The temple city of Mahabalipuram (also Mamallapuram) is situated just 60 km off Chennai on the Bay of Bengal coast in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It extends from latitude 12°37' in the North to longitude 80°14' in the East. The city is well connected through a network of roads from Chennai and other important cities of South India. Many of the Resorts Mahabalipuram are strategically located close to the tourist spots.
Mahabalipuram is one of history's intriguing enigmas. The ancient Mamallapuram, as Mahabalipuram was formerly known, was flourishing port town of the Pallava rulers of south India who chiseled in stone a fabulous "open-air museum" of sculpture under the vault of a burning sky. Apart from this, nothing is known of the place. What was the purpose behind this whole exercise, and, more important, why all the royal patronage this place enjoyed suddenly disappeared, no one actually has any answer. Staying at Mahabalipuram Resorts is an unique way of experiencing its history.
Experts say that there were seven pagodas or temples on the shores of Mahabalipuram. All but one were pillaged by the rapacious sea, though there is little underwater evidence to substantiate their existence.
Most of the temples and rock carvings of this place were built during the reigns of Narsinha Varman I (AD 630-668) and Narsinha Varman II (AD 700-728). Though the initial kings of Pallava dynasty were followers of Jainism, the conversion of Mahendra Varman (AD 600-630) to Shaivism led most of the monuments to be related with Shiva or Vishnu.
Pongal, the most important festival of the Tamils, is celebrated in mid-January every year. The festival is celebrated amidst gaiety and joy not only in Tamil Nadu but also in most parts of South India.
Mahabalipuram Dance Festival is an occasion for the dance lovers to enjoy the performances of the artists from all parts of the country. The festival is celebrated in the month of January/February every year. The Shore Temple forms the backdrop of this festival and the music from the musical instruments mixes with the natural music of wind and the sea. The Mahabalipuram Dance festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform.
The Sthalasayana Perumal temple festivals, Masimagam and Brahmothsavam, are held in the month of March.
The climate of Mahabalipuram remains hot and sultry throughout the year with a maximum temperature of 35°C and a minimum of 19°C. The best time to visit this place is during October to March. One is advised to avoid the monsoon period. Mahabalipuram Resorts are packed during the peack season, thus advance booking for Resorts Mahabalipuram is advised.
The Varaha Cave, a small rock-cut mandapam (hall), is a faceted and finished gem with four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers who wear an expression of "pious rapture," as Heinrich Zimmer, a leading expert on Mahabalipuram put it. There is about them a mood of contemplative reverie, a lyrical softness and subtle grace totally at variance with the primordial machismo their role as guards of the gods imposes on them. Accommodation in Resorts Mahabalipuram close to the tourist spots can be arranged.
Feeble sunlight glimmers on panels of enduring beauty in the Mahishamardini Cave. The Somaskanda sculpture radiates peace, power and wisdom while Lord Vishnu in omniscient repose is a masterpiece of dhwani (the art of suggestion) perfected by the Pallava sculptor.
Arjuna's Penance, perhaps the world's largest bas-relief, is the universe itself in stone, throbbing with a vastness of conception. Legend has it that King Bhagiratha had to bring down to earth the celestial Ganga to purify and redeem the cursed souls of his ancestors. But the river in its torrential plunge would inundate the earth, and so he had to undergo a penance to propitiate Shiva who finally received the flood in his matted locks and let it trickle down. This was a sight for the world's creatures to see and they gathered round. The cleft in the rock depicts the descent of Ganga, a theory supported by the ruins of a stone water tank on the hill. There is a forest with tribal people and all forms of animal life, just as they would appear in their habitat. Women clothed in an aura of ineffable grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them. The whole scene has a delicate edge of humor. Juxtaposed against the ascetic is a cat doing rigorous penance too, eyes firmly shut, even to the delectable mice scampering around within easy reach.
About 5 km north of Mahabalipuram is Tiger Caves, a rock-cut shrine, possibly dating from 7th century.
Tirukkalikundram, around 14 km from Mahabalipuram, is a pilgrimage center. The place has a hilltop temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
An ideal place for water sports, Muttukadu is 21 km from Mamallapuram. Mahabalipuram Resorts are ideal accommodation options here. The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has a boathouse here. Visitors can enjoy boating, canoeing, kayaking, and windsurfing. The Dakshina Chitra of Madras Craft Foundation here has replica of an old agricultural house of Tamil Nadu, replica of Kanchipuram weavers house and replicas of ancient houses presenting the lifestyle of South India.
The five rathas (chariots) are architectural precursors of the temples of south India. The smallest and the simplest is the Draupadi ratha and the largest is the multi-storeyed Dharmaraja ratha scoped from a monolithic rock. These small, unfinished shrines ravaged by war and weather are things of undiminished beauty.
However, it is the Shore Temple that evokes the spell of Mahabalipuram. A three-in-one abode of god-a Vishnu temple sandwiched between two Shiva temples-it is a visual delight, its precincts abounding in architectural masterpieces.
The Sculpture Museum in East Raja Street contains more than 3,000 sculptures by the local artisans, made in wood, metal, brass, and cement.