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Mahabalipuram Tourism

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MahabalipuramMahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram, its ancient name) is one of history’s intriguing enigmas. Situated just 60 km off Chennai on the Bay of Bengal coast in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram was a flourishing port town of the Pallava rulers of South India who chiselled in stone a fabulous open-air museum of sculptures under the vault of a burning sky. That much is known. But was this sculptural glorification a king’s fancy? A celebration of war victories? A queen’s fantasy? No one actually has any answer. The mystery of Mahabalipuram lingers, unravelled, but its sculptural extravaganza is a living testament of the virile artistic temperament of the Pallavas who were trendsetters in South Indian art.


The history of Mahabalipuram dates back to two thousand years, it contains nearly forty monuments of different types including an "open air bas relief" which is the largest in the world, for centuries it has been a centre of pilgrimage, it figures in the early annals of the British search for the picturesque in India in the 18th century, today it attracts shoals of foreigners in search of relaxation and sea bathing, and most strange of all, it has an atomic power plant for neighbour. A small library has been written on it.


Over its history and that of its monuments a number of scholarly controversies rage. Mahabalipuram was already a centre of pilgrimage when, in the 7th century Mamalla made it a seaport and began to make temples fashioned of rock. It was through Mahabalipuram that many Indian colonists, who included sages and artists, migrated to Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka's national chronicle, the "Mahavamsa" testifies to this fact.

Attractions

    Varaha Cave
  • Caves
    The Varaha Cave, a small rock-cut mandapam (hall), is a faceted and finished gem with two incarnations of Vishnu-Varaha (boar) and Vamana (dwarf). Particularly noteworthy here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers. 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. The Dharmaraja Cave, built in the early seventh century, contains three empty shrines.

    The Mahisasurmardini Cave (mid-seventh century) has fine bas-reliefs on its panels of enduring beauty. The Somaskanda sculpture radiates peace, power, and wisdom while Lord Vishnu is shown in omniscient repose in a masterpiece of dhwani (the art of suggestion). On the opposite side is a huge theatrical panel showing, Goddess Durga's fight with the demon Mahishasura, an episode culled from the celebrated Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya. About 5 km north of Mahabalipuram is another cave called Tiger Cave, a rock-cut shrine possibly dating back to 7th century.
  • Shore Temple
    The windswept and surf-beaten Shore Temple, the mute tireless sentinel of the shore, is the ultimate expression 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. On either side of it the sea spreads, illimitable and infinite. The compound wall of this temple is lined with charming sculptures of Nandi the bull while the figure of Vishnu is present in the sanctum sanctorum. The Shore Temple forms the backdrop of the Mahabalipuram Dance Festival celebrated in the month of January/February every year. This festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform.
  • Arjuna's Penance
    If a temple by the sea and, at times, in the sea is a tour de force, the "open air bas relief" is even more so. In Mahabalipuram alone of all innumerable sites of monuments in India sculptor was impelled to choose a large cliff face on which to make his carvings. What is more, he chose a scene from the "Mahabharatha" (also spelt as Mahabharata), which a great Sanskrit dramatist, probably then living in Kanchipuram, had popularised.
  • Vedanthangal
    Located 53 km from Mahabalipuram, Vedanthangal is one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in India. The sheer number of birds that visit this sanctuary is amazing. It is said that almost 1,00,000 avian species of varied shapes, sizes and hues-including storks, egrets, cormorants, darter, and flamingos-visit this sanctuary between October and March.

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