Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mahabalipuram - A 7th century wonder!

It was a bright sunny Saturday morning in Chennai and my friend, his family, my sister and I decided to drive down to the historical town of Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram is 60 km south of Chennai and is situated on the coromandel coast by the Bay of Bengal. Mahabalipuram was a busy 7th century port city and houses a lot of temples and historic monuments which have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since we had left home late in the morning, our agenda was to visit the famous sea shore temple, the pancha rathas, if possible and a relaxed evening session at the beach.

As we entered this quaint dusty, but bustling tourist town, the ladies in the car got excited as they spotted tons of shopping opportunity. Somehow, we were able to coax them into exploring our glorious past before getting into the materialistic present.

We proceeded to the sprawling sea shore temple area after having bought our entrance tickets and hiring ourselves a guide. This shore temple and its boundaries are being managed and run effectively by the archaeological society of India (ASI).

With the guide leading our way, we visited the 3 shrines within the shore temple premises, namely the east and west facing Shiva shrines and the east facing (but tucked inside) Vishnu (Ananthasayanam or sleeping Vishnu) temple. We got to know that this temple is one of the oldest forms of Dravidian architecture and South Indian temples.

The other interesting fact that we got to know was that this temple was submerged under sea for some years during which the salt and sea water corroded the rock surfaces and sculptures. Even to date, rocks and boulders lined up the sea facing territory of the temple to prevent the sea from entering the temple premises. The floor of the temple and the sea are more or less at the sea level.

Our guide told us that remnants of the 7th pagoda were discovered when the sea waters receded after the 2004 tsunami and earthquake that hit this part of the world. The archaeological society of India have been sending divers for underwater excavations since 2005 to uncover the history of an underwater city.

We were shown the place of 'bali' or sacrifice and its significance to Maha'bali'puram getting its name. The influence of the Chinese tiger in the Dravidian architecture can also be seen here. Frequent trade between China and India might have been the trigger. We also saw the place that used to be a school/training ground for the art of fighting. Sculptures in various fighting poses depicted this training facility.

After the shore temple, we made our way to the Panch Rathas or Five Chariots, which are monolithic structures named after the Pandavas of the Mahabharata.

These structures, which have been made from a single piece of stone, were more like the school of architecture as each of these 5 structures portray a different architecture - Dravidian, Buddhist and West Bengal styles.

One can just gape in wonder and admire these great pieces of architecture. After a small break in the shade and a detailed photo shooting session, we trotted towards the serene looking beach where the men could enjoy a walk in the breeze while the ladies could finish their shopping experience in the adjoining shopping shacks.

With a serene looking beach, exquisite architecture, amazing sculptures, delicious history, a quaint & dusty tourist town in the kitty, our evening had all the ingredients of a 7th Century Wonder!!

The complete album can be viewed by clicking below.

Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India

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