The Monuments of Mahabalipuram


Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, is a town in the Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and was the chief seaport of the Pallavas who ruled over most of Southern India from the 1st century BC to 8th century AD. It is famous for its monuments, which are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most of the monuments were built in the period of Narasimharvarman I Mamalla. They are composed of rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), rock reliefs, monolithic rathas, and temples built from cut stone.

The rathas stand at the southern edge of Mahabalipuram. Four of the temples are carved out of a single granite boulder from the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. The rathas are replicas of the chariots of Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja, Nakula-Sahadeva—the five Pandava princes of the epic Mahabharata—and their common wife, Drapaudi. Work on the temples stopped after the death of Narasimha Varman in 668.

Most famous relief depicts “The Descent to Earth of the Sacred River Ganges.” The relief portrays a moment when the wise King Baghirata begged Shiva to order the Ganges to nescend to Earth so that the world could be nourished. About 20 ft high and 80 ft long, sculpture used natural fissure dividing the cliff to suggest the event, depicting over a hundred figures of gods, men and beasts.

In the early 8th century, work began on the Shore Temple, which was built to honor Lord Shiva. The Shore Temple is important because it is the earliest known example of a stone-built temple in South India. Its location by the ocean has corroded the stone and some of the statues are no longer recognizable.

The Temple of Rivage, constructed under King Rajasimha Narasimavarmn II (659-722), is also notable. It contains thousands of sculptures dedicated to Shiva and has a high-stepped pyramidal tower.