Mamallapuram, a thriving seaport and trade center between the 7th and 10th centuries was the second capital of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram. It was earlier known as Mahabalipuram after the demon king Mahabali, who was killed by Lord Vishnu. Later on, the name changed to ‘Mamallapuram’ after its founder Narasimha Varman I (630 668 AD), who was bestowed with the title of ‘Mamalla’ or the ‘great wrestler’. Pallavas, the first important Tamil dynasty to emerge after the decline of the Guptas, held sway over southern India from the 3rd to the close of 9th century A.D. They patronized and developed new styles in art and architecture, sculpture, and painting. Today, the town is referred to as an ‘open-air museum’ and is a dream world of Tamil art, exhibiting an astonishing legacy of Pallava architecture. Mamallapuram is also known for its silvery sandy beach, delicious seafood, and exquisite handicrafts.
Shore Temple: The stately shrine set elegantly on the edge of the sea is a lone survivor among the seven magnificent temples built over here. The construction originally started around the middle of the 7th century and was later rebuilt during the reign of Narsimha Varman II, also known as Rajasimha. It is one of the oldest temples in South India and represents the first phase of structural temples constructed in Dravidian style. This icon of the soaring aesthetic aspiration of the Pallavas has been listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO and is one of the most visited monuments in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex has three exquisitely carved shrines, which are approached through a paved forecourt. A temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is flanked by two Shiva temples, one facing the east and the other facing the west. Both the Shiva temples are crowned by soaring spires, while the Vishnu temple has none, as it may have crumbled with time. The Vishnu temple was built by Narasimha Varnman I or “Mamalla”, while the Shiva temples were later built by his son Narasimha Varman II.
Panch (Five) Rathas: This set of five magnificent monolithic rock temples located in a sandy compound are considered to be an architectural prototype in the evolution of Dravidian temple architecture. The mini shrines studded with gopurams and vimanas, multi pillared halls, and sculptured walls are chiseled out of big boulders in the form of temple chariot (Rathas). The Rathas are assigned to Pandavas, the heroes of Mahabharata, and their wife Draupadi.
Arjuna’s Penance: It was built during the reign of Narasimhavarman I and is one of the world’s largest and finest stone bas-reliefs. It is sculpted across a huge whale back shaped rock, measuring 27 meters in length and 9 meters in height with a fissure in the middle. On either side of the rock, the cleft is carvings depicting denizens of the triple world of gods and demi-gods, of men, birds, and beasts and nagas and nymphs, all blending harmoniously into the theme of the penance of Arjuna, the hero of the great epic Mahabharta. Some also believe that it depicts the penance of Bhagiratha, an ancestor of Lord Rama, who was sent on a mission of redeeming the souls of his ancestors.
Ganesha Ratha: The oblong monolithic structure is the only Rath which has been completed.
Krishna’s Butter Ball: This huge boulder perched precariously on a hill slope near the Ganesh Ratha is an amazing marvel of nature. It is believed that the Pallava kings tried their best with the help of elephants, to move this boulder, but were unsuccessful.
Mandapams: There are fourteen caves and mandapams in and around the historic town. The rock-cut cave temples are noted for unique architecture and exquisitely sculpted fine bas-reliefs, depicting mythological scenes. Some of the important ones are, Krishna Mandapam, Mahishasuramardhini Mandapam, and Varaha Mandapam, etc.
Mamallapuram Beach: The beautiful beach lined by the lush Casuarina groves is another attraction of Mamallapuram. One can enjoy swimming in the serene warm blue sea, laze around on the golden sands, and admire nature’s beauty.