Sunday, May 8, 2011


         Mamallapuram  is 58 kms south of  Chennai. Situated on the shore of Bay of Bengal it was once a port of the Pallavas. The Pallavas have created many marvelous moments at this  place which attract tourists from all over the world. The monuments  are unique in many respects. The include 1. Sculpural panels 2.Caves 3.Monolithic Rathas and 4.Structural Temples. Once  a thriving port trading with many distant nations, in this town the Pallava chisels have breathed life into  stone. The Pallava art at this place emphasizes robust earthly beauty, imbibed with life. Here the world of Gods meet the world of men. Mythological episodes, epic battles, demons, men and animals are combine to create an attesting, pleasing harmony.

                There are nine rock-cut cave temples. The Mahishasuramardhini  cave depicting the Goddess fighting the buffalo-headed demon on one side with Lord Vishnu in his cosmic sleep (Anantha sayanam) on the other  is a remarkable study in contrast. The final battle scene of he war between the God and the Evil in the former is as striking as the profound peace and calmness depicted in the latter.

                This cave also has a big bas-relief notable for its realistic representation. The panel relaes one of the stories of Lord Krishna. Other interesting monuments are Ganesa Rath, Varaha Cave, Old Light House, Krishna’s Butter Ball, Gopi’s Churn, Valayankuttai Ratha, Kodikal Mandapam etc.

                The world’s largest stone bas-relief measuring 27m x 9m, is another pride of Mamallapuram. This huge whale-back shaped rock faces the sea, and is split with a fissure in the middle. On either side are denizens of the triple world, Gods, demigods, men, beasts, birds and, in fact representatives of the entire creation.The figures generally seem to be hurrying towards the cleft in the center. There are two schools of thought regarding what the panel represents:

Arjuna’s Penance Theory:

    According to this theory the theme of the bas-relief is supposed to be related to Arjuna in Mahabaratham. The emaciated figure standing on one leg is Arjuna in the penance posture, praying to Lord Siva for a powerful weapon to destroy the enemies. The entire creation witness this magnificent spectacle.

The Descent of the Ganga Theory:
                The second school of thought holds the bas-relief to represent Bhagirathan, ancestor of Rama, praying to the gods to give the Ganga to the earth. On achieving this he had to request Lord Siva to hold back the rushing waters and release the Ganga from his matted locks. The cleft in the rock represents the descending Ganga. The presence of the celestial and earthly audience to witness this miracle upholds this theory. The masonry in the center shows there was once a tank above he rock to hold water and left it trickle down to the earth below, further strengthening this theory.

The Five Rathas:
                To the south of the hillock containing  cave temple are  the five monolithic temples, each chiseled out in a different style. They are also known as  Pancha Pandava Rathas after the heroes of the epic Mahabaratham. According to  historians the rathas are dedicated to Durga., Siva, Vishnu and Indra. The four rathas on the south side are supposed to have been scooped out of a single rock formation.

The Shore Temple:
    This is one of the oldest temples of South India. This temple belongs to the 8th Century A.D. and is a good example of the first phase of structural temples constructed in Dravidian style. It has tow shrines, facing east and west. The one facing east is dedicated to Lord Siva. The inner back walls of the shrine bear Somaskanda panels- one of the notable features of early Pallava style. In the other shrine Mahavishnu is depicted in reclining pose (Cosmic sleep) facing east.

Architecture & Sculpture College:
                In this college, in keeping with the tradition of the place, training is given in various branches of the temple art and architecture strictly according to Silpa Sastra. A Display hall here exhibits beautiful traditional sculptures.

Tiger’s Cave:
                It is 5 kms north of the main monument complex on the way to Chennai. It is an open air theater where cultural programmes held for the royal family. Thought it is very near to the sea the place is serene and calm. The roaring noise of the dashing waves is not heard here.

                Situated 16 kms south of  Mamallapuram. Once this sea shore village was a Dutch settlement. A massive fort with 14 well-cut  tomb stones is the attraction here.

                An ancient temple  dedicated to Lord Muruga is located here. The temple contains several inscriptions. It is about 16 kms from Mamallapuram.

                It is a sea shore village about 20 kms. north of Mamallapuram. A Dharga and an ancient Church are located here. It was the venue of an interesting interlude during the Carnatic wars.

                Just north of Kovalam this backwater area is a fine picnic spot. Water sports are being developed here. Facilities for boating and wind-surfing are available.

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