The Pallava Kings of the Coromandel Coast left an indelible mark in the Indian History. The kings carved out of the rock what is said to be some of the most awe inspiring sanctuaries in India between the 7th and 8th centuries. The Mahabalipuram Complex is part of the extensive Coromandel Coast whose landscape is dotted with ‘rathas’ or temples in form of Chariots, ‘mandapas’ or cave sanctuaries, the Temple of Rivage, giant open air reliefs and thousands of sculptures glorifying Shiva

Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

The Pallava Kings of the Coromandel Coast left an indelible mark in the Indian History. The kings carved out of the rock what is said to be some of the most awe inspiring sanctuaries in India between the 7th and 8th centuries. The Mahabalipuram Complex is part of the extensive Coromandel Coast whose landscape is dotted with ‘rathas’ or temples in form of Chariots, ‘mandapas’ or cave sanctuaries, the Temple of Rivage, giant open air reliefs and thousands of sculptures glorifying Shiva.

Mahabalipuram is characterized with the Siva Centers and their model spread to Cambodia, Annam and Java.

History

Mahabalipuram was founded by Pallava Sovereigns in the 7th century. Its harbor traded with kingdoms such as Kambuja (Cambodia) and Shrivijaya Kingdom that comprised of Malaysia, Sumatra and Java. The harbor also opened its channels to the traders from the Empire of Champa (the present day Annam).

The fame of the harbor was however quickly replaced by religious sanctuaries such as Brahmin Temples that were built and decorated from 630 to 728 in Mahabalipuram. Note that most of these temples developed during the reign of Narasimhavarman I Mamalla.

The monuments are categorized into 5 groups as follows:

  1. Ratha temples – These were cut from the rocks in form of processional chariots during the reign of Naharasimhavarman Mamalla (630-68). The king seems to have had a major influence in the Pallava territories if naming of Mamallapura city is anything to by.
  2. Mandapa, or rock sanctuaries – These were modeled as rooms covered with bas-reliefs (the mandapa of Varaha, representing the acts of this avatar of Vishnu; the mandapa of the Five Pandavas and, especially, the mandapa of Krishna and the mandapa of Mahishasuramardini.
  3. Rock reliefs in the open air – This are by far the best representation of ancient Siva iconography in India. They represent the descending of Ganges after the wise king Baghirata begged him to come down to earth to nourish it. The open reliefs depict many gods, goddesses and mythical beings such Kinnara, Gandherya, Apsara, Gana, Naga and Nagini.
  4. Temples – The best example of temples in the Mahabalupuram is the Temple of Rivage that was built during the reign of King Rajasimha NarasimavarmnII from 695 to 722. It features a pyramidal tower and thousands of sculpture that depict Lord Shiva.
  5. Monolithic rathas - This consists of the square planned Dharmaraja, Arjuna and Draupadi rathas the Bhima and Ganesa rathas that are rectangular, and the Sahadeva ratha that is apsidal. The construction of rathas was introduced by Pallava Rajasimha. His invention will culminate into the construction of Shore Temple.

Whichever way you look at it, Mahabalipuram Complex is a place of history – one that you should include in your Indian tour itinerary.


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