Monuments of Mahabalipuram aka Mamallapuram


Tagged as: Chennai SightSeeing Mahabalipuram Historical Place Pallava dynasty Posted By Satheesh Babu

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram is located at 60 kilometers away from Chennai along the shores of Bay of Bengal. The name Mamallapuram is derived from the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman I, an acclaimed wrestler who was famously called as Mamallan. Mahabalipuram is known for its history and the rock carved temples and sculptures that stands as testimony for it. Knowing its importance UNESCO has recognized it as one of the world heritage site and it is maintained by Archaeological Survey of India and the Central Tourism Department. The monuments here prove skills of ancient Dravidians art and temple architecture.


Mahabalipuram is the ancient sea port of the famous Pallava kingdom who ruled from Kancheepuram between 3rd and 8th century AD. According to the inscriptions, the monuments of Mahabalipuram was constructed by Pallava kings Mahendravarman I (580 to 630 AD), his son Narasimhavarman I (638 to 668 AD) and their descendants. Of these kings, Mahendraverman needs a special note as he was a renowned patron of fine arts and dedicated his time and efforts to develop these arts. Mamallapuram is also called as Kadal Mallai, Arthasethu, Mallavaram, Mallai and Mamallai at various times. This place is also mentioned in one of the ancient Sangam era’s Tamil literature called as Paththupaattu.

Places to see

The monuments found in Mamallapuram is in the form of Monoliths, most of which can be classified as  caves, Rathas or Charriots carved from rocks, temples and Bas-reliefs carved in hills. They are,

  1. Five Rathas
  2. Shore Temple
  3. Hill side caves and Watch towers
  4. Tiger cave

Five Rathas

These are mini shrines carved out of rock in the form of Chariots (Rathas). They are also called Pancha Panadava Rathas, named after the lead heroes of famous epic Mahabaratham. Out of this five Rathas, four are dedicated to Panchapandavas and one to their spouse Draupadi. The Five Rathas include,

  1. Dharmaraja Ratha
  2. Bhima Ratha
  3. Arjuna Ratha
  4. Nakula- Sahadeva Ratha
  5. Draupati Ratha

All these Rathas includes many sculptures of gods like Load Vishnu, Muruga, Shiva, Krishna carved into their walls and other sculptures like Nandi, elephant, Lion placed outside the Rathas. The sculptures also include Pallava Kings like Narasimha Varman I.

Fore more pictures please click the below album,

Shore temple

This extra ordinary monument stands on the shores of Bay Bengal with an exotic view. This was built by Narasimha Varman-II around 690 to 715 AD who also built the very famous Kailasanatha temple at Kancheepuram. There were seven such temples but was washed away by the tidal waves of Bay Bengal. Shore temple was the lone survivor of these seven temples which is surrounded by rows of Nandi’s that act as a compound wall. People here say, during Tsunami, 2004 they had a glimpse of the other temples emerging out when the sea backtracked for sometimes.

Fore more pictures please click the below album,

Hill Side Caves and Watch Towers

These are caves and bas-reliefs in the hills on Mahabalipuram. There are again sculptures of various historic, spiritual happenings on ancient India. This is one of the big places in Mahabalipuram where the monuments are spread across a wide area.  They are,

  1. Mahishasuramardhini Cave
  2. Varaha Caves
  3. Krishna Manadapam
  4. Arjuna’s Penance

All these caves have sculptures carved in and outside their walls that depict various Puranic happenings. The sculptures have many stories depicted in it so it will be better to get local guide who can explain the Puranic happenings inscribed in it for better understanding. The Arjuna’s Penance is a tall 43 feet and 96 feet high rock with lot of sculptures inscribed in it and it is the largest in the world. A sage performing penance with one leg on ground that resembles Arjuna’s penance is one of the most famous sculptures inscribed in it.

Watch Tower and Light House

There is a watch tower located in a small hill apart from the caves which guided the traders coming through the sea for trade in this ancient trade port of Pallava kingdom. A fire will be let in this watch tower to guide the sea travelers during Pallava times. Just next to this watch tower is the light house taller than watch tower built by Britishers. One can see full view of Mahabalipuram from this Light house.

Fore more pictures please click the below album,

Tiger Cave

Tiger cave is located in a small village called Saluvankuppam on the outskirts of Mahabalipuram town. This cave temple is also constructed by Pallavas in 8th century.  There are number of tiger heads carved out of rocks around the entrance of the cave opening and hence got its name as Tiger cave.

Fore pictures please click the below album,

Clearly Mahabalipuram has many things to know about our ancient history and the artistic skills of Dravidians. So, plan for a weekend trip if you are yet to see these wonderful monuments you will be definitely enthralled.