Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu

When the Pallava Dynasty took Kanchipuram to be their capital, after fighting the Cholas, Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram) became their major seaport. Here, in Mamallapuram, during the 7th and 8th century CE, the Pallavas built a group of religious monuments, that’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mamallapuram is actually named after the Pallava king Narasimhan I, that was known as Mamallan (The Great Wrestler) who ruled South India during 630-668 AD, and completed the work his father. Mahendravarman I, began in Mamallapuram. Mahendravarman I was the pioneer of rock-cut architecture, and also his son, Mamallan, shared the same passion and love for such art. Though, Mahendravarman I was born Jain, he converted to Saivism by the influence of the Saiva Saint Appar Swamigal, who too lived in this period, like Sambanthar and Thiruthondar. As an expression of his belief in Saivism, it is said that he therefore started the work of rock-carvings and temples at Mamallapuram. As his son, Mamallan completed the father’s work, the place was then named after him. 

The site actually has 400 ancient monuments, and some of them were “re-discovered” after the tsunami in 2004, that uncovered some of the temples from the sand.

It includes one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world; Descent of the Ganges, also known as Arjuna’s Penance.

Some of the other works that are included:

  • The 5 Rathas
  • The Shore Temple
  • Trimurti Cave Temple
  • The Lion Throne

…And much more!

I didn’t photograph each and every thing that we saw here, so here are few of my clicks:

The 5 Rathas

Ratha, meaning chariot or in pure tamil – Thaer. The 5 Rathas in Mamallapuram are actually temples carved in the shape of Rathas. They are today symbolically referred as the Pandava Rathas, and named after the 5 Pandava kings and their wife, Draupadi; though they are NOT dedicated to the Pandavas and their wife, but just symbolically named, as they stand together in group of 5 rathas (exactly like the 5 Pandava brothers). The temples are actually dedicated to the gods Shiva, Shakti/Durga and Vaishnavi (the female form of Vishnu). The rathas are dated to be from the 7th century CE.

The Shore Temple

The Shore Temple is located at the Mamallapuram shore, hence its name. The 2-towered temple, that’s built by Narasimhavarman II, Mamallan’s great grand son, in the 8th century CE, dedicated to lord Shiva, with goddes Durga sitting on her lion vehicle on the southerns part of the temple. This temple is the earliest free-standing stone-temple in Tamil Nadu. There are rows of Nandis framing the temple courtyard.

The sculptures and temples of Mamallapuram have a very interesting history, that’s worth a study. Eventually, Mamallapuram’s other name – Mahabalipuram – is named after king Bali, who was the grandson of Prahalatha and great-grandon of Hiranyakashipu.

Mamallapuram is indeed a very beautiful site to visit, and you can spend a lot of time here, visiting and studying each monument.

~ AJ

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