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Mamallapuram Mahabalipuram

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) a UNESCO world heritage, is an ancient city along the Coromandel coast on the shores of the Bay of Bengal is famous for its shore temples. These monolithic rock structures are renowned for their distinctive architecture style and extraordinary carvings.

Mamallapuram or more commonly known as Mahabalipuram is a temple town located on the coastal line of Bay of Bengal 60km south of Chennai. The enchanting ancient temples, embedded in the golden brown sand of the shore, against the backdrop of the azure sea and surrounding serenity are a treat for history enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Palavas developed Mahabalipuram as an important port during the Seventh Century to promote trade with the south east Asian countries. The Pallava rulers of the time Narasimhavarman I and his successor Narasimhavarman II had great appreciation for art and architecture; under their patronage the exquisite temples were built between 630-668AD. Mahabalipuram is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and many foreign and Indian travelers come to Mahabalipuram in search of history, art and architecture of south India.
Not only are these temples architectural marvels, but they also initiated a very distinctive style of architecture known as the Dravidian temple architecture, which flourished and greatly influenced the architects and artisans thereafter.
According to local legend the city came to be known as Mamallapuram after the name of demon king Mahabali who was killed by lord Vishnu. Others say that the Pallava King Narasimha Barman I (630-668 AD) was a Mahamalla (a big fighter), hence the town was called Mahamallapuram or Mamallapuram.

The significant features of the temples in Mamallpuram can be primarily categorized into four types: open air bas relief type, structured temples, man-made caves and Rathas or chariots.
The Temples:
King Narasimhavarman followed a style of free standing monolithic architecture which influenced the monolithic Rathas, Arjuna's Penance, the rock cut cave-temples of Govardhanadhari and Mahishasuramardini, as well as the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple.
Narasimhavarman’s son, Narasimhavarman II., later initiated masonry work; the finest creation of his is the magnificent five-storied shore temple on the beach. This was a cornerstone of the Dravidian temple  architecture style. Mamallapuram presents the evolution of the Dravidian architecture from the early cave temples to the more elaborate style and finally culminating in temples with gateways or Gopurams and pillared halls.
Beside the shore temples located right next to the sea, there are 14 cave temples, 8 monolithic Rathas, and a number of other smaller rock sculptures. Some of the important places to visit at Mamallpuram include Arjuna's Penance, cave temples and Rathas which are each carved out of a single huge rock. They surprise with their excellent carvings and marvelous architecture and compel you to think of all the painstacking effort and labor that went into  constructing such breathtaking structures without the use of machines and modern tools.
Many of the monuments are floodlit at night creating a spectacular view.

Arjuna's Penance or Bhagiratha's Penace
A little distance from the sea there are two hills which contain two large rocks which display some of the most exquisite relief carvings in India. This structure (27m long and 9m wide ) is one of the biggest bas-reliefs in the world carved out of a rock. It depicts the descent of the Ganga River from heaven to earth. This relief measuring nearly 96 feet (meter conversion!!!!) long and 43 feet high (meter conversion!!!!)has two names due to the contradiction of the stories it represents. In one of the interpretations of the carvings, it is believed that it is Arjuna standing on one leg to please Lord Shiva and receive his most powerful weapon to win the battle of Mahabharata. Whereas many consider that the figure is of King Bhagiratha who performed penance to bring the Ganga River from heaven to earth. Other carvings depicts animals and heavenly beings witnessing the descent of the river.
Varaha Cave The Varaha Cave, which is a small rock-cut Mandapam, is devoted to lord Varaha and Vamana, the two incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The front Mandapa (=the hall) has two lion pillars. The hall is guarded by two carvings of Dwarapalas (= the guards). The panels on the wall inside the hall depict beautiful sculptures of Lord Varha lifting the Goddess Earth, images of Goddess Gajalakshmi seated on a lotus and being bathed by elephants. The other two panels depict Durga with four arms and Trivikrama defeating the demon king Bali. The carvings are very neatly and intricately done and present a charming sight. Mahishamardini Cave Mahishamardini Cave has a large Mandapa in front with three cells. The two sides of the Mandapa represent Lord Seshasayi Vishnu and Mahishamardhini. The central cell is devoted to Lord Shiva and also has a sculpture of Somaskanda. Dharmaraja Mandapa This triple celled cave temple has massive pillars and is known to belong to the times of Pallava King Mahendravarman. One of the inscriptions in the temple displays the temple name as Atyantakama Pallavesvara Griham. The other important cave temples in the area include: Panchapandava Mandapa, Kotikal Mandapa, Koneri Mandapa and Trimurthi Cave. These ancient and historical structures take you back to historical times when the construction of such complex architectural buildings was not an easy task.
The Rathas
Named after the five Pandava brothers, these chariots are popularly known as the Panch Pandava Rathas. Carved out of single rocks, these are located on the southern end of Mamallapuram. Of the five Rathas the Draupadi and Arjuna Rathas are square, Bhima Ratha is long, whereas the Dharamraja Ratha is tall. Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha is different from other structures and is apsidal in shape.
Krishna Mandapam
This Mandapam is one of the oldest temples in Mamallapuram. The walls are covered with intricately carved stories from the childhood of Lord Krishna. It also depicts the scene when Lord lifted the Govardhana hill to save its people from Lord Indra.
Shore Temple
Standing on the edge of the Bay of Bengal is the most famous of all the monuments here – the Shore Temple, a two-towered structure built in the 7th century. For hundreds of years during high tide, the crashing waves and salty winds from the sea have eroded the sculptures on the walls adding a different dimension to the beauty of it. It is a complex structure devoted to Vishnu and Shiva. The Palavas used to be Jains, but later turned Vaishnavites and the influence is palpable here. According to legend, originally there were seven temples. Of these, six have been swallowed by the sea. Only the Shore Temple remains today. The architecture and carvings denote the qualitative artistry and skills of the artisans during the era. A huge stone statue of a lion with an archer sitting on its knee is a beautiful carving outside the temple.
Krishna’s Butterball
This is an amazing sight where a gigantic rock is seemingly perched on a hill, as though it may roll down at any time; it will certainly make you question the laws of Physics. This rock is known as Krishna’s Butterball.
This is a small fishing village, 40 km from Chennai on the Mahabalipuram Road. The remains of a fort, which now functions as a luxury beach resort can be found here. Facilities for windsurfing and swimming are available here. A Dargah and an ancient church add to the ambiance of the place.
Sadras Beach
Sadras is an exceptional beach resort, set in a beautiful seaside location. The beaches that surround Mahabalipuram are bordered by beautiful, green casuarinas groves. The contrast between the vibrant green foliage and the sparkling white beaches is breathtaking. This beach resort is located 13 km outside Mahabalipuram. There is an old ruined Dutch fort, as well as a Dutch cemetery with finely carved headstones. It is captivating to discover traces of the Dutch past in the region, as well as that of India.

The locally produced, exclusive stone carvings and artefacts made of sea shells are exquisite memorabilia.


Mamallapuram Dance Festival
Mamallapuram is host to a very famous and vibrant festival of Indian Classical Dances. Well Known dancers of various dance forms including Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Kathakali perform here. This festival is organized during the months of January and February. Performances at the Festival take place from 18h00 - 20h00 daily.


Nearby places Train stations Airports
Chengalpattu 30 Km 00H 33m
Chennai Central 63 Km 01H 10m
Nearby major cities
Name Distance Duration
67 Km 01H 06m
95 Km 01H 38m
220 Km 03H 25m
61 Km 01H 06m
67 Km 01H 06m
Kanchipuram is known as ‘Varanasi of the South’,, and highly revered as the holy seat (Kamakotipeetam) of Adi Sankaracharya. The stunning temples here showcase some of the best Dravidian architecture introduced by the Pallavas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagara rulers. The town is also well-known for its beautiful Kannjeevaram saris.
95 Km 01H 38m
Long stretches of unspoilt beautiful beaches, colonial heritage, spirituality and a unique fusion cuisine embody the charm of Puducherry or Pondicherry. Pondicherry is a former French colony which has retained its colonial heritage very well. Tamil culture and French influence blend unusually in this small town which remained under French rule for about 300 years.
220 Km 03H 25m
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Best Seasons
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Season Min. Temp. Max. Temp.
Summer 21 °C 36 °C
Winter 21 °C 31 °C
Mahabalipuram is humid all through the year. However the climate is moderate with summers ( March - June ) temperatures not going beyond 36°C. Winters (November - February) are pleasant and cool . Monsoons arrive in June lashing the shores with heavy rain

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Seasons Flavour

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