Once the port capital of the ancient Pallava dynasty kings some 1400 years ago, Mamallapuram (earlier Mahabalipuram) was named after ‘Mamalla’ – a title of the Pallava King Narasimha Varman I – who established his capital here and soon made it a glorious centre of art and sculpture in the 7th century CE. The outstanding feature of the sculpture here is that all of it is monolithic – colossal ancient temples carved from single rocks. The chiselled stone architecture, set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Bay of Bengal, are every bit deserving of their UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It’s against this mythic setting that Mamallapuram’s famed two-month long open-air dance festival is held every year.
The fabulous Shore Temple, on the very edge of the sea, is arresting, especially at sunset when it is gloriously lit up. Beautifully resting against a vast expanse of sand, the Pancha Rathas (five chariots) are a set of temples or vimanas, each built from a single rock and covered with exquisite carvings.
Arjuna’s Penance or the Descent of the Ganges is an elaborately chiselled scene from the epic Mahabharata on the side of a cliff, and is considered the largest open-air bas-relief in the world. Krishna’s Butterball is a gigantic granite boulder perched precariously on a rock slope! Then there are the cave sanctuaries of which the Mahishasuramardhini Cave is particularly striking.
Mamallapuram, with its proximity to Chennai, is also a wonderful destination for a relaxed beach holiday – replete with beachside resorts, sun, sand, sea, seafood, and souvenirs. On the route from Chennai to Mamallapuram, you can stop to visit Dakshinachitra, an exciting cross cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India. Mahabalipuram is also a stopover on the Chennai – Puducherry route via the ECR (East Coast Road).
Holxo Tours in Mahabalipuram