Mahabalipuram Travel Guide

Mahabalipuram is the city of temples a renowned tourist and pilgrimage destination is situated at a distance of 55 kms from Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu. Mahabalipuram, now a small sleepy village, has the distinction of being one of the top travel destinations of not only Tamil Nadu but also South India. Known to the world for its famous Shore group of Temples. Mahabalipuram forms an integral part of the golden triangle travel destinations of South India. Earlier known as Mamallapuram, the place has been given the term “the Land of Bali”.

A majority of the temples and rock carvings belongs to the reign of Narashimha Varman1 In the 630-668AD. The conversion of the King Mahendre Varman to accept Shaivism led the creation of the monuments devoted to the Hindu gods like Lord Shiva and Vishnu. It was once the capital of the Pallava Dynasty and is a major travel attraction today due to the largest Basilica in the world on the sea side. Called Arjuna’ penance it even is widely known for the mandapams or the large hall that are eye catching in its decorations. This creative piece of architecture offers ample proof of the grand architecture of the 5th and the 8th century artistic creation.

Major Tourist Attractions of Mahabalipuram

The Shore Temple was erected during the reign of Rajasimha in the 7th century AD. The temple rests on a rocky outcrop, presiding over the shoreline. The temple was designed with a view to catching the first rays of the rising sun and illuminating the waters after dark. For this reason, the temple has an unusual layout. It was the first Pallava structure to be built in stone. The older temples, however, were hewn out of stone. The Shikhara or the spire of the temple has been prominently designed. The spire has a soaring and tiered style rather than being like a rounded Vihara.

The Temple Architecture

The Shore Temple is a brilliant example of the Pallava art and architecture. What is to be noted is the design of the Shikhara or the spire. The design has altered from the rounded Vihara to the soaring tiered style. Erected to catch the first rays of the rising sun, the temple has an unusual design. The main shrine of the temple faces the east while the gateway, the forecourt and the assembly hall are located behind the sanctum.
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The temple stands in dedication to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. A chain of Nandi Bulls can be observed along the enclosing wall of the temple. A huge stone wall was built to protect the temple against the rising waves of the sea. The wall also helped to save against further erosion. Facing the east and the west are two shrines to honour Lord Shiva. Acquiring a position between these two shrines is a shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu can be seen resting on the serpent Sesha which symbolises consciousness. The sculpted panels of the temple represent the mastery of the erstwhile artisans of the Pallava era.

Krishna Mandapam :

This is one of the earliest rock-cut temples. The sculptures inside this Mandapam beautifully picturize the myth of Lord Krishna during his brave and energetic adulthood. He lifted the huge mount govardhara in elder to provide shelter to his people and their animals from the rain. Lord Indra, god of rain poured rain continuously due to his wrath. The shepherd community namely Gokulas was shopped and thanked lord Indra once a year for his showers of blessings.

Arjuna’s Penance :

The most famous of the Mahabalipuram art, this is carved in relief on the face of a huge rock. It depicts the mythological story of the river Ganges, issuing from its source high in the Himalayas. The rock has exhaustive carvings, presenting the most appealing and natural interpretation of animals. It also shows deities, and other semi gods and legends from the Panchtantra or Five Wise Lessons written by Vishnu Sharma in the 2nd century BC. Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata fame is shown standing on one leg, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Shiva. An accomplished archer, Arjuna had traveled to the banks of river Ganga to do penance, to persuade Shiva to part with his favourite weapon, the pashupatashatra, a magic staff or arrow.

Tiger’s Cave :

The Tiger’s cave lying 4 km to the north of the main monument complex was an open air theatre where cultural programs were held. The caves are very near to the beach but serene and peaceful atmosphere prevails there.
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Beach Temples : Tourist in thousands throng the city of Mahabalipuram due to pleasure and attraction brought in by the beautiful beach temples. The monolithic rock cuttings, small shrines ravaged by the wars and times keeps the tourists flowing in to the pilgrim place. Some of the temples around that are of importance to the place are the Kailasanatha temple, Sri Varadaraja temple and Sri Vaikuntaperumal temple which depicts the patience, hard work and the skills of the artist greatness of the times

Rathas :

These are architectural prototypes of all Dravidian temples, demonstrating the imposing gopurams and vimanas, multi-pillared halls and sculptured walls, which dominate the landscape of Tamil Nadu. The rathas are named after the Pandavas, the heroes of the Mahabharata epic. Although they are widely known as “Five Rathas”, there are actually eight of them.

Mahabalipuram Accommodation
Mahabalipuram offers a relaxed stay to its visitors with furnished rooms, attached bath, 24 hr service and laundry facilities. The place also serves food to the taste of the visitors. Some of the prominent hotels around are Fisherman’s Cove, GRT Temple Bay Beach Resort ,Ideal Beach Resort, Hotel Sea Breeze, Quality Inn MGM Beach Resort . The garden facilities along with the swimming pools adds color to the comfort.

How to Reach Mahabalipuram
» By Road : There are buses available from Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Chennai to Mahabalipuram regularly. The road to Mahabalipuram is well connected to other major roads. Tourists can also hire a taxi from Chennai to reach Mahabalipuram
» By Air : Chennai 58-km away is the nearest airport with both domestic and international terminus.
» By Rail : The nearest railway stations are Chengalpattu (29-km) and Chennai (58-km). From these stations one has to take the roads to reach Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram Map

Tamil Nadu, India


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