Mahabalipuram “Land of Temples and Beach”

Mahabalipuram

 

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is a town on the Coromandel Coast & a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake in the southeastern part of Tamil Nadu. It’s a treasure trove of history and art, famous for its group of monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also referred to as the “Open Air Museum” and was developed by the Pallava king Narasimha Varman I (“the great wrestler”) who ruled in the 07th Century. The town derives its name from its 7th-century ruler Narasimha Varman. Being one of the greatest wrestlers and fighters in his realm, the King was also called ‘Mamallan’ meaning Great Wrestler. Referring to his name ‘Mamallan’ the town was named as Mamallapuram. The Pallavas were patrons of art and architecture, and their reign saw the creation of the magnificent monuments that Mahabalipuram is famous for today. The town offers a unique blend of historical sites, beautiful beaches, and traditional crafts. The weather is pleasant, with comfortable temperatures ranging between 20-28 degrees Celsius during Winter (October – February) considered the peak season in Mahabalipuram.

How to Reach: 

By Air – The nearest airport from Mahabalipuram is Chennai airport, which offers flights to practically all significant locations in India and overseas – 70 Km.

By Rail – Chengalpattu – the closest train station, is located about 30 kilometres from Mahabalipuram. From here, you may get trains to Chennai and several other important South Indian destinations.

By Road – Mamallapuram has excellent road connections to Chennai (70 km), Kanchipuram (70 km), and Pondicherry (100 km).

Places to visit in Mahabalipuram: 

Shore temple: The shore temple is one of the oldest structural temples in South India built around the 08th Century AD during the Pallava Dynasty. It represents a significant shift from the earlier Pallava tradition of carving monuments out of rock faces. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its exquisite architecture and historical significance. The temple complex consists of three shrines, with the central shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva and the smaller shrines flanking it possibly dedicated to Vishnu. It showcases the Dravidian style of architecture, characterized by its pyramidal towers (vimanas). The exterior walls are adorned with elaborate sculptures depicting various Hindu deities and scenes from mythology. The temple’s location on the shore facing the Bay of Bengal sets it apart. Also, the rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the rocks creates a serene and mesmerizing atmosphere. Especially during sunrise and sunset, the temple is immersed in a warm golden light, making for a truly spectacular sight.

Five Rathas: The Five Rathas also called Pancha Rathas are a group of monolithic monuments & are a captivating sight in Mahabalipuram located a short distance from the Shore Temple. These incredible structures are a major attraction for tourists which carved from a single massive granite rock outcrop around the 7th century. The five Rathas are named after the five Pandava brothers (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva) and their wife Draupadi from the epic Mahabharata. Each Ratha depicts a Dravidian-style chariot inspiration and has unique designs & carvings. Draupadi Ratha: The smallest and simplest, resembling a hut with a thatched roof dedicated to Goddess Durga. Arjuna Ratha: dedicated to Lord Shiva – Square-shaped with a pillared porch and a small octagonal dome, reminiscent of later South Indian temple designs. Bhima Ratha: The largest and most imposing Ratha featuring a barrel-vaulted roof & lion figure flanking the entrance. Dharmaraja (Yudhishthira) Ratha: The tallest, with a pyramidal roof with lion figures and intricate carvings on the exterior walls. Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha: Rectangular with a shallow porch and decorative carvings. These carvings offer valuable insights into the religious beliefs and artistic styles of the Pallava era. The ASI confirmed the unfinished nature of the structures and suggested that they instead be referred to as Vimanas. However, the Pandava names have become permanent.

 The shore Temple & Five Rathas excluding Tiger Caves

Time to Visit: 06.00 AM to 06.00 PM

Holidays: No 

Arjuna’s penance (Descent of the Ganges): Arjuna’s Penance, also known as the Descent of the Ganges, is a monumental open-air rock relief in Mahabalipuram & carved by the Pallava Dynasty during the 7th- 8th centuries. The massive rock relief, measuring about 27 meters high and 90 meters wide, is a complex tableau depicting various figures and scenes from Hindu mythology. The central figure is believed to be Arjuna, the Pandava prince from the epic Mahabharata, performing a penance (tapas) to appease Lord Shiva and seek his divine weapon. The scene is intricately carved with numerous other elements including Ganges River Descent: The top portion depicts the descent of the holy Ganges River from heaven to Earth. Deities like Lord Shiva and Brahma are shown welcoming the river, while mythical creatures like lions and elephants flank the scene, Ascetics and Musicians: below, a group of ascetics performing austerities and musicians playing various instruments are depicted Animals and Nature: The carving also showcases a diverse range of animals like elephants, monkeys, and deer, along with trees and plants, creating a bustling and vibrant scene. It can symbolize the importance of perseverance and devotion in attaining one’s goals. The inclusion of animals and nature represents the interconnectedness of all beings and the presence of the divine in the natural world.

Krishna’s butterball – A Balancing Rock at MahabalipuramThe Krishna Butterball’s combination of natural wonder, folklore, and historical significance makes it a captivating landmark in Mahabalipuram. It is a massive granite boulder, approximately six meters high and five meters wide, weighing around 250 tonnes, rests precariously balanced on a much smaller base. Geologists believe it’s a massive glacial erratic, a rock deposited by glaciers in a faraway location and transported here during ancient times. Local folklore offers a more whimsical explanation that the name “Krishna Butterball” comes from a Hindu legend. Lord Krishna, known for his love for butter as a child, is said to have dropped a ball of butter here. Its combination of natural wonder, folklore, and historical significance makes it a captivating landmark & visitors can marvel at its size and seemingly impossible balance. Interesting fact is that several Pallava Kings attempted to move it, but all the Kings and their elephants could not shift the boulder even by an inch.

Varaha Cave Temple: Varaha Mandapa or Adivaraha Cave is a unique rock-cut cave temple located in Mahabalipuram. Unlike the Shore Temple or the Five Rathas carved from large rock outcrops, the Varaha Cave Temple is a cave temple. This means it was carved directly into the side of a natural hill. The cave temple is located on the hills behind the Arjuna’s Penance monument, around 4 kilometres north of the main Mahabalipuram sites. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one of the principal deities in Hinduism, specifically in his Varaha avatar (boar incarnation).The most prominent sculpture inside the cave depicts Lord Vishnu as Varaha emerging from the cosmic ocean, rescuing Bhudevi (goddess Earth) from the clutches of a demon Hiranyaksha. This story symbolizes the restoration of order and the triumph of good over evil. Apart from the central Varaha panel, the cave walls have other carvings depicting various Hindu deities, including Shiva, Durga, and Ganesha. The entrance to the cave is flanked by two squat pillars with lion sculptures, adding to the temple’s grandeur.

Tiger Caves: Tiger Caves or Mandagapattu Caves are rock-cut monument complex offers unique historical and scenic experience but not as famous as shore temple or Five Rathas. The architectural style of the Tiger Caves belongs to the Pallava dynasty, likely built between the 7th and 8th centuries CE. The main cave features a flight of steps leading to a small portico with pillars flanked by sculptures of rampant tigers. Inside the cave, there are shrines dedicated to Hindu deities, though the carvings are not as elaborate as those in other monuments around Mahabalipuram. Two other caves with elephant head carvings are also part of the complex. The name “Tiger Caves” comes from the prominent carvings of tiger heads found around the entrance of the main cave. There’s some debate whether these carvings depict tigers, or a mythical creature called “yali,” a lion-tiger hybrid.

Time to Visit: 06.00 AM to 06.00 PM

Holidays: No 

India Seashell Museum: India Seashell Museum, located in Mahabalipuram fascinates the visitors by its beauty and diversity of seashells. It is one of the largest seashell museums in Asia which boasts a collection of over 40,000 seashells from all over the world. The museum’s collection is truly awe-inspiring, showcasing a vast array of seashells in all shapes, sizes, colours, and textures. Seashells play a vital role in the marine ecosystem, providing shelter for a variety of creatures. Seashells have been used for centuries in jewellery, decoration, and religious rituals. The museum showcases some of these fascinating cultural applications. The museum also houses exhibits on Marine Fossils – visitors can explore a collection of marine fossils, offering a glimpse into the prehistoric marine life that once existed, Pearl Museum – a dedicated section showcases the formation of pearls, different types of pearls, and their cultural significance and Mineral Museum- one can explore the collection of minerals and gemstones from around the world. Museum has different galleries & each gallery has a unique theme, showcasing a specific type of seashell or aspect of marine life.

Time to Visit: 09.00 AM to 06.00 PM

Holidays: No 

Crocodile Farm: The Crocodile Bank is located 40 kilometres south of Chennai towards Mahabalipuram. It was established in 1976 by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker and his wife Zai Whitaker with the objective of protecting India’s diminishing crocodile population. The Crocodile Bank houses over 2,400 animals including 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes, and 1 species of lizard. They are known for their successful breeding programs for endangered crocodiles including the three native Indian species: the mugger crocodile, the gharial, and the saltwater crocodile. Today it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions near Chennai while driving to Mahabalipuram. It is a great place to learn about reptiles and their conservation. The park offers a variety of educational programs, including guided tours, shows, and workshops.

Time to Visit: 09.00 AM to 05.30 PM – Ticket 

Holidays: Monday 

Dakshinachitra: Dakshinachitra, which translates to “a picture of the south”, is a living-history museum located on the outskirts of Chennai on the East Coast Road. It was established in 1996 and showcases the art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India in a truly unique way. The museum resembles a heritage village, with relocated original dwellings depicting the life patterns of people in the states of Southern India and here, we can explore various house styles from different regions, including Nalukettu (Kerala),  Chettinadu houses (Tamil Nadu), Irukkadu Mane (Karnataka) and Ithaku (Andhra Pradesh). Dakshinachitra regularly features folk performances like dance, music, and puppetry. The museum demonstrates traditional crafts like bronze casting,  loom weaving,  teak toy making and lampshade decoration by skilled artisans. It’s a perfect destination for families, history buffs, and anyone interested in experiencing the vibrant traditions of South India.

Time to Visit: 10.00 AM to 06.00 PM during Weekdays & 10.00 AM to 07.00 PM during Weekends 

Holidays: Tuesday and Diwali. 

 En-route Attractions when driving to Mahabalipuram through ECR from Chennai 

Mamallapuram connects with Chennai by East Coast Road, which is a well-planned, laid scenic view road along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. To Mamallapuram, there are plenty of entertainment spots.

ISKCON Temple Chennai: ISKCON Temple is a Vaishnava temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. It is located on the East Coast Road.

Time to Visit: 07.30 AM to 01.00 PM & 04.00 PM to 07.30 PM  

Nithya Kalyana Perumal Temple – 40 Km away from Chennai airport: The temple is more than 1000 years old. Based on the inscriptions found in the temple, it is said to have been built around the 8th Century A.D. This temple is located around 16 Km North of Mahabalipuram on the East Coast Road (ECR). One of the 108 “‘Divya Desams”.

Time to Visit: 06.00 AM to 12.00 PM & from 03.00 PM to 08.00 PM  

Muttukadu Boating: Muttukadu Boat House is a perfect place for the residents of the nearby metropolitan (Chennai) to relax. It’s a popular spot for boating and other water activities, offering a serene escape from the bustling city life. The boathouse is situated in a beautiful backwater area of the Bay of Bengal. Enjoy a scenic ride amidst lush greenery and tranquil waters. It offers activities for people of all ages and interests with a wide combo of water sports such as motorboats, rowboats, and water scooters, along with the restaurant facility, it makes for a splendid spot to spend the day. Muttukadu can get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.

 Activities to be enjoyed in Mahabalipuram:

 Cycle Ride: (Normal bicycle)

Escape the tourist track—and wake up those calf muscles—on this relaxing bicycle tour through rural Tamil villages. Learn about centuries-old traditions and lifestyles, temples, and farms, covering more sights in less time on two wheels. Tours include a tender coconut as a refreshing local snack. A scenic guided bicycle tour of Tamil villages near Mahabalipuram.

Surfing:

Mahabalipuram is also famous for the dreamy surfing adventure sports. This little place blessed with a stunning beach called “madhabs beach”, is a wonderland for surfing. A huge flock of surfers visits Mahabalipuram exclusively to enjoy surfing in the clean and divine waters of this amazing place. Mahabalipuram also provides various lessons and surfing board rental services for the tourists. Also, the great Mahabalipuram surf competition takes place for the surfers to show their talent and surfing skills. Keep aside Goa, Pondicherry, and other surfing spots and visit Mahabalipuram for a refreshing and memorable surfing experience.

Fishermen village visit: 

This is a fishing village which is remarkable for its Shore Temple. Entry was almost free but after it became a World heritage site it became expensive for non-Indian visitors. The 7th – 8th Century temples were carved out of solid rock and carving of granite is still important. Immerse yourself in the traditional way of life of the local fishing community. Here we can observe their daily routines, see the colorful fishing boats, and witness the process of drying fish on the shores & daily lives of fishermen as they mend their nets, prepare their boats, and return from their catches etc. The village is located along the scenic Mahabalipuram beach, offering beautiful views of the Bay of Bengal.

 

 

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