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Mahabalipuram - Key Attraction

It is believed that there were seven magnificent temples what are known as the seven pagodas, built near the sea share. But the lonely survivor is the shore temples. It was originally constructed during the 7th century and later it was Narasimha Varman II, (Rajasimha) completed the skilled work in his rule. This is one of the oldest of the south Indian Temples which were structural temples constructed in the nature Dravidian style. This shore temple has gained popularity and tourists gather here because it has been listed among the world heritage sites of the UNESCO. The temple is full of designs made by carvings.
There are three temples of which two Shiva Temples face east and west respectively. The other one is the Vishnu Temple. The Vishnu temples were built by Narasimha Varman I and the other two were built by Narasimha Varman II. One can find the beautifully carved twin Dwarka Palaks (gate keepers) at the entrance of the east facing Shiva Temples. On both sides of the temple inside are the marvelous sculptures of Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu with their better halves. The top part of the Shivalinga figure inside the temple is found damaged. There are sculptures of Somaskanda - lord Shiva with his better half, Parvati, and his sons, Skanda and Ganesha are found on the near wall. Apart from Lord Shiva’s sculpture, one can find the sculptures of Narasimha and Goddess Durgha also.
The central shrine is in the form of a rectangle. It has a magnificent statue of lord Vishnu which is known as Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana which means sleeping Vishnu. The peculiarity about this particular temple is - Vishnu reclines on the floor listening silently the sounds of names. The figure of Vishnu is found in segments which are to be looked through various doors. The other sculpture is portrayed in such a may that Lord Vishnu seated in mount Garuda helping Gajendra, the elephant, found in the southern wall and the northern wall is the portrayals from the life of lord Krishna. The grand temple is surrounded by mandapas and compound walls. There is a rock-cut of a lion rode by two young women. The lion has a small cut, a square shaped cut in its belly. A Huge rock near by the temple has been the target of the waves to touch it from the ancient days. There is also a carving of a buffalo demon running with a stick in his hand, located in the northern side. The temple looks beautiful due to the lights during weekend evenings.

This rock bas-relief was built by king Narasimha I. This rock is shaped like that of a huge wale. The sculpture is carved at the back portion of the whale shaped stone. It measures 27 meters in length and 9 meters in height with a crack in the middle of the rock. Arjuna is the great here of the great epic Mahabharata. On either sides of the rock one can fin d the God’s of the triple world, demi-gods, or gods of men, birds and beasts, the Nagas, the Nymphs all found mingling into the theme of Arjuna’s penance.
The figures are carved in such a way as one can see that these figures hurry to see the miracle happened or which is about to happen. Figures of Sun and Moon are also seen. The other celestial (heavenly beings) of the race are the Yakshas, Gandharvas, Vidyadhars and attendants of Gods who can sing, dance and perform other fine arts. The other figures are Siddhas, Charnas, Kimpurushas, Kinnara (half-man and half-bind) with musical instruments like cymbals veena in their hands.
The other carving of a dense forest, the tribal and animals are seen. Influencing figures of a bid sitting on the tree, a black monkey staring the spectators and an iguana climbing a tree can be seen. Carvings of hunters with bow and arrows, rabbits, deer, tiger and a herd of elephants are also seen. There is also a figure of a saint standing on one leg, meditating with folded hands above his head and eyes closed. To its right is the figure of Lord Shiva. Another portrait of a shrine where Lord Vishnu and four saints are seated. The head of three saints have eroded due to the waves. There is a portrait of a river bank, a man standing on a bank praying to the sun, Nagas from underworld coming up with folded arms and sculptures of monkeys are also seen.
There is confusion whether this rock sculpture is the story of Mahabharata, where Arjuna undergoes meditation to be favored by Lord Shiva on the side of River Krishna or the meditation of Bhagiratha, an ancestor to Lord Rama who was sent to redeem the souls of his ancestors as inscribed in the Ramayana. Whatever the case may be, the skill and the talent of the artists are brilliant and to be applauded. They look realistic as well as humorous. This Arjuna’s penance is really a wonderful portrayal of art.
Apart from the Rathas there were other constructions too erected by the pallava kings. They were masters in building sock-cut carves and Mandapams. There are 14 such important constructions in and around Mamallapuram. Mythological scenes are depicted on these architectures. The Mandapams are mainly located on the main hill.
1) Krishna Mandapam
2) Mahishasuramardhini Mandapam
3) Varaha Mandapam
This is the biggest among the Mandapams and is dedicated to Lord Krishna Lord Krishna is a famous legend who has been the figure of many mythological stories. The sculptures inside this Mandapam beautifully picturize the myth of Lord Krishna during his brave and energetic adulthood. He lifted the huge mount govardhara in elder to provide shelter to his people and their animals from the rain. Lord Indra, god of rain poured rain continuously due to his wrath. The shepherd community namely Gokulas was shopped and thanked lord Indra once a year for his showers of blessings. But Lord Krishna asked the people to stop their practicing such custom as it was the people’s herd work that brought the people the materialistic wealth and not Lord India. Due to this lord India got angry and ordered the rain clouds to pour heavily to destroy all the animals. The people trembled in fear and went to Lord Krishna for help and lord Krishna did this mighty act of protecting the people by lifting the huge mount to protect the people and their cattle, the mighty effect was that he lifted the mount with his single little finger. The downpour was for server continuous days. Lord Indra felt very embarrassed and with drew the clouds, considering the marvelous act of the small boy. The pastoral life of the people is carved inside the mandapam. The sculptures that are beautifully portrayed constitute – a shepherd milking a cow while it licked its calf, a farmer walking with his child placed on his shoulder, a shepherdess carrying a pot of curd on her head, another with a rolled mat on her head and a tier of arranged pots in one hard, a young couple pictured beautifully and other pastoral portrayals.

This is a rock cut care temple. This mandapam very well depicts the fantastic craftsmanship of the pallavas. It consists of three small shrives in the inner wall which is exactly the typical pattern of the pallava art and architecture. On the northern wall, the battle between goddess Durga and the buffalo – headed demon, Mahishasura is beautifully inscribed Mahishasura symbolizes animal strength, ignorance and egoism to go with. Every gods and celestial beings depended upon Mahishasura. In the course of time, Mahishasura became more frightful. Devi Mahaturya while describing his power refers that when be ran the earth broke to pieces and the swing of the tail made the ocean water spread everywhere. Then the tyranny of Mahishasura was destroyed by the three supreme lords, Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, in the form of goddess. Many poets have sung in praise of this perfect portrayal especially by Heinrich Zimmer.
Apart from this there is a fine sculpture of somaskanda, and on the southern wall the sculpture of Lord Vishnu in repose on his sever hooded cobra couch “Adisesha”, Lord shiva as somaskanda is shown with four hands. The upper hands are shown holding a snake in one hand and a beaded chain on the other, while his lower hands performing abhaya and yoga mundras. Goddess parvati is seated besides him holding a little Skanda on her lap and a Nandi Bull is found beneath. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu are picturized in the background representing the power, wisdom and peace symbolically the sculptures on the western and southern walls relate the episodes from Devi Mahaturya, the celebrated Sanskrit poem which is recites and sung by the followers of tantric school. The prelude is about the destruction of the two demons Madhu and Kaitabha, who are known for their power and strength. The story goes on to an end as to how these demons were deterged by yoga Maya through Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu kills these demons by slaying their heads with his discuss.

This is a fine completed architecture which lies besides the Arjuna penance. The entrance has two pillars engraved with two horned lion – bases, and a cell protected by two gate keepers. There are four striking bas-reliefs, the northern one with Lord Vishnu (Varaha) Varaha (the mighty boar) standing at one feet on top of Naga, the snake king. He is rescuing Prithvi, the goddess earth from the primordial ocean. Varaha triumphed in his attempt and he holds the disc with his upper hands and lower hands holding Prithvi who is seated on his knees. The southern wall portrays Lord Vishnu as Vamana (a small figured Brahmin). He (Vamana) approaches empower Bali, a tyrant, requesting him to grant a land which will enable him to cover three steps. Empower Bali grants him the wish and Vamana covers the earth with one step, the Heavens with the second and the third on Bali’s head with Bali’s permission. Vamana pushed Bali to the underworld. Lord Vishnu is portrayed with his cosmic form with eight hands and eight legs. Along with Vishnu, stand Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, the Sun and the moon. The eastern wall to portray with Goddess Lakshmi with two maidens and two elephants powering water on the head which are portrayed on the backdrop.
The next side has the carving of Goddess Durga standing on a lotus. She is standing under the shade of a royal umbrella with her four hands. This is exactly portrayed to that of Draupadi Ratha.

The five Rathas is a set of magnificent monolithic rock temples. Panch is a Hindi world which means ‘Five’. These fine rock temples are located in a sandy compound. These five Rathas are the perfect examples of the evolution of Dravidian style architecture. There are built in the shaper of pagodas and they look similar to that of the Buddhist shrines and monasteries. Rathas in English means carrots. There chariots are constructed with Towers, The cars of gods, multipillared halls, and sculptured walls which are chissled out minutely. The Rathas have an association to the great epic Mahabharata which describes the heroes of Mahabharata with their wife Draupadi which is termed as pancha pandava rathas. The five rathas are (i) Draupadi’s Ratha, (ii) Arjuna’s Rath, (iii) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (iv) Bhima Rath and (v) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath.

This is located at the entrance gate, which is spectacular and simple, shaped like a hut and is dedicated to goddess Durga. Female door – keepers stand on the either ride of the Rath, one holding a bow and another, a sword. At the eastern wall a bas-relief stands portraying Goddess Durga standing on lotus and two worshippers at here feet offering flowers and one of the person’s head respectively. Energy other walls have the figure of the great goddess, and at the front of the temple is a Lion’s figure, which is the celestial vehicle to the Goddess.

The next Rath is the Arjuna’s Rath. This one is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This has a small portico and carved pillar stones. Inside the shrine there are no inscriptions or figures whereas on the outer walls. There are carvings of gods and humans. A panel on the4 northern wall is carved with two door-keepers. Beautiful carvings of Lord Vishnu and a Garuda on One panel and the other panel with a couple. The eastern wall is carved with a double Dwarka-Palaks, in the middle wall the portrait of Lord Indra riding an elephant, a log standing of the left with has disciples and two beautiful women are perfectly chissled out. These beautiful carvings hare been praised by many poets. There is also a figure of Nandi bull -which is still left unfinished.

In front of Arjuna’s Rath is the Nakula – Sahadev Rath. This is a double decored building, dedicated to Lord Indra – the God of Rain. As in Greek and Roman mythologies, where there are different gods for various aspects and qualified, the Indian mythologies too lane assigned specific gods for different aspects. There is some proof depicting this Ratha to which might have been dedicated to Subramanya associated with elephants. The elephants shaped sculptures face towards the sea. One who eaters the Panch Rathas, can visualize the back portion of the elephants and it named as Gajaprishthakara which means elephant’s back side. The elephant sculptures are huge and are highlights of the Panch Raths.

This Ratha is faced towards west and this is laid third of the Rathas. The shrine is gorgeous as it measures 42 ft in length, 24ft in width and 25ft in height. The pillars are lion carved whereas the other parts are plain. This Ratha too is an incomplete one. In the epic Mahabharata Bhima the huge guy is bulky and strong he is fond of eating all the time.

Of all the five Rathas, this last one stands huge. It is named after the eldest of the pandavas. Innovative and well carved designs can be seen in this Rath. This resembles the Arjuna’s Rath and it is a perfect example to the later built South Indian Temples. This Rath is also dedicated to Lord Shiva like that of Arjuna’s Rath. The ground floor is in complete. Above the ground floor stands minutely designed double floor. The peculiarity in this monumental construction is that there is no stair route from the ground floor to the first floor, but, there in stairs from the first floor to the second floor. There are eight panels in the ground floor. One panel is carved with the portrait of the kind and the rest with gods and goddesses. On one particular wall the figure of shiva is named ‘Ardhanariswarar’ which is the mixture of Shiva and Shakti. This is very attractive as one can find the manly structure and the luring female charm. Other portrayals show lord shiva as ‘Bhikshatana’ -meaning cosmic designer and the god of death.
Twenty two carves are found on the first floor. There is no central pasteurization in the first floor. The portrait of lord Krishna dancing on top of the fierce kaliya snake is depicted on the southern wall. Lord Vishnu’s portrayal is found on the Northern wall. Carving of a bearded ascetic holding a bell in his hands, a devotee with a tuft, holding a flower basket, a temple attendant with bunch of keys and carrying offering to god are marvelously inscribed. The second floor is well carved. Figures of Dakshinamurthy, somaskanda, the sun the moon and other worshippers all found in this floor.

The only completed sculpture of the fine Rathas is the Ganesh Rath. This lies west to the Bhim Rath and it resembles the Arjuna Penance. It was earlier dedicated to lord shiva and now it is a shrine of Ganesha. There was a lingam structure earlier and now an idol of lord Ganesha has been replaced the pallavas did not stop with there fine Raths but they went on to build more sculptures of them four are found lying on the outskirts of mahabalipuram. Two Raths which lie side by side on the way to Tirukkalakundram are named as Pidari Rathas. To the south of these two Rathas lies the Valayankuttai Rath and the fourth one which lies opposite to the Mahishasura Mardini Mandap is nameless.

A raw material is made into any thing. For example the dry rice is boiled and consumed as food. The iron is heated to make iron things such as chair, table etc. The same way these ordinary rocks in Mamallpuram lane been transformed by the pallavas into beautiful sculptures and monuments which are beauty to a place. This shows the skills of the pallava craftsmen. The other marvels in and around Mamallapuram are Trimurti cave, Kodikkal Mandapam, Replica of Arjuna’s Penance, Ramanuja Mandapam, Adivaraha Temple, Krishna’s Butter Ball, Koneri cane, Pancha Pandava Mandapam and Sthalasayana Perumal temple.

This rock cut came has three cells which are dedicated to the Hindu Trinity. This is located to the north - east of Arjuna’s penance. There is no portico in front. The figure of Lord Shiva, a Shivalinga, is portrayed. The second cell has two gate keepers at the entrance. There is a carving of a god which some cell it Skanda whereas others call it Lord Brahma. The third cell is dedicated to Goddess Durga who is shown stamping the beheaded Mahishasura’s head. There is a minor - rock cut zoo to the east of Trimurti cane. The zoo carvings are inscribed with an elephant, a calf, a monkey and a peacock.

This has a rectangular shape and it lies south west of Trimurthi cane. There are two maiden door - keepers on the entrance one with a sowed and the other with a bow. The centre is bare. There is a belief that this rock - cut shrine was dedicated to goddess Durga.

This is situated to the south of Krishna Mandapam. Sculptors tried to present a replica of Arjuna’s penance. This lies incomplete but gives a reflection and dedication of the pallava artists. To the south of this replica lies a three celled rectangular mandapam known as Dharamaraja Mandapam. The sculptures in this Mandapam have been scraped off.

Around Mahishasura Mardini Mandapam there are some interesting Mandapams. One of them is Ramanuja Mandapam. It is on the way to the light house which is led by a narrow path. This mandapam is well finished and has three chambers in it. This was earlier dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Vaishnavas, followers of Lord Vishnu wanted to build a Vishnu Temple and so they destroyed this Ramanuja Mandapam is what said about its destruction.

This lies to the south west of the Mahishasura Mandapam. This has both historic and artistic value. The entrance has two gate keeper sculptures whereas inside is the portrayal of Lord Vishnu in the form of Varaha. Here we find the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu insulted and the 9th one is said to be Lord Buddha. The northern wall has the Portrayal of Lord Shiva receiving river Ganga to his hair locks. Nearby is a splendid sculpture of simha Vishnu seated on a thrown and his beautiful queens standing on both sides. On the eastern wall is the inscription of Goddess, Mahalakshmi, seated on a lotus flower surrounded by her beautiful maidens and two elephants in the backdrop pouring water in her. There are also two figures of the Pallava kings and their names inscribed on top. This is the only pallava monument where worship takes place. This temple is important because it has the best sculptures of gods and kings generally it is closed except for special occasions.

There is a hill slope near the Ganesh Ratha and on it is a huge boulder. This is amazing as it is quite natural. This is known as Krishna’s Butter Ball. The pallava kings tried to more the boulder with elephants but were not able to do that.

There are two rock-out cane temples near a hillock opposite to the river koneri. One temple hare fine cells which is almost a completed architecture. The gate keepers of an impressive carriage and smooth surroundings are the only specialties. There are also two unfinished Mandapams nearly. The sculpture museum is located to the south of Mamallapuram bus stand and preserves about 3000 sculptures made by local artisans with the help of wood, metal brass and cement. The college of traditional Art and Architecture has an association with this museum which helped in the production of many sculptors. The Yamini Krishnamurti Art museum is a little museum is a little museum which is opposite to Arjuna’s penance. One can find few sculptures preserved here.

The Mamallpuram beach adds beauty to the pallava constructions. There are green and lush casuarinas groves which add further colour to the surroundings. The sunrise and sunset looks exuberant and tourists will surely enjoy the ambiance. One can observe the light fading away to night, the waning moon, the shining and glittering stars and the murmuring waves add glory tot his place. People would certainly love to enjoy this tourist resort.

The sailors and the boat riding fishermen find their way to the land with the help of light houses. The new lighthouse is located south of Arjuna’s penance which is the highest point of the area.

This is located in the heart of mahabalipuram. It was originally built by the pallava kings, but later on there have been many alternations to the temple. It is told that the pallava kings and the artists of their times discussed about their art and architecture here.

Museums are very important fro a place as it speaks and proves of the history of a place. The museums have a lot of preserved things which were used during the ancient times. The pallava kings too used various weapons and tools and other things which are found to be preserved in the museums listed below.
The Archaeological survey of India museum is located on the west raja street near the lighthouse. It preserves pallava sculptures recovered from mahabalipuram and its surroundings. One can enjoy the natural scenery from here nearby the New Lighthouse is the old Lighthouse named as Olakaneswara which means the flame eyed shiva. This was used during the rule of Rajasimha (678 - 800 A.D). It has no images and was used as light house until the beginning of the 20th century. Now it is not in use.

This college is located 2 kilometers away from mahabalipuram towards Kovalam Road. This is a unique college. T he students can learn the art of making sculptures right from ancient drawings and sculptures both in wood and stone as well as the classical Hindu traditional sculptures.

This is near Salurankuppam. This is a coastal village of 5 Kilometers north of mahabalipuram on the Kovalam Road. This is a magnificent mandapa which contains a shrine dedicated to goddess Durga which has big beautiful figures in front. The deposition here is on the battle of Goddess Durga and Mahishasura. There are number of charges in this Mandapam from that of the Mahishasura Mardini Mandapam. The figure of somaskanda is found in Athiranachanda Mandapa to the south of Tiger care. This too is a popular picnic spot.

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