The legacy on stone: Mahabalipuram

60kms from the city of Chennai, stands the epitome of magnificent, monolithic (single rock) production of Dravidian architecture. On the soft sands of Bay of Bengal, the adroit sculptors of the Pallava dynasty, made the best use of their chisels, carving the elegant monuments at Mahabalipuram in the 7th and 8th century. It is also known by various names, such as Mallapuram, Mahamallapuram and Mavalipuram. Named after the Pallava king, Maahendravarman-I Mamalla, this sea-coast consists of many structural architecture relating to various scenes from the Mahabaratha. Among the nine monolithic temples carved, the Pancha Pandava’s five chariots, Lord Ganesh’s and Draupadhi’s  are of great significance. Various caves of Mahabalipuram including Varaha cave, Krishna cave temple, etc., hold high their holy nature.  The sculptures have been proficiently etched on a single rock each. With appropriate and feasible planning, the rathas (chariots) were designed on square, rectangle and apsidal plans. They are etched real intricate in a way that it gives eternal life to the rocks. The Pallava Kings, who were known for being unique, have proved that art can be explained through a rock, chisels and an adept sculptor. They were profound thinkers and almost took 200 years to sketch the plan and execute it, which was established as “Mahabalipuram”, one of the world heritage sites. These also resemble a school to many budding architects, giving them effective ideas as on how they can improve their skills and develop the field of architecture.

The most brilliant of them all is the shore temple, which was built during the reign of Rajasimha Pallava. The king, who aspired to be even more accomplished than his father and grandfather, raised the plan of this shore temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The temple is built in such an orientation that the shrine faces the east, towards the sea, so that the sun’s first ray falls on it. The port featured as a flourishing point of trade. All hail the Tsunami, which has wiped away all the sands along the temple side and helped revealing numerous “Nandhi” statues and an amazing open air stadium, which is claimed to be the Kings’ entertainment hub. Apart from the rathas and caves, there exist the rock reliefs, which are carved on rocks or on independent boulders, the largest of them being the Descent of the Ganges. A lone lighthouse on a hill watches over a group of temples below. The marvels on the sands have never failed to satisfy their enthusiastic visitors from all over the country and the world. They have become an essential source of income to the Tamil Nadu Tourism department and are of course, of greater historical and archaeological values. This style of architecture was adopted in a broad spectrum, majorly in South India, Annam, Cambodia and Java. These invaluable works have started to deteriorate and slowly perish away. The Union ministry of Union and Culture have devised a plan that enable the beautification of the remaining of the artefacts. Like the other stunning works of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandiyas, the Pallavas also stabilized their part in architecture and brought fame to their dynasty.


Why is this place really being talked about? Being the best place for sight seeing in Chennai, along the coast of Bay of Bengal, an effective place for architectural knowledge and for a breathe of history, “Mahabs” , Mahabalipuram, as it is generally called, is definitely one of those incredible archetypes that has to be praised for its prodigious design and structure and is worth spending time to get a feel of it. And after getting the feel of it, one would certainly become proud and awe-struck. How often do we get to see rocks carved to lives? Better seen than heard!

Poornima Balasubramanian

I am a happy go person. Basically, love making friends. I spend my leisure by writing, reading, watching movies or sketching abstracts. I am a civil services apirant too!

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