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.
Places Around Mahabalipuram
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.