The open air museum at Mahabalipuram!
While the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ dates back to the 1oth century and the Chola Dynasty, stepping into Mahabalipuram is like emerging out of a time machine capsule! Nothing short of a marvel, Mahabalipuram, takes you back to the 7th century and the Pallava Dynasty, and with some spectacular historic monuments to offer, the city finds itself on the ‘World Heritage Site’ list by UNESCO.
A port city, while some legends claim the city was named after an evil oppressor, King Mahabali who was killed by Lord Vishnu, other legends claim that the city was named ‘Mamalla’ which means ‘a great wrestler’ after the great King Narasimha Varman I who was a heroic warrior.The name was soon changed to Mahabalipuram as a tribute to this great king and his feats.
Known for its rich heritage, archaeologists have over a period of time, uncovered several items of immense value in this ancient city such as burial urns dating back to the Christian era, Chinese and Roman coins dating back to the 4th century CE, as well as coins that are believed to be as early as the 3rd century CE.
Once ruled by the powerful Pallavas who were great patrons and pioneers of art, it is said that under their rule, the city flourished with many a great saint, poet, artist and artisan emerging, and the city transforming into an open “air-museum”! What makes the city unique is its various rock –cut caves, bas reliefs, rathas, temples and other massive structures with exquisite carvings cut off from single rocks.The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic.
The Shore Temple,sStanding alone today, this wonder dates back to the 7th century, and is known for its amazing carvings. Comprising of three temples, two dedicated to Lord Shiva and one to Lord Vishnu, the temples were built by Narasimha Varman I and Narasimha Varman II. Here one can find some amazing sculpting of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva along with their consorts. One can also find a spectacular statue of sleeping Lord Vishnu called Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana, while another sculpture shows Lord Vishnu seated in mount Garuda helping Gajendra, the elephant. Other carvings include that of a buffalo demon running with a stick in his hand, a lion being ridden by two young women and carvings depicting the life of lord Krishna.
It is said that in earlier times, seven of these stunning shore temples adorned the shores, and Mahabalipuram was also called the land of the ‘Seven Pagodas’, today six have been ravished by the seas and lie submerged beneath its waters. While after the 2004 tsunami, a large stone lion that dated back to the 7th century CE was discovered on the shores, many eyewitnesses claim to have seen many rows of large rocks, immediately before the 2004 tsunami, when the ocean water pulled back leading to renewed search for the lost pagodas by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian Navy.