Located in the Kancheepuram district, Mahabalipuram is one of the oldest cities in India and is known for its various stone carved monuments and ancient temples. Mahabalipuram, located in Tamilnadu was a port town during the 1st Century to 140 AD and was ruled by the ancient Pallava dynasty. The Pallava Kings Mahendravarman I and Narsimhavarman I have been attributed with the commissioning of most of the monuments back in the 7th and 8th century AD. The groups of monuments located here have also been deemed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Here’s the list of the must-visit places in Mahabalipuram.
1. Arjuna’s Penance
A huge open-air sculpture, Arjuna’s Penance shows the various events that occurred during Arjuna’s Penance. The relief is carved on two big rocks which are approximately 43 feet high, atop which a huge collecting pool used to be during the older times. The rock sculpting done on the rocks is intricate and is amazingly detailed and is unlike any other that is found in India.
One of the 108 Divya Desams or Temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Thirukadalmallai or the Sthalasayana Perumal Temple was built by the Pallavas around 8th century BC. The Divya Desams are the 108 temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu that were built by the Tamil Azhvars or Saints. The architecture is once again the Dravidian Pallava style with a white colored gopuram that is a marvel to behold.
3. Cave Temples
Mahabalipuram houses a total number of 8 Rock-Cut Cave Temples built in the 7th century by the Pallava Kings. The temples feature a number of finely cut rock columns which vary in detail. The various rock carved sculptures are dedicated to the various Hindu deities and are considered as the finest masterpieces of Indian art. The various cave temples are namely, Krishna, Mahishasuramardini, Varaha, Trimurti, Kotikal, Tiger, Atiranachanda and Panchapandava.
4. Shore Temple
The name of the temple is so because of it overlooking the shores of the Bay of Bengal. The Shore Temple is carved out of granite and is alternatively called the 7 Pagodas due to some unconfirmed evidence that the complex had 7 Pagodas till a Tsunami hit the shores in the 13th century AD. The architecture is a distinctive Pallava style and the finely cut granite temple is decorated with various rock cut reliefs and sculptures.
5. Pancha Rathas
The exquisite Pancha Rathas are open air rock cut reliefs and are fashioned in the form of 5 chariots named after the Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharatha. The carved monoliths have all been carved out of pink granite and the tallest one of them is around 40 feet high. The distinctive Dravidian architectural style of the Pallavas is prevalent in the design. The intricately carved sculptures belonging to various gods and demi-gods of the Hindu mythology that are placed in the niches in the chariot shaped temples are a marvel to behold.
The 2004 tsunami caused a massive damage to many of the archeological monuments here. However the site has been well preserved through the years and is still considered the best collection of Pallava architecture and art. The aforementioned places are considered as the best of the monuments present at the ancient town of Mahabalipuram.
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