MAHABALIPURAM - A WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Documentary Film Series on Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram has been famous as a sea-port even from the beginning of the Christian era. A work called the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea by an unknown Greek navigator of the first century AD refers to it along with Poduke (modern Pondicherry) as a port north of the Kaveri. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer of the next century, refers to it as Malange. The occasional finds of Roman coins and pottery in the neighbourhood testify to its importance as a trading centre.
Tsang, the Chinese traveller of the seventh century, mentions Kanchi as
the sea-port of the Pallava rulers of south India, but this is an obvious
mistake for Mahabalipuram, Kanchi (modern Kanchipuram) being situated
inland. The modern name Mahabalipuram is derived from Mamallapuram, 'the
city of Mamalla', a title of Narasimhavarman I ( circa 630-70),
But probably the name Mallai or even Mamallai was known earlier and used by early Vaishnava saints. Another ancient name of the place was Kadalmallai referred to by the Vaishnava saint Tirumangaialvar, probably a contemporary of Nandivarman, one of the successors of Narasimhavarman he gives a graphic description of the harbour with its anchored ships laden with treasure, huge elephants and the nine gems. As Mallai, the place is known to be the birth-place of Bhutattahlvar who preceded Tirumangaialvar. Let it be said at once that the name Mahabalipuram is in no way connected with Mahabali, the mythical demon suppressed by the god Vishnu, nor with Mahabali dynasty which rose into prominence in south India in about the ninth-tenth centuries.
Of the early European travellers the first to be attracted by these monuments was Manucci, an Italian of the seventeenth century. The present popular name of 'Seven Pagodas', like the name 'Black Pagoda' for the Sun temple at Konarak, is due to the early Europeans in India and was originally applied to the Shore temple and the other temples a little inland, the spires of which could be seen from the sea, but local fishermen would have us believe that there were more temples on the shore itself that have gone under the sea within the past few centuries.
Pallavas The monuments at Mahabalipuram owe their origin to the Pallava
rulers of south India, who came into existence in the third-fourth century
and ruled from their capital at Kanchi. From the beginning the Pallavas
were a seafaring people who spread Hindu culture in the Indian Archipelago,
where the early inscriptions are written in the Pallava-Grantha script
and the sculptures show unmistakable affinity with south Indian Pallava
culture. Mahabalipuram, the port of the Pallavas, must have played a great
part in the propagation of the Pallava culture outside India.
Originally a Jaina, Mahendravarman executed the cave-temple at Sittannavasal (District Tiruchchirappalli) and embellished it with paintings, which are the best examples of Pallava brushwork. Later in his life he was converted to Saivism by the saint Appar with the zeal of a convert he studded the whole of his kingdom - particularly the Chingleput and North Arcot Districts with rock-cut Siva temples. Particularly important is his rock-temple at Tiruchchirappalli, where a sculptured panel depicting Gangadharamurti is one of the most notable plastic achievements in India.
The name of Mahendravarman has come down in history not only as the pioneer of south Indian temple architecture and painting but as a poet, dramatist and musician. The Mandagapattu inscription describes him as a curious-minded king, who, discarding perishable materials like brick, timber, metal or mortar for constructing temples, scooped them out of the living rock. The great tank Mahendratataka, one of the most famous irrigation tanks in south India, was excavated by him to help his subjects.
His son Narasimhavarman I, surnamed Mamalla (circa
630-70), was an even greater figure than his father both in war and in
peace and was one of the three great Indian rulers of the seventh century,
the other two being Pulakesin II of western and Harshavardhana of northern
India. Aided by Manavarman, the refugee-king of Sri Lanka, he inflicted
a defeat on Pulakesin and avenged his father's defeat. To help Manavarman
to regain his throne he sent a large fleet to Sri Lanka which must have
started from Mahabalipuram. To his reign belong most of the monuments
Narasimhavarman II, also called Rajasimha (circa 690-715),
associated with his queen Rangapataka, built the Kailasanatha temple at
Kanchipuram, the best example of an early Pallava masonry temple. A subsequent
king, Nandivarman (circa 717-779), was responsible for the other famous,
temple at Kanchipuram, the Vaikuntha-perumal. After him came a period
of weak succession. The Pallava power was finally overthrown by the Cholas
in the ninth century.
the upper and lower being square in section and the middle octagonal.
The bracket above it is cut away obliquely at 45 degrees or is rounded
and often has a wavy ornament on either side of a smooth central band.
The chaitya window or kudu is simple, with a human head looking out and
has a finial like a spade-head. The doorkeepers (dvarapala) on either
side of the doorway of the sanctum are huge and hefty, carry a heavy club,
are sometimes horned and have the sacred thread (yajnopavita) running
over the right arm but they are not fierce-looking and have, unlike their
later counterparts, only one pair of arms. Human sculpture, as seen in
Mahendravarman's Gangadhara panel at
Mamalla style - In this period cave-temples continue,
but free-standing monolithic temples also came into existence. The pillars
are more slender and slightly more ornamented and are supported by squatting
lions. The kudu is still simple and has the spade head finial. The pavilion-ornament
is like a thatched hut with a simulated railing below. The niche is decorated
with a torana-arch on top, and the two makaras with riders at either end
of the torana have floriated tails. The dvarapalas are much the same as
in the earlier caves. The figures, though still heavy, have a definitely
slimmer contour. On the whole, the general features of the earlier period
The niche appears with greater ornamentation. The dvarapalas are similarly
more ornamented. The figures are conceived and executed with greater delicacy
and there is a greater exuberance and larger grouping of figures. Numerous
small panels are also characteristic of this period. The central vimana
is given greater emphasis and is quite large compared with the tiny gopura
The Shore Temple
22. Mahishasura Rock
23. Carved rocks
24. Cave XII (Atiranachanda cave)
25. Monolith VII (Valayankuttai - ratha)
27. Temple of Mukunda
28. Tiger - cave
29. Monolith VIII & IX (Pidari - rathas)