Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram is a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is around 60 km south from the city of Chennai. Mahabalipuram dates back to the Tamil Pallava dynasty in the 7th-9th century. The structures here, mostly carved straight out of granite, are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian architecture.
Today’s Mamallapuram is purely a tourist town and one of the major attractions around Chennai.
1. Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram
Shore temple is a complex of three temples, one large and two small, located right on the shores of the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal in Mahabalipuram, which was earlier known as Mamallapuram. It was built by the Pallava Dynasty when it was the trading port of the dynasty. The oldest structure in the area, build c. 700 AD, this temple has been here for more than 1400 years.
This structural temple complex was the culmination of the architectural creations that were initiated by the King Narasimha Varma I also named as Mammalla after whom the Mamallapuram town was named. The main credit for the architectural elegance of the Shore Temple complex goes to the King Rajasimha (700–28 AD), also known as Narasimhavarman II, of the Pallava Dynasty.
The Tsunami of December 2004 that struck the coastline of Coromandel Coast exposed an old collapsed temple built entirely of granite blocks. The Tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries.
There has been a lot of wind and water erosion on the temple carvings with many of them having undergone loss of detail over the years. From the time Shore Temple has been included in the UNESCO heritage project we see lot of renovation work. The surroundings have been made much nicer, but Sort of too little, too late, but still, better than nothing.
Be prepared to fight you way through clutches of gypsies, beggars, guides, snakes charmers and so on, all of which is an essential part of a tourist experience.
2. Visit stone Carvings of Five Rathas – Pancha Pandava Rathas
The five Rathas is a set of magnificent monolithic rock temples. Pancha Rathas also known as Pandava Rathas is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram. This site contains five rathas, literally chariots, dating from the 7th century. The sculptures are complemented by some enormous stone animals, including a large elephant.
These five Rathas are the perfect examples of the evolution of Dravidian style architecture. The monoliths are named after the Pandavas – Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishthira, Nakula and Sahadeva – and Draupadi. These names are considered to be a misrepresentation as the structures have no link to the iconic characters of the Mahabharata epic. They have no religious significance either. There chariots are constructed with Towers, The cars of gods, multipillared halls, and sculptured walls which are chiseled out minutely.
According to a plaque displayed at the site by the Archaeological Survey of India, the Pallava dynasty had planned the structures as models of chariots in rock based on prototypes of ancient rathas built in wood.The Pancha Rathas were carved during the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I. Work on these five rathas was discontinued following the death of Narasimha Varman. This Monuments at Mahabalipuram, is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. See the Defiance of all laws of physics – Butter Rock of Mahabalipuram (Krishna’s Butterball Rock)
Krishna’s Butterball is a giant natural rock perched on a hillside, seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics. The “butterball” is a giant balancing rock, 5 meters in diameter, perched on a smooth slope, seemingly defying all laws of physics.
The rock provides welcome shade if you dare to sit underneath it, and local kids have discovered that the slippery nearby hillside also makes a great natural slide.
Even though it is popularly known as “Krishna’s Butter Ball” in recent times, this was not the original name of the rock. This name was invented by a tour guide in 1969 who was appointed to show the sculptures of Mahabalipuram to Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. The original name of this rock is “Vaan Irai Kal”. In Tamil language, it means “Stone of The Sky God”.
It’s a common sight to see visitors placing hands under the stone posing for pics, which looks as though they are holding it!
4. Visit the Sculpture of Tiger Cave
The Tiger Cave is a rock-cut Hindu temple complex located in the hamlet of Saluvankuppam near Mahabalipuram. It gets its name from the carvings of tiger heads on the mouth of a cave which forms a part of the complex. The Tiger Cave is considered to be one of the Mahabalipuram rock-cut temples constructed by the Pallavas in the 8th century AD. The site is a popular picnic spot and tourist destination. The temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The discovery of an inscription on a rocky outcrop in the Tiger Cave complex in 2005 led to the excavation of a Sangam period Subrahmanya Temple close by.
5. Monuments At Mamallapuram Are Being Treated In Restoration Bid
In the Soaring heat of Mahabalipuram team from Archaeological Survey of India clean the Mamallapuram monuments preserving them for eternity. Brush in hand, the team members inch through the structures, painstakingly cleaning them with water and chemicals. The team has been working to preserve the ancient Mamallapuram including temples and caves. Science wing of the Archaeological Survey of India from Chennai has undertaken restoration of several monuments at the world heritage site using the Wacker process – a chemical treatment process that uses acetic acid.
So far, the Archaeological Survey of India has completed the restoration work at Tiger Cave, Mukundanaynar temple, Ganesa Ratha, Varaha cave, Koneri mandapam, Kotikal mandapam, Trimurti temple and Arjuna’s penance. The tiger cave is located some four kms from Mamallapuram on the east Cost road, while all the other monuments are within the main world heritage site in Mamallapuram. The total space of shortlisted monuments for restoration is around 1,900 square meters, of which atleast 75% of the total work has been completed
The Wacker chemical is mixed with distilled water before it is applied on the surface of the monuments. Before using the chemical agent, the workers clean the structure with distilled water to remove dust and algae. The algae forms on the monuments due to chloride in saline air. “We use distilled water because the salt in groundwater will add to the existing salt content on the monument,” says an ASI chemist. The distilled water is obtained from a reverse osmosis plant at ASI’s office in Mamallapuram.
The process of applying the chemical agent is repeated continuously on several portions of the monuments. Thereafter, a silicon based water repellent coating is applied on the surface. This ensures the monument resists intake of water either through rainfall or from atmosphere. It takes two days for the water repellent to dry. “Water acts as a major destroyer of rocks. Small cracks created by microbes on the surface of these rocks allow water to penetrate and widen these cracks resulting in more damage. The monument would be tested manually for salinity and wetness. We repeat the entire process three to four times,” ASI officials noted.
The work is done for only three months of a year; usually during summer when drying is quick. “Sometimes, popular demand also plays a part. For example, restoration work of the Big Temple in Tajore was taken up coinciding its 1,000 years of existence,” said a senior ASI official. There are a range of structures at Mamallapuram – rock-cut, monolithic and open air bas-relief, all of which date back to the Pallava period between the 3rd and 9th century AD. Structures away from the sea can be restored using a paper pulp is soaked in distilled water for three hours and then pasted on the structures. The pulp is removed along with the surface deposits after three days. A part of the shore temple in Mamallapuram was treated last year.
The Wacker chemical, the main raw material, is mixed with distilled water before it is applied on the surface of the monuments. Before using the chemical, monuments are cleaned with distilled water to remove dust. The chemical is repeatedly applied on the monuments. As part of preservation, silicon based water repellent chemical coating is applied on the surface of the monument in order to ensure that it resists water intake either through rainfall or from atmosphere. It takes two days for the water repellent to dry up.
How to reach Mahabalipuram
You will have to reach Chennai either by trainer or by Air first.
There are many flights to Chennai from different cities of India. Chennai also has international airport for International travelers. Direct bus between Chennai and Mahabalipuram is available. Best is to take State transport bus from Chennai to Mahabalipuram. You can also hire a taxi , the Approximate distance between Chennai and M is 56 Km.
Enjoy the History of Mahabalipuram