Mahabalipuram rock-cut monuments - an amazing world heritage site

Mahabalipuram shore temple, Tamil Nadu. The News Minute
Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu  TripAdvisor

Above image: Built from a block of stone, this elephant
 is about 11 feet tall.............

  Mahabalipuram, near Chennai was once the port of the Pallava rulers of 7th century and the rock carvings and monolithic sculptures are world renowned and no doubt, this place is a UNESCO World Heritage site. These plethora of rock carvings and amazing sculptures bring out the creativity, talents and workmanship of the then artisans and their ability to recreate their imagination in art forms in the rocks.

Mamallapuram, the city of Mamalla was a sea-port  during the time of Periplus (1st century AD) and Ptolemy (AD 140) and is named after the great Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman-I (AD 630-68).  Most of the monuments like rock-cut rathas, sculptured scenes on open rocks like Arjuna's penance, the caves of Govardhanadhari and Mahishasuramardini, the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple (the sleeping Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the back part of the Shore temple complex)  were created during the period of Narasimhavarman-I Mamalla.

The sculptures that carved from local granite, can be classified into four categories:

Monolithic rathas or temples , hewn out of a large boulder

Bas-reliefs in the open air (Considered as unique artistic achievements)

Structural temples

Among the temples, the beautiful  lavish shore temple bordered by Nandi (bulls) and sandy beach  facing the sea, is picture-post perfect and is a fascinating one. In terms of aesthetic value, the temple with artistic gopuram with the sea in the back drop is the most appealing one. Since it is close to the shore,  the temple is subject to sea erosion and other vagaries of nature.  The shore temple is a complex one, consisting of three  temples, viz, Rajasimhesvara (a small  vimana facing west), the Kshatriya Simhesvara (the larger east facing vimana) and Nripatisimha Pallava Vishnugriha (an east facing, oblong, flat-roofed mandapa shrine) housing the reclining Vishnu. These shrines are enclosed by two prakara walls with openings constructed in later times. The inner surface of prakara walls once contained panel sculptures which are worn out now.

Mahabalipuram shore temple.
Mahabalipuram monuments, Tamil Nadu Royal Leisure Tours

 The shrines  are one behind the other; one facing west and the other east. There is also a third shrine. The two shrines with vimana are dedicated to Shiva and the third being dedicated to Vishnu and the vimana atop the tower is missing. Situated to the north of a big hill is the Sthala Sayana Perumal temple. The celebrated open-air relief bas relief of shore temple called Arjuna's penance (carved out of a big boulder) and the rathas are examples of Pallava period's artistic talents. Most of the monuments came up during the Vijanagara period except the Sthalasayana Perumal temple. Included in the excavations are many mantaps with various number of pillars. 
Mahabalipuram. Stone chariot like mantap.

The  Varaha mandapa, Mahisamardini mandapa, Paramesvara Mahavaraha Vishnugriha (Adivaraha cave) are important cave temples here.

The structural architecture was introduced on a grand scale by Pallava Rajasimha (AD 700-28) and  this led to the erection of the world famous Shore temple.This shore temple was rebuilt gradually after major damages done by  cyclone. The shore temples of Mahabalipuram are called seven pagodas, out of which six were lost due to ravages of nature. Only one survives. Some of the temples and carvings are huge and  were built by Pallava ruler Raja Simha of 830-1100 AD. The free-standing huge, monolithic  temples are called Rathas. The stone sculpture of Arjuna getting Pasupata is quite captivating and visitors to this shore temple monuments will never miss this artistic work. A few hundred meters away from the shore, in the low hills lie some excavated temples - 11 temples called Mantaps. There are  unique temples in the form of Ratha (chariot) and all were carved out of the rocks. Besides, there are big stone sculptures of Shiva, Nandi (bull), Elephants and lions of exceptional workmanship. 

Among the nine monolithic temples found in Mahabalipuram, the most  famous are Five Rathas named after  Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata fame. These monuments are carved out a single rock with proper plan. While the Dharmaraja, Arjuna and Draupadi rathas are square on plan, the Bhima and Ganesa rathas are different and are  rectangular and Sahadeva ratha apsidal.The five rathas attract our attention, they are known as Dharmaraja, Bhima, Arjuna, Draupadi and shahadev, the largest being that of Dharmaraja. Rathas stand in descending order in terms of size. 

The appeal of Mahabalipuram monuments and the shore temple is quite tempting that we will get drenched  not only in its monumental architectural extravaganza but also in the charm of the place itself with nice sandy beach and the ever active waves of the Bay of Bengal.