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
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.
||8 sq. km
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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