The shore temples of Mahabalipuram


mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

In early 2007, we had to go to Chennai over a weekend for a family function; this was the first time that me and Sangeetha were visiting Chennai together. After the function we had some time on hand and post lunch we headed out to Mahabalipuram, which is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

The Archeological Survey website says "Mamallapuram, the city of Mamalla, is after the title of great Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman-I (AD 630-68). It was a sea-port during the time of Periplus (1st century AD) and Ptolemy (AD 140) and many Indian colonists sailed to South-East Asia through this port town.

While there is some evidence of architectural activity going back to the period of Mahendravarman-I (AD 600-30), the father of Mamalla, most of the monuments like rock-cut rathas, sculptured scenes on open rocks like Arjuna’s penance, the caves of Govardhanadhari and Mahishasuramardini, the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple (the sleeping Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the rear part of the Shore temple complex) are attributed to the period of Narasimhavarman-I Mamalla.

Of the nine monolithic temples found in Mahabalipuram, the most important are Five Rathas known after the famous five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata fame. These monuments are carved out a single rock with choice of all known forms of plan and elevations. While the Dharmaraja, Arjuna and Draupadi rathas are square on plan, the Bhima and Ganesa rathas are rectangular and Sahadeva ratha apsidal. The Draupadi ratha is a simple hut like kutagara shrine while the Arjuna ratha is a dvitala vimana with a mukhamandapa. The Bhima ratha is rectangular on plan with a salakara wagon-vaulted roof. The Dharmaraja ratha is a tritala vimana having functional shrines at all the talas. The Nakula-Sahadeva ratha with an apsidal plan and elevation indicate the experimental tendency of the architect."

The five rathas… as captured in a 1825 watercolor painting…

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO
Courtesy: British Library

The five rathas as captured by us in 2007 πŸ™‚

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

Since the monuments in the complex seem to be carved out in a somewhat adhoc manner, I think there is a possibility that this was a temple complex that also doubled up as a training ground and a ‘modelling zone’ for the architects of that era…(As mentioned in one of the sites I came across while reading up about Mahabalipuram)

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

Mahishasuramardhini…

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

The reclining Vishnu…

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

The lower parts of most of the monuments have been badly eroded by the sea and sand over the millenia…

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO

mahabalipuram, chennai, pallava, shore temple, rathas, UNESCO






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The shore temples of Mahabalipuram


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