sunrise or sunset casting a magical glow over the horizon. Engage in beachside activities, from building sandcastles to indulging in water sports, catering to both leisure seekers and adventure enthusiasts alike. Whether you’re seeking solitude or lively beachfront experiences, Mahabalipuram’s beaches offer a diverse retreat for every type of traveler.
Practical Tips for Your Visit:
How to travel: Easily accessible by flight or train to Chennai.
Best Season To Visit: December to March
Where to Eat: Indulge in local cuisine at popular spots like Mamalla Bhavan (Pure Vegetarian) for a complete experience.
Embark on an unforgettable heritage odyssey in Mahabalipuram, where each monument tells a story of cultural richness, mystery, and natural beauty along the tranquil shores.