Mahabalipuram- sea , sand ,sculptures and the shore temple
The warmth of Madras is always special .More so, in December when the city is bathed in sunlight after a cold downpour. We were there for the weekend and the weather was just right to get on to the Coromandel Coast .A bit of breeze, lots of birds and blue skies was enough to tempt us to go outdoors . And so we found ourselves cruising down the ECR (East Coast Road) with no particular destination in mind.
Our mid afternoon reverie was interrupted by a gruff voice at the Toll Station who asked us where we were headed . And we both chorused – Mahabalipuram . Several school excursions have brought me to these shores , and many a time, the lure of the rocky beaches have brought us here, but its been a while since I had been to the caves and the carvings.
It was a Sunday afternoon and needless to say extremely crowded. There were swarms of touts, tourists, vendors and visitors vying for attention at this historic site. Mahabalipuram , also known as Mammalapuram was a thriving port during the Pallava regime between the 3rd and the 10th centuries . It is said that there was evidence of trade with Romans as well .
A bit of lore and history is behind these twin names. In Hindu mythology, an asura king named Mahabali was said to have ruled these shores and he was slain by the Hindu God, Vishnu in one of his avatars called Vamana Avatar Hence , the name , Mahabalipuram . Later on the port was flourishing under the Pallava king, King Narasimhavarman 1 also titled Mammalla for being a famous wrestler and this place was named after him . Interesting ways I would say to remember kings and Gods..but thats a different story altogether .
Amidst the casuarina trees and the sandy shores, were strewn rock cut temples and monolith sculptures . Stories from Hindu mythology were carved out in rocks and caves and each one has its own tale. We went to the Shore Temple, which is now a World Heritage Site . Our history books have taughts us that seven pagodas or such temples were initially constructed and this is the lone survivor. All the others are believed to be submerged in the seas. Built in the 7th century, this temple is a masterpiece .
There are three temples of which two Shiva Temples face east and west respectively. The other one is the Vishnu Temple. The Vishnu temple was built by Narasimha Varman I and the other two were built by Narasimha Varman II. The beautifully carved twin Dwarka Palaks (gate keepers) guard the entrance of the east facing Shiva Temples. Various carvings of Gods and Goddesses from Hinduism are depicted here , such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Parvati, Ganesha, Shanda , Narasimha and Durga.
The central shrine is in the form of a rectangle. Here the sculpure of Vishnu is found sleeping, hence the deity is known as Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana.It is said that Vishnu reclines on the floor listening silently the sounds of names. There are other forms as well such as Vishnu seated in mount Garuda helping Gajendra, the elephant, found in the southern wall and the northern wall is the portrayals from the life of lord Krishna. The grand temple is surrounded by mandapas and compound walls. There is a rock-cut of a lion which is rode by two young women. The lion has a small cut, a square shaped cut in its belly. There is also a carving of a buffalo demon running with a stick in his hand, located in the northern side.
There is more to Mahabs as we fondly call it , than just the shore temple and I will have separate posts on the same..Being a childhood haunt, its one of my favourite places and I often feel a sense of pride and belonging when I visit these shores .