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Located at a distance of 58-km from Chennai, Mahabalipuram has everything that makes a site memorable; tradition, history, piety, western annals, and current importance as a centre of tourism.
The proper name of the site is "Mamallapuram", after Mamalla, an honorific of the Pallava king, Narasimha Varman I (630-668), who created the earliest of its monuments. But it is popularly called "Mahabalipuram", or "The city of Bali", whom Lord Vishnu chastised for his pride and of whom there is a relief in one of the excavated temples here.
The history of Mahabalipuram dates back to two thousand years, it contains nearly forty monuments of different types including an "open air bas relief" which is the largest in the world, for centuries it has been a centre of pilgrimage, it figures in the early annals of the British search for the picturesque in India in the 18th century, today it attracts shoals of foreigners in search of relaxation and sea bathing, and most strange of all, it has an atomic power plant for neighbour. A small library has been written on it. Over its history and that of its monuments a number of scholarly controversies rage.
Mahabalipuram was already a centre of pilgrimage when, in the 7th century Mamalla made it a seaport and began to make temples fashioned of rock. It was through Mahabalipuram that many Indian colonists, who included sages and artists, migrated to Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka's national chronicle, the "Mahavamsa" testifies to this fact.
Places To See :
Arjuna's Penance-Bas relief structure
This skillfully carved rock of 29X7 metre, is the largest vas - relief sculpture in the world. It gets its name from the figure of an ascetic who is believed to be Arjuna, the hero of Mahabharata, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Siva. However, there are others who think that the figure is actually Bhagiratha who entreated Siva to let the river Ganges flow over the earth. Among the other carvings on the rock are animals and heavenly beings witnessing the descent of the Ganges from the Himalayas and some episodes from the Panchatantra tales.
This cave has a big bas-relief, notable for its realistic representation. The panel relates one of the stories of Lord Krishna. Monolithic Chariots, though called Pancharath, but in real they are nine. They are carveed out of a single whole rock one by one between 630-709 AD. They are Draupadi Chariot, Arjuna Chariot, Dharma Raja Chariot, Bheema Chariot, Shri Krishna Chariot etc.
The Sore Temple
Though known as the land of Seven Pagodasm, there is only one remaining today. The five storied Sore Temple on the sea beach was built by the Pallava King Raja Singha at the end of seventh century in pure dravidian sculpture. This temple was the last work of Pallava dynasty. Guarding the temple are Lion-King Nandi or the row of oxens. Recently, Sore Temple Complex has been enlisted in the recorded history of World Heritage. This is one of the oldest temples in South India.
The temples are finely sculptured & carved out in Mahabali. Krishna Temple is the oldest temple. The decorated Krishna stall is depicted with the episodes from Lord Srikrishna's life and the lifting up of Gobardhan hill to give protection Gops & Gopies from the curse of the rain God. The rectangular Ganesh Mandapam was also built carving out of a whole rock and are worshipped still daily. To the S-West of Ganeshrath in Baraha Mandapam. To a little North you will witness the enormous power of the God on the Balancing Rock.
Ganesa Ratha, Varcha Cave, Old Light House, Krishna's Butter Ball, Gopi's Churn, Valayankuttai Ratha, Kodikal Mandapam,etc. Besides everything sea beach of Mahabalipuram is undeniable.
It is 5 kms North of the main monument complex, and on the way to Chennai. It has an open air theatre, where cultural programmes were held for the benefit of the royal family.