THE UNESCO World Heritage  Site of Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram) was once a major port-city, built in the 7th century by the Pallava king, Narasitnha Barman I, also known as Mamalla, the “Great Wrestler”. This spectacular site, situated on the Bay of Bengal, extends across a boulderstrewn landscape and comprises rockcut caves and monolithic shrines  structural temples and huge bas-reliefs that are considered the greatest examples of Pallava art. The stone-carving tradition that created these wonders is still alive in the many workshops scattered around the village.

The spectacular Shore Temple, perched dramatically on a promontory by the sea, has survived the ravages of time and erosion. It was built by Mamalla for Vishnu, while the two Shiva shrines were added by Mamalla’s successor Narasimha Barman II. The temple has a low boundary wall, with rows of seated Nandis surrounding it. Placed inside are a reclining Vishnu, a 16-faceted polished linga and reliefs of Somaskanda a composite form of Shiva with his consort, Parvati and sonsSkanda and Ganesha.

Inland from the Shore Temple, in the village centre, is the celebrated bas-relief Bhagiratha’s Penance, als known as Arjuna’s Penance of the Descent of the Ganges. Carved on an immense rock with a natural vertical cleft, symbolizing the Ganges, the panel depicts in great detail the story of the sacred river’s descent from the sky. divine act, made possible by the penance of the sago Bhagiratha, is witnessed on the pang! by celestial ands semi-celestial beings, ascetics, and animals. The symbolism is best understood during the monsoon, when rainwater flows down the cleft and collects in the tank below. Nearby are the unfinished Panch Pandava Cave Temple, and Krishna’s Butter Ball, a natural boulder perched precariously on a slope.

South of Bhagiratha’s Penance is the Krishna Mandapa, a huge bas-relief showing the god lifting mount Govardhan to protect the people from torrential rains, as well as performing his tasks as a cowherd. The Olakkanatha Temple, above the mandapa, was once used as a lighthouse, On the ridge southwest of Bhagiratha’s Penance are three cave temples. The Mahishasuramardini Cave Temple has a graceful portrayal of Goddess Durga on her lion mount, subduing the buffalo-headed demon, Mahisha, on the northern wall. This panel seems to emanate life and motion, in contrast to the one on the southern wall, where Vishnu reclines in deep meditation before creating the earth. Nearby, the Adivaraha Cave Temple has interesting panels of Pallava rulers with their consorts. The Lion Throne, on-top of a hill four . ther west, is a raised platform with a seated lion, discovered near the piles of brick rubble thought to be the remains of the palace of the Pallavas.

The Trimurti Cave Temple, nort hwest of Bhagiratha Penance, is dedicated to three goads  Shiva, Vishnu and Somaskanda. The shrines are guarded by statues of graceful doorkeeper. A sculpture of Durga standing on Mahisha’s ! s on an outer wall. To south , the Baraha Cave temple has beautifully mouldsred lion pillars, while the relief sculptures of Lakshmi, Durga and Baraha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu, are among the masterpieces of Pallava art. The two-storeyed, rectangular Ganesha Ratha, further south, is attributed to Parameshvara Barman I (r.669-90). The temple, originally dedicated to Shiva, has beautifully carved inscriptions listing the royal titles of Pantmeshvara varman.A small Archaeological Museum, with sculptures and fragments excavated from the site, lies to its east.

ENVIRONS: The Tiger’s Cave, 4 km (2.5 miles) north, is a shallow cave framed by a large boulder, with heads of yalfs (mythical leonine beasts). It was probably a stage for outdoor performances. The Bedagirisvara Temple, dedicated to Shiva, at the top of a hill in the village of ThiruKKazhukunran , 17 km (11 miles) west, is famous for the two eagles that swoop down at noon to be fed by the temple priests. According to legend, these birds are saints who fly front Varanasi Rameshvaram, stopping here to rest.

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