For ages ‘It’ stood on the shore-
From where I stood I could hear,
the sea waves carrying the sound of blowing conches;
The pine branches and the beach winds kissed to ring hundred temple bells.
As the sun set, I stood still,
looking at the golden dusk that lit thousand temple lamps-
‘It’ had a divine glow and my heart asked for more.
As we stood in front of the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, at sunset, the above lines came to my mind. The ancient 8th Century rock cut temple stood by the sea side, surrounded by pines. Not only was the place beautiful, it turned magical during sundown.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram is situated by the coast of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, 60 kilometres from Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu. Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is a coastal town, situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. The temple is one of the oldest structural stone temples of Southern India and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Shore Temple is among the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram which has been classified into UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. They consist of rock-cut cave temples, monolithic temples, bas-relief sculptures, structural temples and the Shore Temple and the excavated remains of the temple as well. These majestic structures were created by the Pallavas (6th – 9th Century).
The Shore Temple, Work of Art
Made of granite and carvings of black basalt stone, the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram is a work of art, displaying terrific ornamental sculptures all over and Dravidian architectural style. It has an appearance of a ratha (chariot). One part of the temple is dedicated to the shrine of Vishnu, another has a huge orthogonal Shivalingam (Shiva shrine) and the inner chamber is dedicated to the shrine of Ksatriyasimnesvara. There are numerous chambers and panels with multiple carvings of Hindu gods and goddesses. The entire compound wall surrounding the temples is sculpted with large sculptures of Nandi, the bull who is Lord Shiva’s friend and mount. Structures like Varaha (boar), elephants and lions are common. There are some significant monolith structures and miniature shrines all around the temple; many of which were found in 2004’s Tsunami. Mahabalipuram is not a beach town meant to surf, swim and chill but a town with a rich history and stories.
Other Things to See at Mahabalipuram
Besides beautiful beaches and Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, there are some other breath taking monuments in Mahabalipuram. They are mainly Olakkanesvara Temple on the rock above the Mahishamardini cave temple. The Lighthouse, which is a more modern structure comparatively, stands here. Then there are the Pancharathas, chariot like temples curved out of rocks with statues of Nandi, the bull and elephants. Rock cut temples and cave temples at ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ and ‘Krishna’s Butter Ball’ are major attractions.
The Shore Temple Must Stand Forever
Hiuen Tsang and Marco Polo have mentioned about Mamallapuram as a busy port and about its shore temples. They called them the Seven Pagodas of Mamallapuram. The one which still stands is one of those. The rest seem to have been under the sea. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is constantly building and applying methods to protect the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram. The rough sea and the salty sea wind affect the temple structures. ASI has constructed break-water wall all around the sea shore to save the temple and also use wall paper pulp and chemical treatments to absolve saline water. Casuarina and pine trees along the coastline have been planted by ASI and a sprawling lush green lawn around the temple is made. These not only beautify the surroundings but also strengthen the rocks and soil around the temple. This temple standing strong since ages must stand forever to tell the stories of our history, art, culture, science and architecture.
When and How to Visit the Shore Temple
October to March is the season for the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram; winter being the best time to visit. Mahabalipuram is just 58 kms from Chennai and takes around 1.5 hours to reach by road. Most of the site seeing spots are close by (within 2-2.5 kms). Rented cars and autos are readily available. Many tourists make a day trip to Mahabalipuram from Chennai and then move on to other destinations but this beach town deserves an exclusive visit and stay.
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