Mahabalipuram Heritage Tour : Stories in Stone

On our way back from Pondicherry to Chennai, we decided to take a stopover at Mahabalipuram, a small town that falls in the Kancheepuram district. Also known as Mamallapuram after the Pallava King Narasimha Varman, the place is a tourist magnet, and rightly so because the sculptures and monuments you’d see here are unparalleled. The Pallava Kings patrons of art and architecture and their genius is still around in the form of sculpted reliefs, rock-cut caves, granite temples and numerous stories carved in stone.  The importance of these structures was underlined by UNESCO’s declaration of Mahabalipuram as a World Heritage Site in 1984.

There are about 19 keys pitstops you should make – but if you’re short on time, No. 14 (Paanch Rathas),  No. 1- 13, and no. 19 are most important and you can cover it in a short span of time, unless you’re stopping for selfies every minute.

The Heritage Map

My favourite was the Descent of Ganga, so I’ve marked that as Point 1, though you can start with the Five Rathas or Shore Temple (since they’re a little away from the rest of the group).

Here’s the story : please make sure the Subtitles are “ON” and the post on this one will have all the stories in detail.

The monuments at Mahabalipuram can be grouped according to their mode of construction:

i. Monoliths – free-standing temples cut out of solid rock, most of which are locally styled rathas or chariots. An example would be the complex of Five Monoliths, also known as the Pancha Rathas (no. 14 on the map)

ii. Caves, excavated in hill-scarps and used as temples, and which are in some cases called mandapas or canopies. Very prominent examples of these are the Tiger Cave( no. 16)  and the Mahishamardini Rock Cut Mandapa (no.11) or the Varaha Cave (no. 8).

iii. Temples, the term being used here to denote built-up masonry-temples. The Shore Temple is an example of this type.

iv. Sculptured scenes, carved on the hill-edges just like Arjuna’s Penance / Descent of the Ganga. They illustrate all the styles of Pallava architecture and plastic art, and the majority belong to the period of Narasimha Varman.

For your ease, I am creating separate posts for each one of the map-points, highlighting stories so you don’t miss any.

Pallava Rule

Mahendra Varman 580 – 630 AD

“Mamallan” Narasimha Varman 630 – 668 AD

Mahendra Varman II      668 – 672 AD

Parameswara Varman     672 – 700 AD

Narasimha Varman II aka Rajasimha  700 – 728 AD

Mahabalipuram is famous as a “tourist spot” and attracts travellers from across the world, just as it did ages ago. It used to be a famous as a sea-port from even before the beginning of the Common Era / Christian Era. Europeans have mentioned how the 7 Pagodas would greet them at the sea-shore. That reference is to the Shore Temple, but most “Pagodas” are gone now and the sea too, has stepped back. Not all stories are lost though. A visit to Mahabalipuram, will always be a memorable experience for any traveler – for each time, there will be a new story to discover!


Photo by dalbera

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