|The Shore Temple||Positioned overlooking the Bay of Bengal on the Mahabalipuram beach|
|Thirukadalmallai Temple||Located on the Mahabalipuram seashore|
|Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges)||Quite close to the Krishna Mandapam|
|Pancha Rathas||About 1 kilometer from Mada Koil St of Mahabalipuram|
|Varaha Cave Temple||About half a kilometer from the Shore Temple Road|
|Krishna's Butterball||Located near the Ganesh Ratha|
|Mahishamardini Cave||lLocated in the Chingleput District of Mahabalipuram|
|Ganesh Ratha Temple||Positioned to the north of Arjuna’s Penance|
|Trimurti Cave Temple||Located towards the north of Ganesh Ratha Temple|
|Tiger's Cave||Located in the vicinity of the coastal village of Salurankuppam approximately 5 kilometers to the north of Mahabalipuram|
|Dharmaraja Cave||Along the East Coast Road|
|Krishna Mandapam||Positioned close to the Arjuna’s Penance|
|Dakshinachitra||Set up on the eastern coastal road in Muttukadu on the way to Mahabalipuram|
|Thirukalukundram||Nestled about 15 kilometers to the west of Mahabalipuram at the top of a hillock|
|Old and new light housesNear the Mahabalipuram Coast|
|Mahabalipuram Beach||20 kilometers long stretch of creamy white sand extended along the Bay of Bengal|
|Crocodile Bank||Stationed approximately 14 kilometers from Mahabalipuram on the Chennai-Mahabalipuram Road|
|Sculpture Museum||Located along the East Raja Street and easily reachable from the main town|
The Shore Temple
The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, listed amongst the ‘UNESCO World Heritage Sites’ happens to be one of the oldest structural stone temples of Southern India. Positioned overlooking the Bay of Bengal on the Mahabalipuram beach (from where the temple derives its name), the Shore Temple is estimated to be erected between 700 and 728 AD during the Pallava Dominion. Constructed with blocks of granite, the 60 feet tall Shore Temple is a five storied pyramidal structure standing over a 50 feet square platform. This temple complex is a group of three shrines, two of them being dedicated to Lord Shiva while the third devoted to Lord Vishnu seated in a reclining position. Lord Shiva is worshipped as ‘Lord Ksatriyasimnesvara’ in the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram. The two ‘shikharas’ i.e. cupolas of the temple have pyramidal outline wherein each distinct tier has an overhanging eave. The lower part of the outer wall of the temple is decorated with the carvings of a series of lions while the extensively sculptured border wall is mounted by large statues of Nandi; the vehicle of Lord Shiva. A noteworthy sculpture spotted inside the premises of the Shore Temple portrays Goddess Durga riding a gigantic lion and there is a hollow space seen in the lion’s chest. This age old Hindu temple of Mahabalipuram survived the Tsunami of 2004 but the salty ocean air that blows ‘slow but steady’ is gradually diminishing the carved motifs of the outer walls of the Shore Temple. The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram is one of the ‘Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram’ that haughtily stands as a testimony of the architectural ingenuity of the artisans of yesteryears.
Thirukadalmallai Temple of Mahabalipuram popular as ‘Sthalasayana Perumal Kovil’ is one of the 108 Divya Desam of Lord Vishnu. Located on the Mahabalipuram seashore, this ancient temple was erected during the Pallava Rule in order to protect other sculptures of Mahabalipuram from the waves of the ocean. The structure of Thirukadalmallai Temple is fashioned after the Dravidian style of architecture. This small temple complex houses two shrines dedicated to Lord Sthalasayana Perumal (Lord Vishnu) and his consort Nilamangai Thayaar. A separate shrine erected close by worships Lord Narasimha; the forth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Thirukadalmallai Temple of Mahabalipuram is also well known for its Adivaraha shrine positioned adjacent the seashore where the deity is worshipped as ‘Valavendai Gnanapiran’ i.e. holding His Consort on His right side. It is believed that Mahabalipuram is the birth place of the 2nd Azhwar; Bhoothathazhwar. Moreover, it is also said that Lord Vishnu had appeared here in front of Sage Pundareeka on being pleased with his devotion. Thirukadalmallai Temple is reckoned in every corner of Tamil Nadu for its famous Masi Magam Festival celebrated with ultimate pomp and majesty every month when myriads of devotees throng the temple to seek blessings of Lord Sthalasayana Perumal and wash their sins off.
Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges)
Arjuna’s Penance, one of the relics from the group of monuments of Mahabalipuram classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a giant 96 feet long and 43 feet tall open-air bas-relief carved out of a monolithic rock. Created during the Pallava rule over Mahabalipuram in 7th or 8th century AD, this enormous bas-relief is interpreted in two different ways. According to the first version of the analysis, the engravings on the relief depict the episode of Arjuna performing a severe penance. Arjuna is portrayed standing on one leg and executing a rigor ‘Tapas’ in order to receive Shiva’s most powerful weapon ‘Pasupatastra’ as a boon that would aid him in the battle of Mahabharata against the Kauravas. The engravings of the bas-relief also describe a river flowing downwards. This representations leads to the alternative interpretation which also renders this monument its yet another appellation; ‘Descent of the Ganges’. Some scholars explain that the person standing on one leg and performing Tapas is the King Bhagiratha who had undertaken austerities to appease the heavenly river Ganges to descend on the earth and wash the ashes of his ancestors. The river that is depicted gushing down is the holy river Ganga. Other than the motif of Arjuna or Bhagiratha, the bas-relief also illustrates various patterns of elephants, deities, demi Gods, soldiers, beasts, birds, animals, a cat performing penance standing on one leg as related in the Panchatantra stories and so on.
Pancha Rathas, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Monuments of Mahabalipuram is a paradigm of monolith Indian rock-cut architecture dated back to 7th century AD. Carved out of gargantuan granite boulders during the reign of Pallava kings Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I, the structure of these Pancha Rathas (five chariots) is not complete. These five monolithic shrines carved out of pink granite are named after the five Pandava brothers Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva and their wife Draupadi. Four of the five Rathas have pyramidal domes and the structure of these shrines embody the diverse styles of Dravidian architecture. The designs of these Rathas have a lot of similarity with the patterns of wood constructions in ancient days and also with the structure of the Buddhist chaityas and viharas. The hut shaped Ratha stationed at the entrance is Draupadi Ratha that is dedicated to goddess Durga. Draupadi Ratha is the smallest amongst the five Rathas. The Arjuna Ratha that is devoted to Lord Shiva has carved stone pillars and a small porch. The motifs of lion are carved on the columns of the Bhima Ratha while the elephant carvings are framed on the Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha. This shrine is dedicated to the God of rain; Lord Indra. The Dharmaraja Yudhisthira Ratha is the tallest among them all and it enshrines Lord Shiva. The Pancha Rathas of Mahabalipuram have stood the test of time, the relentless salty winds and the tsunami catastrophes owing to the durability and toughness of the sturdy material used in their construction.
Varaha Cave Temple
Yet another Group of Monuments of Mahabalipuram and designated amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Varaha Cave Temple is a fine archetype of Indian rock-cut architecture dated back to 7th century AD. Constructed during the era when Mahabalipuram was under the dominance of Pallava Kings, the Varaha Cave Temple; a small monolithic rock-cut temple is exalted as an exquisite testimonial of the incredible adroitness of the artists of antiquity. The cave temple is festooned with a front Mandapam where horned lions are carved at the bottom of two pillars and two semi- colonnades. The entrance to the temple is built at the rear wall of the Mandapam where two guardian figures are carved on both the sides. The interior walls of the Mandapam have four huge sculptured frames presenting the naturalistic Pallava art. The panel on the northern side of the Mandapam portrays Lord Vishnu in His Varaha incarnation holding up the earth on his front tusks. Lord Varaha is the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu when he took the form of a wild boar and killed the demon king Hiranyaksha saving the earth from his clutches. The inner walls of the Varaha Cave Temple represent the Goddess Gajalakshmi seated on a huge lotus flower with elephants sprinkling water on her from both the sides. Another sculpture depicts Goddess Durga with her four arms and Lord Vamana overpowering the demon king Bali.
Krishna’s Butterball is a gigantic natural boulder balanced atop a hill slope on the other side of the Mahabalipuram Beach near the Ganesh Ratha. This colossal circular shaped rock is roughly 5 meter in its diameter and is suspended at a 45 degree angle. The legend goes that the Pallava rulers tried to move this boulder with the help of elephants but they were unsuccessful in their efforts. Krishna’s Butterball ostensibly disobeying all the laws of physics is a very famous sight amongst the visitors of Mahabalipuram. Tourists love to place hands under the rock and pose for their camera as if they are holding the Krishna’s Butterball. The shade provided by the boulder is also quite a reposing site and local kids are seen playing around the Butterball enjoying the natural slide of the adjacent slippery hillside.
The Mahishamardini Cave located in the Chingleput District of Mahabalipuram is a monolithic cave dated back to mid 7th century AD. Dedicated to the Goddess Mahishamardini who killed the demon king Mahishasur at the end of the nine days long fierce battle, the Mahishamardini Cave is one of the most important tourist destinations of Mahabalipuram. The central sanctum of the cave depicts the carvings of Lord Shiva, His consort Goddess Parvati and their son Lord Murugan. Apart from that the walls of the cave bear two sculptures revealing the Pallava order of arts. One of the two sculptures portrays Lord Vishnu in the position of reclining on his heavenly serpent and surrounded by various deities. The other sculpture presents Goddess Durga demolishing the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasur in the great battle that is commemorated by the Navaratri Festival in India. Goddess Mahishamardini is depicted here with eight arms, all of them holding different weapons and riding the lion; the vehicle of Goddess Durga.
Ganesh Ratha Temple
Ganesh Ratha Temple positioned to the north of Arjuna’s Penance is a spectacular shrine of Mahabalipuram set up during the ascendancy of Pallava dynasty in 7th century AD. Brilliantly carved out of a massive rock in the form of a chariot, this temple structure reveals the clear presence of Dravidian style of architecture. Formerly, this temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva and a Shiva Lingam was consecrated in the premises of this Ratha Temple. Later, the Shiva Lingam was replaced by an idol of Lord Ganesh and the temple got dedicated to this elephant headed lord of intellect and wisdom. The Ganesh Ratha Temple derives its name after the presiding deity of the temple Lord Ganesh. Amongst all the Ratha temples of Mahabalipuram, the Ganesh Ratha Temple is the only construction that has attained structural completion.
Trimurti Cave Temple
Trimurti Cave Temple built atop a 100 feet high cliff towards the north of Ganesh Ratha Temple is an archaic rock-cut sanctuary dating back to 7th century AD. As the name suggests, this cave temple is dedicated to three ultimate Gods of Hinduism; Lord Brahma-the creator, Lord Vishnu-the guardian and Lord Shiva-the destroyer. The first two cells of the Trimurti Cave Temple feature the carvings of Shiva Lingam and the image of Lord Brahma while the third cell illustrates the figure of Goddess Durga killing the buffalo-headed demon king; Mahishasura. In the proximity to the Trimurti Cave Temple a rock-cut zoo has been constructed where numerous sculptures of elephants and other animals are carved. The steps constructed at the end of the stone patio lead to a porch which serves as a terrace to a plain rectangular Mandapam supported by four large pillars. The central section of the Mandapam that is surrounded by these huge pillars is built in an octagonal shape. The inner portion of the sanctum is classified into three aisles by another chain of similar pillars that escort to the Trimurti Shrines. The rear cave wall renders intricately carved figures of the Hindu Trinity; Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The Trimurti Cave Temple is indeed an epitome of the master craftsmanship of the artisans of yore and every guest of Mahabalipuram pays a visit to this extraordinary composition without fail.
Tiger’s Cave, located in the vicinity of the coastal village of Salurankuppam approximately 5 kilometers to the north of Mahabalipuram is a rock-cut cave temple dedicated to Goddess Durga. The name ‘Tiger’s Cave’ has been coined after the sequence of heads of a certain animal carved around the entrance. As these heads resemble tiger, the cave is christened as the Tiger’s Cave. These tiger heads are associated with the mythological animal ‘Yali’ and thus the Mandapam is named ‘Yali Mandapam’. The carvings spotted in this cave demonstrate the episodes of the life and miracles performed by Goddess Durga. A rock cut shrine is located nearby where a Shiva Lingam and a Nandi idol are placed. Tiger's Cave constructed during the Pallava Era in 8th century AD was designed as an open-air theatre where different cultural programs of Mahabalipuram were held. Today, the Tiger’s Cave is an idyllic picnic spot of Mahabalipuram where both the locals as well as the tourists love to hang out for long time. Small hillocks enveloped by casuarinas trees, aged boulders set amidst them and the far flung sandy shores render this place a haven for birds and a heaven for bird watchers. The surrounding terrain ornamented with nature’s beauty is definitely bliss for nature lovers. Moreover, the tourists can also make their way to the Mahabalipuram Beach which is quite close to the Tiger’s Cave.
Dharmaraja Cave, a prototype of Indian rock-cut architecture dated back to 7th century AD is a cave temple comprising three empty shrines. It is supposed that in olden times these three shrines or ‘Garbhagrihams’ i.e. inner sanctums housed the statues of certain Hindu deities worshipped in Mahabalipuram. The inscriptions discovered in the Pallava Grantham about the Dharmaraja Cave state that this cave temple was named ‘Atyantakama Pallavesvara Griham’. Next to the Mahamandapam of the Dharmaraja Cave there are two complete and two half Mahendra type pillars with a plain kapota. This triple celled cave temple is as old as the period of King Mahendravarman and there are no noteworthy sculptural figures found in the cave. More than the general tourists, the Dharmaraja Cave of Mahabalipuram is chiefly visited and explored by the researchers, historians and archaeologists.
Positioned close to the Arjuna’s Penance, the Krishna Mandapam is yet another rock-cut temple of Mahabalipuram dedicated to Lord Krishna. Regarded to be the biggest Mandapam of Mahabalipuram, this rock-cut shrine is acclaimed for the scenes of pastoral life it presents through carvings, engravings and sculptures. The most outstanding depiction witnessed in this Mandapam is the illustration of Lord Krishna holding the mountain Govardhan aloft on his fingertip to provide shelter to the villagers of Gokul and their cattle from the violent storm imparted upon them by enraged Lord Indra. Other than that, the vivid motifs of a shepherd milking a cow, a shepherdess holding a pot of curd, a woman carrying a rolled mat on her head, a farmer carrying a child on his shoulder, a young couple in romantic gesture etc. are several other noteworthy portrayals. The Krishna Mandapam is noted for its giant whale shaped bas relief that is roughly 9 meters in height and 27 meters in width. The events that happened during the life span of Lord Krishna are chronologically depicted on this bas relief. Apart from that, elaborate sculptures of extraterrestrial beings, men, birds and animals create astounding scenes of pastoral life.
Dakshinachitra, a unique heritage village set up on the eastern coastal road in Muttukadu on the way to Mahabalipuram from Chennai is developed as a model township that embodies the age old lifestyle of 19th century AD. Administered by Chennai Craft Foundation, Dakshinachitra showcases replicas and samplings of the traditional houses and other classical artifacts of Tamil Nadu as well as the rest of the country. The tourists alighted here from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India and globe get an authentic and memorable insight into the way of living of the diverse ethnic groups of Southern India. Apart from that, the traditional South Indian art and craft industry is presented here in its immaculate traditional form. Folk artists and traditional craft persons are depicted here working in the artificial setting of 19th century homes, streets, workshops and so on.
Thirukalukundram nestled about 15 kilometers to the west of Mahabalipuram at the top of a hillock is a temple dedicated to the God of destruction; Lord Shiva. The presiding deities of Thirukalukundram Temple are Arulmighu Vedagireeswarar and Arulmighu Thirumalaiyaludaiyar. Estimated to be constructed between 830 AD and 1100 AD, the Thirukalukundram Temple of Mahabalipuram is adorned as an epitome of Pallava order of art and architecture. The noteworthy feature of this temple is that it bears the inscriptions engraved in English, Dutch and ancient Indian languages.
Old and new light houses
Earlier, a log fire used to be ignited onto the high rocks to furnish as beacon for the ships advancing towards the Mahabalipuram port during the night. The first conventional lighthouse was established by the British on 15th May 1887 when they placed a wick lamp inside a lantern and put it atop the Olakkaneesway Temple of Mahabalipuram. This lighthouse was then known as Seven Pagoda Lighthouse. The present lighthouse, the lofty masonry circular tower about 26 meters in height was built on a rock in the year 1900 and it was commissioned into the service from 31st March 1901. Positioned adjacent the Mahishamardini Cave Temple, this lighthouse is constructed in such a way that its outer surfaces are left unpainted so that they easily blend with the 7th and 9th century Pallava Cave Temples and other memorials surrounding it. This stone tower bears a lantern dome painted in red color at the top.
The 20 kilometers long stretch of creamy white sand extended along the Bay of Bengal, the Mahabalipuram Beach came into limelight only after 20th century AD. Sapphire blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, relentlessly washing the feet of this temple town of Mahabalipuram beckon myriads of tourists to come here and relax in the reposing and soothing cradle of Mother Nature. The Mahabalipuram Beach is particularly renowned amongst the tourists for indulging in the popular beach activities such as sunbathing, wind surfing, diving, motor boating and so on. Presently even the government is taking initiative to promote beach activities at the Mahabalipuram Beach. This coastline is significantly cram packed by the tourists between the months of November and February.
The Crocodile Bank, stationed approximately 14 kilometers from Mahabalipuram on the Chennai-Mahabalipuram Road is the protected domicile for crocodiles, alligators and snakes where they are sheltered, reared and bred. Established by a herpetologist named Romulus Whitaker in the year 1976, the Crocodile Bank of Mahabalipuram happens to be the largest crocodile breeding site in India. A paradise for reptile lovers, this Crocodile Bank houses several species of Indian and African alligators and crocodiles. Thousands of them kept in open pools can be spotted here dwelling in their natural habitat. The most important sites of the Crocodile Bank are the Crocodile Conservation Center and the Snake Farm. At the Crocodile Conservation Center the crocodiles and alligators are bred in captivity and then released in the waters of Chambal and Mahanadi rivers while at the Snake Farm the anti venom is produced. The procedure of extracting the venom from the snakes is a popular tourist attraction at the Snake Farm of Mahabalipuram. Irulas, the snake catcher's tribe of Mahabalipuram make a living here. This park carpeted by lush tropical vegetation is spread across 3.2 hectares.
Located along the East Raja Street and easily reachable from the main town, the Sculpture Museum of Mahabalipuram is a must visit place that bestows upon you an insight of the world of sculptures. This celebrated museum of Mahabalipuram exhibits more than 3,000 sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, other monolithic statues, chariots, bas reliefs and paintings dating back to the era of Gupta and Pallava Empire. Apart from the Hindu mythological sculptures, the museum also displays a number of Buddhist sculptures. The statuettes of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are made in wood, brass and cement. The exhibits of this museum are of unequalled historical significance, and echo the grandeur of the bygone era. A lover of history will unquestionably be enthralled after witnessing the riches of this Sculpture Museum. This museum also exhibits numerous sculptures made by the students of ‘Mamallapuram College of Sculpting’. Only 2 rupees are charged as the entry fee at the Sculpture Museum of Mahabalipuram.