If a weekend getaway to Chennai is on your mind, a visit to the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) is a must. The elegant temple complex is located just about 60 kilometers south of Chennai which takes about an hour to reach. It sits right on the world’s largest shore, the Bay of Bengal and hence the name. The beautiful structure built during 700 – 728 AD by the Pallavas is a masterpiece as it depicts the ancient finesse of art. They have built different types of temples during their reign but the Shore Temple is an architectural and sculptural marvel of the Pallava dynasty.
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Construction Of The Shore Temple
Construction of the Shore Temple, one of the oldest temples in India was started by the Pallava King, Rajashima Narasimhavarman II in the year 601 AD. This construction was the beginning of temple architecture in South India. It took around 200 years and kings from three generations of the Pallava dynasty to complete the construction. Eventually when Cholas came into power, artists from the Chola dynasty too contributed as per their style of architecture. This age-old souvenir made by our ancestors was completed in the 8th Century by Narasimha Varman. Today this temple site is a verified UNESCO World Heritage site.
Inside Details Of Mahabalipuram Shore Temple
The ancient temple complex has three shrines of which two are dedicated to Lord Shiva and one to Lord Vishnu. Having both the Gods under the same roof was not quite common. The Vishnu shrine which is the smallest and the oldest of the three is right in the middle of the two Shiva shrines. The Dravidian and Pallava style of architecture used has carvings depicting various deities, scenes and stories from Hindu mythology. Apart from this, the temple complex also houses several other scattered structures of which the statue of a lion and 101 Nandi bulls surrounding the site are the most prominent ones. Sadly only 80 of these Nandi bulls survived through the years.
The old maps show the Shore Temple as part of the seven pagodas, however only one is there for us to explore. Archeologists feel that the remaining six pagodas must have been washed away by the sea and buried by sand. The 2004 Tsunami and several excavations have revealed a few new structures which have been excavated and restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. To preserve this slice of history, barricades have been constructed around the site to protect from the waters of the Bay of Bengal.
7 Interesting Facts About Shore Temple
- The entire facade seems to have been carved from granite that was taken from a nearby quarry.
- Historians believe that the Pallava style of architecture took a transition after constructing this temple. Where monuments were made from a single piece of rock eventually changed to free standing structures.
- The structure of the shore temple is quite distinctive as it was built from the top to the bottom and not the other way.
- As per the inscriptions found in the temple, the temples are named as Pllikondaruliya-devar, Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvara-griham and Rajasimha Pallavesvara-griham.
- Just like the Pancha Rathas, the structure of this temple is also monolithic.
- Because of the solid granite foundation even the Tsunami of 2004 could not do any major damage to the temple.
- The temple site is surrounded by 101 Nandi’s out of which only 80 survived the test of time.
Things To Know Before You Go
- There is no dress code but it is recommended to dress modestly.
- Entry to the temple site is not free, ₹25 for Indians and ₹500 for foreign nationals. However for any one below the age of 15, entry is free.
- The weather is warm throughout the year, so always apply sunscreen and use tools that will protect from direct rays of the sun.
- Free drinking water is available near the temple but online food delivery services are not available here. However there are plenty of shops and restaurants outside the monument.
- Best time to visit is during the winter months of November to February when the weather is pleasant and not very hot and humid.
- The monument is open to the general public from 6:00 am – 6:00 pm and entry into the temple generally stops by 5:30 pm.
Nearby Places Of Attraction
Pancha Rathas – Just 500 meters from the Shore Temple is another great monument complex which is a must visit while in Mahabalipuram. Take a tour around the five Rathas which were carved out of a single rock. Architecture lovers can get a glimpse of the beautiful Dravidian architecture here.
Ganesha Ratha Temple – At a distance of 1 kilometer from the Five Rathas is the Ganesha Ratha, one of the ancient architectures in Mahabalipuram. The architecture and richness of the stone work are the highlights of this place. This temple was initially dedicated to Lord Shiva but later the temple was dedicated to his son Ganesha.
Arjuna’s Penance – Arjuna’s Penance or Bhagiratha’s Penance is a massive open air bas-relief monolith where Arjuna performed an austerity Tapas. It is believed that Arjuna performed the penance to receive the Pasupata Astra to defeat the Kauravas.
Krishna’s Butterball – This is a gigantic granite-boulder balancing on a short incline that refuses to give in to gravity. The actual name of the huge boulder is “Vaan Irai Kal,” which means “Sky God’s Stone.” According to Hindu mythology the stone was dropped by God as a dollop of butter for Lord Krishna.
Mamallapuram Lighthouse – Just a few minutes away from the Stone Tempe is India’s oldest lighthouse which was designed and constructed by Pallavas. From up here one can get a bird’s eye view of the entire city of Mahabalipuram.
Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple – Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple is one of the 108 Divya Desam dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pallavas using the Dravidian style of architecture. Later there were contributions from the Medieval Cholas, Vijayanagara kings, and Madurai Nayaks too.
Sculpture Museum – On the way to the temple you will come across the Sculpture museum which is home to more than 3,000 sculptures of the Hindu mythology. Each of these sculptures tells stories about the ancient days. If you love art and want to know more about the shore temple history, this place is for you.
The stone-cut Shore Temple with exquisite carvings and historical significance has been luring people from all around the world. This makes it one of the most visited monuments by tourists in recent years. The best time to visit is during the 30 days Mamallapuram Dance Festival which happens every year between December and January. This is your chance to catch artists performing in various dance genres like Kuchipudi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Therukoothu, Mohini Attam, Odissi and Kathakali with the temple and the surrounding rock structures as its backdrop.
One can reach the temple either by air, road or rail. There are trains from major cities and towns that bring visitors to the Chennai Central Railway Station. From the station a cab or bus can get you to shore temple Mamallapuram. It is very convenient for people flying in as the Chennai International Airport is just at a distance of 55 kilometers from the temple. For those planning to travel by bus, there are timed bus services from all parts of Chennai to Mahabalipuram.
The temple has sculptures related to the Hindu legends like Varaha, Durga, Gangadhara, Harihara and Gajalakshmi. The outer wall of the sanctum has sculptures of Shiva as well as goddess Durga. The inner walls of the mandapa have images of Brahma and Vishnu. The small Shiva shrine with a square plan has two mandapas and a sanctum.
Apart from the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram the other famous temples that needs a special mention are the Ganesh Rath temple, Varaha Cave Temple, Sthalasayana Perumal Temple, Olakkannesvara Temple, Sri Karukathamman Temple, Mukunda Nayanar Temple, Panch Rathas and Atiranachanda Cave Temple.
There are about 40 ancient monuments and Hindu temples that showcase the achievements of Pallavas in South Indian Architecture. Depending on the architectural style and method adapted these temples are classified as Ratha temples, cave temples, structural temples, and rock reliefs.
Construction of the beautiful temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal was started by the Pallava King, Rajashima Narsimhavarman II in the year 601 AD and was completed by Narasimha Varman in the 8th Century.