Mahabalipuram - An Architectural Extravaganza - Seeker's Thoughts

Recent Posts

Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

Mahabalipuram - An Architectural Extravaganza

Mahabalipuram - An Architectural Extravaganza


Mahabalipuram Temple

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram in southeastern India's Coromandel Coast region, boasts the UNESCO World Heritage Site of 7th and 8th-century Hindu temples that were constructed during this time period. These monolithic sculptures reflect an evolution from rock-cut temples to structural ones under Pallava dynasty's rule.


One of these iconic structures is the Shore Temple, one of 108 Divya desams.


The Shore Temple


The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram is an ancient structure dating back to the 7th or 8th century AD during Pallava dynasty's rule, likely constructed during its rule over Mamallapuram rock-cut temples that collectively form part of Mahabalipuram's World Heritage Site and are famous for their early Dravidian architecture and have since become tourist spots.


These temples, constructed in Dravidian architecture and surrounded by closed walls, feature gopurams (gateway structures) at their front. Additionally, their pyramid-shaped vimana tower is often crowned by divine figures or gods; its octagonal-shaped shikharas of Shore Temple and Olakkanesvara Temple recall the chariot-shaped rathas found elsewhere in Mahabalipuram.


Archaeological, numismatic and epigraphical evidence indicates that Mahabalipuram on Coromandel Coast - now commonly referred to as Mahabalipuram - was once a major port city under Pallava dynasty control. Well connected with Sri Lanka, China and South-East Asia via Sea Route routes, its shore Temple stands as testimony of their artistic and architectural expertise.


Early centuries saw the Shore Temple stand as a testament to Pallava power and as an inspiration for Indian navy and merchant mariners sailing the seas at this time, drawing from it when designing their ships and ports.


As mentioned previously, the tsunami that hit this area in 2004 CE not only covered many monuments beneath the seabed but also revealed many treasures which had long lain hidden. 


Since then, Archaeological Survey of India continues to make new discoveries in this region: granite sculptures, bronze statues and even structures which look manmade can all be found buried beneath its waters - making archaeological study of Shore Temple and its neighboring structures quite fascinating.


The Mahishasuramardini Mandapa


Mahishasuramardini Mandapa, located at Mahabalipuram's famous cave temple complex known as Mahishasuramardini Mandapa is dedicated to Lord Shiva and built during the Pallava dynasty between 7th and 8th century.


 The Mahishasuramardini Mandapa features exquisite bas-relief panels depicting scenes from Hindu epics or Puranas with Nandi his faithful dog standing at their feet; on its rear wall is displayed the famous Somaskanda panel depicting Shiva with Uma his consort Uma divine child Skanda while Nandi sits beside him; other panels depict Brahma and Vishnu as their respective divine counterparts Brahma and Vishnu as sages in their respective forms - an invaluable experience


Temple facilities consist of a sabha mandapa and sanctum. The outer walls of the former are decorated with carvings of Sharana Basaveshwara, peacocks, entangled serpents, Garuda and 36 arches with nandi in its center; while in its turn, the latter hosts Sharana Basaveshwara's samadhi within.


Apart from this, the temple also features sculptures of dvarapalas on its lateral walls and a magnificent panel from Pallava art depicting Mahishasuramardini (Durga) killing demon Mahishasura; hence why the temple bears this magnificent sculpture as its namesake.


The temple forms part of Mahabalipuram's Group of Monuments that were listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1984, known for their impressive rock-cut architecture, carvings and monolithic structures that demonstrate the artistic talents of artisans during the 7th century. Mahabalipuram's sculptural extravaganza should not be missed by visitors who plan to travel there, and IAS aspirants in particular will appreciate learning about Indian history and culture by seeing these amazing sights carved onto rocks by artists renowned for creating intricate designs on them. 


Mahabalipuram is an outstanding example of Dravidian architecture and showcases all of the methods utilized when designing monuments in this style. Temples here provide an ideal representation of all four types of Indian temples - Cave Temples, Carved Monoliths, Masonry temples and Sculptured Scenes or Bas Relief - resulting in an unforgettable experience that visitors won't soon forget! A visit here should be on everyone's travel itinerary. This truly should be seen.


The Olakkannesvara Temple


Olakkannesvara Temple is another structural temple composed of stone blocks similar to Shore Temple; however, its primary feature is a bas relief structure depicting Lord Shiva's third eye. 


Perched atop a hillock above Mahishasuramardini mandapa on a hillock above Mahishasuramardini mandapa on its own hillock above Mahishasuramardini mandapa is Olakkannesvara that symbolizes its power; part of Mahabalipuram Group of Monuments which became UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.


Olakkannesvara Temple is dedicated to Shiva. It's believed that Olakkannesvara was constructed as a celebration of Mahishasura being killed off by Shiva; however, no evidence exists to back this theory up. Still impressive and unique rock-cut temple in India!


Pallava kings constructed this magnificent complex as a symbol of their power and wealth, adding towers known as shikharas as beacons to guide ships at sea. From a distance, this sight was breathtaking - it represented Pallava dominance over the Coromandel Coast.


Mahabalipuram's history dates back over 2000 years. Even during the beginning of Christian era, Mahabalipuram flourished as an important port town; mentioned in both Greek works such as Periplus of Erythrean Sea by Ptolemy (1st Century AD) and Ptolemy's Geographicus of 2nd Century AD by Ptolemy (2nd Century AD).


Mahabalipuram's temples and sculptures are predominantly dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu; however, this was not always the case as many early Pallava kings followed Jainism, later becoming converts to Shaivism; several shrines in Mahabalipuram were later transformed into temples dedicated to these deities.


Mahabalipuram's best season for tourism is between November and February when the weather is mild and pleasant. Summers from March to May can be scorching hot and humid while monsoons from June to September can make sightseeing and outdoor activities extremely difficult. To fully experience all that Mahabalipuram has to offer, stay in one of its hotels or resorts located nearby these caves and sculptures.


The Descent of the Ganges


The Descent of the Ganges is an extraordinary open-air bas relief sculpture set upon two monolithic boulders at Mahabalipuram that depicts the story of its descent as holy river Ganges. This ancient carving captures this epic journey.


This scene depicts one of the great origination myths in Hinduism: that of ascetic sage Bhagiratha's quest to bring the Ganges down from heaven as part of his asceticism, after a flood destroyed Himalayan mountains. Standing atop a tiger skin he stands on with hands clasped in prayer while three other ascetics perform various yogic practices and austerities behind him while depicting her cascade-like flow from heaven down onto Earth.


This carving represents a major departure from the previous architectural style found in Tamil temples. This was due to Pallava King Rajasimha who popularised structural temples over rock-cut monolithic ones and gave them raised front facades, both designs popularised by later Dravidian architecture.


Mahabalipuram stands out among India's sculptured works in that its art includes all four major forms - Cave Temples, Carved Monoliths, Masonry Temples and Rathas ('chariots' made from single stones to represent temple processions). Of special note are its Shore Temple towering over waves while Mahishasuramardini Mandapa stands as an exquisite shrine which was designated a UNESCO heritage site.


Mahabalipuram was an early Christian seaport that first appeared in Greek literature as early as 1st Century AD with Ptolemy's Geography referencing its location and importance for India's cultural history, earning itself recognition by World Heritage designation in 1984.


Mamallapuram's soft sand is often covering structures, partially obscuring them over time. Colin Mackenzie was one of the first Europeans to visit this historic location and excavate these monuments from beneath it in 19th century; William Chambers later translated his book about it into English language for publication. To protect their pristine state and ensure an idyllic beach holiday experience for its many tourists today.


No comments:

Post a Comment