MAHABALIPURAM (Mamallapuram)

The town of temples, sand & sea - Mamallapuram, formerly known as Mahabalipuram, is world renowned for its beautiful shore Temple. It was once the main port and naval base of the great Pallava Kingdom and was later made the capital of this Dynasty.

Mamalla meaning the great wrestler was the name given to King Narasimha Varma I. Most of the temples and sculptures in Mamallapuram dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, were completed between 630 A.D and 728 A. D. during the reign of Narasimha Varma I and II.

Sand, water and temples set the backdrop for the graceful and evocative dancers who celebrate the ancient Indian culture and tradition at the annual Mamallapuram Dance Festival held during January and February. Here the expressive Indian Classical dancers adorned in traditional costumes perform Odissi, Kuchupudi, Kathakali and Bharatanatyam.

Mamallapuram General Information

  • Area: 8 sq km.
  • Population: 12,000
  • Altitude: Sea level
  • Temperature: Summer Max.36ºC Min.21ºC, Winter Max.31ºC Min.19ºC
  • Season: Throughout the year
  • Clothing: Tropical
  • Rain fall: 32.5 cm average
  • Language: Tamil & English

How to Get There

By Air

The nearest airport of Chennai (58 Kms) connects Mahabalipuram with other major cities of India and the world by frequent flights.

By Rail

The nearest railway stations from Mahabalipuram are Chennai (58 Kms) and Chengalpattu (29 Kms). From there one has to take the road journey.

By Road

The good motor able roads connect Mahabalipuram with nearby towns. Regular bus services are available from Pondicherry 62 kms , Kanchipuram 65 kms and Chennai to Mahabalipuram is 60 kms

Places to visit

Arjuna's Penance: This quaint little town of Mamallapuram in enriched with ancient with ancient and splendid sculptures. Each of the beautiful works of art has a story to tell. Like the large 27 m by 9 m bas-relief that narrates the tale of Arjuna's Penance. Arjuna here is shown standing on one leg to please Lord Shiva into helping him winback the Pandava Empire. A fascinating combination of humans, animals and celestial beings seem to be rushing to the revered scene. Most prominent among them is a 4.8 m majestic elephant leading a procession. Also known as the Descent of the Ganga, this impressive canvas portrays the life giving River Ganges flowing out from its high source in the Himalayas. Enchanting stories from the Panchatantra are also a part of this magnificent bas-relief.

Shore Temple: The most renowned landmark of Mamallapuram is the Shore Temple. Standing alone on the shore, this temple is protected by a wall constructed to minimise erosion. It is believed that at one point in time there were seven such temples, six of them were victims to the natural elements of erosion.

King Rajasimha built this exquisite temple over 1,200 years ago in the 7th centuary A.D. It has three shrines; one dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the other two to Lord Shiva. The forthy waves form a striking backdrop to the temple, protected by rows of rock-carved bulls. The most unique feature ot he temple is that it houses shrines to both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. The 2.4 m long bas-relief of Lord Vishnu reclining on his serpent conch can be seen in his shrine. The 16-sided granite lingam in one of the chambers is said to have touched the ceiling once. The entrance is guarded by deities and the temple was given the World Heritage listing a few years ago. A classic example of the best Dravidian architecture, the unique temple will leave you in awe of the sculptor's talent.

Many of its structures date to the time of reign of the Pallavas (7th century) and the best of these were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site with the name of Group of Monuments. These monuments are primarily divided into four categories, namely- Rathas, Mandapas or Cave Temples, Structural Temples and Rock Reliefs.

Rathas: The five monolithic Rathas of Mamallapuram are named after the victorious Pandava brothers of the epic Mahabharatha and their wife Draupadi. Through the temples are incomplete, they exude architectural brilliance of the Dravidian style, seen in the magnificent gopurams, vimanas and carved walls. The majestic Lion, an Elephant and the sacred nandi guard the rathas.

Mandapams: Mamallapuram is the eight magnificent Mandapams-caves carved out of the hillside with splendid sculptures and pillars. Each of the shallow temples has five bas-reliefs with scenes from Hindu mythology and two of them remain unfinished.

Krishna Mandapam: In the Krishna Mandapam, the bas-relief shows Lord Krishna sheltering the shepherds and their cattle from the fury of the Rain God Indira with his enormous umbrella.On the hill rests a dangerously balanced boulder named Krishna's Butterball after his legendary affinity for fresh butter.

Mahishasura Mardini Mandapam: Are splendid sculptures of Goddess Durga fighting the evil buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. Lord Vishnu sleeping on the coils of Adishesh the serpent can be seen too.

Varaha Mandapam: Varaha the boar, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is seen emerging from the sea clinging onto the rescued Earth Goddess in the Varaha Mandapam.

Trimurti Cave & Adivaraha Temple: People pratice worship in the Trimurti Cave and the Adivaraha Temple. Beautiful sculptures of mythical creatures, monkeys and yalis cover the walls.

Excursions

Tiger Cave: On the outskirts of Mamallapuram, 4 kms tot he north is the unfinished Tiger Cave originally meant to be the stage of an open-air ampitheatre.

Kancheepuram: The glorious city of Kancheepuram is one of the seven sacred pilgrim centres of the Hindus. Being as it was the capital city of the pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar dynasties it has seen the rise and fall of many a kingdom, and once boasted of a 1000 celebrated temples that enhanced the landscape. Today, unfortunately only 125 temples ramain. The worship of both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva is the unique feature of this temple town.

Kamakshi Temple: Legend has it that goddess Parvathi; the wife of Lord Shiva tied a blindfold around his eyes in good sprit and was punished for it. After days of penance Lord Shiva pardoned her at the place where the Kamakshi Temple stands. A glorious golden gopuram crowns this splendid temple. The colorful Car Festival is held here in February or March.

Hall of a Thousand Pillars: The magnificent sculptured Hall of a Thousand Pillars is part of the Varadarajaswamy Temple, also known as the Devarajaswamy Temple. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it has spacious courtyards and a splendid seven-storied gopuram. The detailed and exquisite sculptures, the pillared hall and the monolithic ornamental chain make it one of the most beautiful temples in Kancheepuram.

Covelong: 20 km a fishing village and a beach. A 1.6 km road branches off at Kelambakkam for Covelong. Good for a day's picnic.

Open Air Museum This newly set up modern open-air museum of sculpture reflects the cultural heritage of the Tamil people from the pre-Sangam days. The objects on display, shaped mostly from granite by 200 sculptors, include a chain in stone, ornamental wheels and a host of other items. The themes here are many, including those relating to historical and cultural events of the period, placing the contribution of the Tamil land in proper perspective Situated very close to the Shore temple, one can have a glimpse of the past, as well as the progress being made in the present in the field of art in Tamil Nadu.

Vedanthangal (55 kms) the 30-hectare national sanctuary for migratory birds here is visited every year by thousands of birds, which come during the winter to breed. During certain years, more than a hundred thousand birds have been seen in this sanctuary. A large marshy area around the Vedanthangal Lake harbours nearly 100 species of migratory birds, some coming from as far as Siberia.

Cholamandal Artists Village (35 kms) This artists' cooperative has sprung up 20 km south of Chennai on the way to Mamallapuram in a sylvan location by the beach that facilitates the blossoming of creativity. It is far removed from the bustle of the everyday world. Several of South India’s eminent artists and sculptors live and work here, and exhibit and sell their creations at the gallery that is a part of the village.

Crocodile Bank (14 kms) about 5000 crocodiles representing many species and several kinds of other reptiles are reared here.

FESTIVALS

Pongal is the harvest Festival of Tamil Nadu and it is celebrated on a grand scale in the middle of January. These are added attractions at Mamallapuram, if you visit at that time of the year.

Dance Festival December-January is the time at Mamallapuram to celebrate the Mamallapuram Dance Festival each year. To the accompanying music of the wind and with Arjuna's Penance serving as a fitting backdrop, exponents of the Classical Indian Dance forms and Folk Dances from all over the country come together to perform at this venue. This Dance festival attracts tourists in large numbers.

Shopping

There are several small shops that sell decorative articles made of sea-shells, granite and small statuettes carved out of soft stone. The Government run Poompuhar has a branch in Mamallapuram and they sell a variety of handicrafts.