Mahabalipuram Temple District

The Hindu temple complex was built in the 7th / 8th centuries. Century and testifies to the splendor of the Tamil kingdoms. Temples and caves were carved out of the rock and richly decorated, such as the magnificent bas-reliefs “The Descent of the Ganga” and “The Penance of Arjuna”. The most important buildings include the coastal temple, the five Ratha temples as well as the Varhava and Mahishamardii caves with grandiose picture friezes.

Mahabalipuram Temple District: Facts

Official title: Mahabalipuram Temple District
Cultural monument: “Beach temple” donated by the Pallava kings, made of granite, the main attraction is the 32×14 m relief on the mythology of the Ganges, also called “Penance of Arjuna”, also called five small temples, “Rathas” or “temple wagons”, including the smallest the Draupadi-Ratha and the largest the multi-storey Dharmaraja-Ratha as well as the Bhima-Ratha equipped with lion pillars with a circumference of 16×8 m; the Varhava cave with the four famous gatekeepers of the Pallavas and Mahishamardini cave with a picture frieze from the Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya
Continent: Asia
Country: India, Tamil Nadu
Location: Mahabalipuram, Coromandel Coast, south of Madras
Appointment: 1984
Meaning: Sanctuaries from the 7th and 8th centuries with unique reliefs and sculptures in honor of Shiva and Vishnu

Mahabalipuram Temple District: History

600-630 Mahendravarman I., start of construction on Mahabalipuram
630-668 Narasimhavarman I.
690-715 Construction of the “beach temple” under Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha

Unleashed rock art by the sea

According to commit4fitness, the fact that one of the most important ports on the Indian east coast was once located here is certainly not apparent at first glance in the small town of Mahabalipuram. As always, fishermen pull their nets ashore, in the modest huts surrounded by gardens, daily life takes its usual course for centuries.

But just a few meters from the beach, rock reliefs rising up steeply from the coastal plain and monolithic temples bear witness to a great culture that flourished along the Coromandel coast between the 7th and 8th centuries under the Pallava dynasty. This stone art was part of a fortress that was founded by the ruler Mahendravarman I in the early 7th century and developed into the center of a lively sea trade far beyond the Indian Ocean.

The place got its original name Mamallapuram from Narasimhavaram I, also called “Mamallan” (Mahamalla), the “great fighter”, who helped his predecessor’s construction work to its highest perfection. The term »Mahabalipuram« used today is a corruption that refers to the deity Bali.

The main attraction is a relief on the east side of the cliffs, which is a unique “picture book” illustrating an episode from the Mahabharata epic, the longest poem in world literature.

The artists have taken the »Penance of Arjuna«, one of the five Pandava brothers who play the main role in the adventurous heroic tale, as their theme. Shiva, disguised as Kirata, the original resident of the forest, gives Arjuna the ability to draw the magic bow and thus win the king’s daughter Draupadi. The main characters appear on the rock painting, however, by no means dominating; they leave enough space for a description of life on the Ganges that is unique in its dynamism and narrative joy. The stonemasons have skillfully used a crevice to descend the Ganges. Fed by a small reservoir, the water flows down here and washes around the Nagas, snake deities who live in the water. “Like a vision, the great and small world of the gods is conjured up from the natural rock,

The animals have their place in the lower half, above all two elephants with cubs. In front of them, a cat uses pretended meditation to rock the mice dancing around it in supposed security, probably a swipe at the many sanctimonious sadhus, begging and ascetic Hindus who shamelessly exploited the religious feelings of the population even then.

The art of the Pallavas is by no means exhausted in this rock painting. In the early phase, King Mahendravarman had cult caves carved into the rocks around his palace with highly lively reliefs. In the Mahishamardini cave we meet the god Vishnu, resting on the world serpent; opposite him, as a dramaturgical counterpoint so to speak, the goddess Durga in the fight against the buffalo demon Mahisharusa. The graceful goddess exudes a strange ecstasy, a fleeting smile can even be seen on her face. With purposeful movement, she strikes down her deceitful enemy. The five Pandava Rathas, temples carved out of the granite rock in the form of houses or temple wagons (»rathas«), are among the other selected buildings of the early Pallava epoch,

The last of the art-loving rulers of Mamallapuram, King Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha, has also erected a monument. Washed around by the waves of the Indian Ocean, the coastal temple he had commissioned pushes itself dangerously close to the surf and still forms a dreamlike backdrop for tropical sunsets to this day.

Mahabalipuram Temple District