- TAMIL NADU
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 - reliefs, 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.
What to See
Arjuna's Penance: Carved in relief on the face of a
huge rock, Arjuna's Penance is the mythical story of the river
Ganges, issuing from its source, high in the Himalayas. The
surface of the rock has detailed carvings showing the most
endearing and natural renditions of animals. It also shows
deities, and other semi-divine creatures and fables from the
Panchtantra. Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers and a consummate
archer, is shown standing on one leg, doing penance to obtain
a boon from Lord Shiva. It is said that Arjuna had made a
journey to a bank on the river Ganges to do penance, in the
hope that Shiva would part with his favourite weapon, the
pashupatashastra, a magic staff or arrow.
Mandapams (low rise, rockcut halls):
In all there are eight mandapams scattered over the main hill,
two of which have been left unfinished.
Krishna Mandapam: This is one
of the earliest rock-cut temples. It features carvings of
a pastoral scene, showing Lord Krishna lifting up the Govardhana
mountain, to protect his people from the wrath of Indra, the
God of Rain.
Rathas: These are architectural
prototypes of all Dravidian temples, showcasing the imposing
gopurams and vimanas, multi-pillared halls and sculptured
walls, which dominate the landscape of Tamil Nadu. The rathas
are named after the Pandavas, the heroes of the Mahabharata
epic. Although they are widely known as "Five Rathas", there
are actually eight of them.
Shore Temples: The shore temples were built in the
7th century, during the reign of Rajasimha, and depict the
final phase of Pallava art. These beautiful temples, ravaged
by wind and sea, were given the World Heritage listing, a
few years ago. The two spires of the temples, contain a shrine
for Lord Vishnu and for Lord Shiva. The Mahabalipuram dance
festival is held every year from January 15 to February 15.
During this period, dances from all over the country are staged
here, including Kathakali from Kerala, Kuchipudi from Andhra
Pradesh as well as tribal dances, puppet shows and classical
and traditional music concerts.
How to get there
There are buses available from Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu
and Madras to Mahabalipuram daily. Madras can be accessed
by air or train from any corner of the country. International
flights operate from various parts of the world to Madras.