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Holy Destinations of India

Mahabalipuram

Globally renown for its shore temples, Mahabalipuram was the second capital of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. 58 kilometres from Madras on the Bay of Bengal, this tiny sea - side village of Mahabalipuram, is set in a boulder - strewn landscape. Tourists are drawn to this place by its miles of unspoiled beach and rock-cut art. The sculpture, here, is particularly interesting because it shows scenes of day-to- day life, in contrast with the rest of the state of Tamil Nadu, where the carvings generally depict gods and goddesses

Mahabalipuram art can be divided into four categories : open air bas - relief, structured temples, man-made caves and rathas ('chariots' carved from single boulders, to resemble temples or chariots used in temple processions). The famous Arjuna's Penance and the Krishna Mandapa, adorn massive rocks near the centre of the village. The beautiful Shore Temple towers over the waves, behind a protective breakwater. Sixteen man-made caves in different stages of completion are also seen, scattered through the area.

Photos of Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram Temple

Mahabalipuram Rathas


HISTORY

The temples of Mamallapuram, built largely during the reigns of Narasimhavarman and his successor Rajasimhavarman, showcase the movement from rock-cut architecture to structural building. The mandapas or pavilions and the rathas or shrines shaped as temple chariots are hewn from the granite rock face, while the famed Shore Temple, erected half a century later, is built from dressed what makes Mamallapuram so culturally resonant are the influences it absorbs and disseminates.

All but one of the rathas from the first phase of Pallava architecture are modelled on the Budhist viharas or monasteries and chaitya halls with several cells arranged around a courtyard. Art historian Percy Brown, in fact, traces the possible roots of the Pallavan Mandapas to the similar rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora. Referring to Narasimhavarman's victory in AD 642 over the Chalukyan king Pulakesin II, Brown says the Pallavan king may have brought the sculptors and artisans back to Kanchi and Mamallapuram as 'spoils of war'.

LOCATION AND AREA
The religious island is spread in an area of 61.8 square kilometers and happens to be in the shape of a conch. The Ramanatha Swamy Temple occupies major area of Rameshwaram. The masterpiece of Dravidian architecture boasts of the largest temple corridor in India. Different rulers built the Ramanatha Swamy Temple over a period of time starting from the 12th century. The temple comprises of twenty-two wells where the taste of the water of each well is different from the other.

GENERAL FACTS

Area 8 sq. km
Population 1,330
Altitude Sea level
Languages Spoken Tamil and English
Best Time to Visit October to March
STD Code 04114

 

WHERE TO STAY

There are several hotels, lodges, cottages and hostel that provide ample services and facilities for a comfortable stay. The pilgrims may opt for the dormitory service at the temple. Since throughout the twelve months in a year Rameshwaram remains hot and humid there is not much temperature variation that is experienced though it is most pleasant between October and March.

 

PLACES TO VISIT

Mahabalipuram with its picturesque location on a rocky outcrop between the beach and a lagoon is a happy combination of history, good beaches, hassle-free tourism and fabulous fish and lobster! Despite the many visitors, drawn by the former Pallava dynasty town, the place is friendly, relaxed, and the villagers are remarkably unperturbed by their crowds of visitors.

Arjuna’s Penance
Arjuna’s Penance, an enormous relief made on two huge boulders, is the universe itself in stone, throbbing with a vastness of conception. This colossus of art, 27 metres long and 9 metres high, is perhaps the world’s largest bas-relief. The cleft in the rock depicts the descent of the Ganga, brought to earth by King Bhagiratha to redeem the cursed souls of his ancestors. The two large elephants are remarkable for their artistry, and so are the scenes from the Panchatantra. There is a forest with tribal people and all forms of animal life, just as they would appear in their habitat. Women are clothed in an aura of ineffable grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them. The whole scene has a delicate edge of humour. Juxtaposed against the ascetic is a cat doing rigorous penance too, eyes firmly shut, even to the delectable mice scampering around within easy reach.

Caves
The Varaha Cave, a small rock-cut mandapam (hall), is a faceted and finished gem with two incarnations of Vishnu—Varaha (boar) and Vamana (dwarf). Particularly noteworthy here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers. There is about them a mood of contemplative reverie, a lyrical softness and subtle grace totally at variance with the primordial machismo their role as guards of the gods imposes on them. The Dharmaraja Cave, built in the early seventh century, contains three empty shrines. The Mahisasurmardini Cave (mid-seventh century) has fine bas-reliefs on its panels of enduring beauty. The Somaskanda sculpture radiates peace, power, and wisdom while Lord Vishnu is shown in omniscient repose in a masterpiece of dhwani (the art of suggestion). On the opposite side is a huge theatrical panel showing, Goddess Durga’s fight with the demon Mahishasura, an episode culled from the celebrated Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya.

About 5 km north of Mahabalipuram is another cave called Tiger Cave, a rock-cut shrine possibly dating back to 7th century.

Rathas
A group of structures lying at the southern extreme of Mahabalipuram, amidst casuarina trees, are the famous Rathas (chariots). The Pancha Pandava Rathas, as they are called, are five in number. Out of these, four are carved out of a single rock, while the fifth on the west is scooped out from a small rock. The square Draupadi and Arjuna Rathas, the linear Bhima Ratha, the taller Dharamraja Ratha and the apsidal Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha, constitute the complex.

Besides these, there are the Ganesha Ratha to the north of the main hill and two Pidari Rathas on the eastern side. The hut-like Draupadi Ratha sports doorkeepers and Durga with a worshipper offering his head. The Arjuna Ratha, facing west, has its outer walls carved with the most graceful figures of gods and mortals. The Sahadeva Ratha with a huge monolithic elephant in front; the Bhima Ratha with its two storeys and lion-based pillars; and, of course, the Dharamraja Ratha—the biggest and finest of them all with its eight panels of exquisite sculptures—provide the visitor with insight into the craftsmen’s skill of a time long gone by.

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

Shore Temple
The windswept and surf-beaten Shore Temple, the mute tireless sentinel of the shore, is the ultimate expression of Mahabalipuram. A three-in-one abode of God—a Vishnu temple sandwiched between two Shiva temples—it is a visual delight, its precincts abounding in architectural masterpieces. On either side of it the sea spreads, illimitable and infinite. The compound wall of this temple is lined with charming sculptures of Nandi the bull while the figure of Vishnu is present in the sanctum sanctorum.

The Shore Temple forms the backdrop of the Mahabalipuram Dance Festival celebrated in the month of January/February every year. This festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform.

Excursions

Mahabalipuram is a part of the Golden Triangle circuit of South India along with Chennai and Kanchipuram. As such, it is generally visited in combination with these two places. Kanchipuram (65 km) is the synonym for some of India’s finest silk saris. This dusty, small town, popularly called the Golden Town of a Thousand Temples, is renowned for the Kamakshi, Varadarajaswami, and Kailasanathar temples, all more than worthy of a visit. And about the Kanchi weavers, any ode would fall short! Vedanthangal is the site of a bird sanctuary, one of India’s largest, while Covelong is famous for its golden beach and other historical monuments. The Crocodile Bank (14 km) and Muttukadu (21 km) are also worth a visit.

Kanchipuram
A 65-kilometre stretch of sun-scorched road connects Mahabalipuram to the fabled city of a thousand temples, Kanchipuram (also Kancheepuram). There are 650 stone inscriptions in Kanchipuram belonging to different dynasties. The temples here reflect the maturity and efflorescence of Pallava art and the ornate and often imposing embellishments were produced later by the Chola, Vijayanagara and Chalukyan kings. 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, 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.

And so it was. A seat of learning that attracted scholars from far-flung corners of the globe. But what has now girdled the earth is the gold-embroidered Kanchipuram silk sari that has been for centuries a prized possession of the South Indian woman. Shops dealing with silk and cotton saris and material line the main street of the town and for a demonstration of the skills of the Kanchi weavers, visit the Weaver’s Service Centre on Railway Station Road.

Kanchipuram is the only city in South India to have played such a dominant, decisive and continuous role in the history of the peninsula. At one time, it was the hub of the empire, of pomp and panoply. Today, it is a small place that time has forgotten. Royalty abandoned it long ago and history shifted its allegiance to other more dramatic arenas. And in the quiet interregnum of the centuries when life thundered by elsewhere, the ancient city, wrapped in nostalgia, too proud to change with the times, withdrew from the mainstream. To become what it is today. An Arcadian fastness of beauty. A dreamy detachment and a quaint medievalism, the lasting impression of which one consigns to memory.

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.

Covelong
Just 19 kilometres from Mahabalipuram is situated the picturesque beach resort of Covelong, a quiet fishing village with the remains of a fort. Facilities for windsurfing, swimming and water sports are available here. If you are in Mahabalipuram, don’t miss out on a visit to this place.

Crocodile Bank
The Crocodile Bank is situated barely 14 km from Mahabalipuram on the Chennai-Mahabalipuram road. Set up by an American named Romulus Whitaker in 1976, the number of crocodiles in the bank grew in its first 15 years from just 15 to over 5,000. Located nearby is a snake farm where anti-venom is produced for treating snakebites.

Muttukadu
An ideal place for water sports, Muttukadu is 21 km from Mahabalipuram. The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has a boathouse here. Visitors can enjoy boating, canoeing, kayaking, and windsurfing. The Dakshina Chitra of Madras Craft Foundation here has replica of an old agricultural house of Tamil Nadu, replica of Kanchipuram weavers house and replicas of ancient houses presenting the lifestyle of South India.



HOW TO REACH


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.


FESTIVALS

Mahabalipuram Dance Festival is an occasion for the dance lovers to enjoy the performances of the artists from all parts of the country. The festival is celebrated in the month of January/February every year. The Shore Temple forms the backdrop of this festival and the music from the musical instruments mixes with the natural music of wind and the sea. The Mahabalipuram Dance festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform.

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

SHOPPING

Mahabalipuram has kept alive and, to a great extent, revived the ancient art of stonemasons and sculptures. The sculptors in various yards work to carve beautiful shape and size from stone. They receive contract from all over India and abroad to supply images of various kinds. These images include deities for temples and other forms for restoration works. One can buy these images and statues at several handicraft emporia scattered around the town.

Some marvellously carved images of Hindu gods are also offered in the shops. These carvings may be in soap stone or on wood. Jewellery and other items are also available. One can also buy decorative items made from seashells

       

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