A Day Back In Time – World Heritage Site Mahabalipuram

“Travelling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
– Ibn Battuta

This is a travelogue about a single day’s travel – to Mahabalipuram from Chennai and back.

Now, Mahabalipuram is the go-to destination on weekends for practically most people residing in Chennai. Having said that, I managed to visit a couple of times before this, but it was only this time was I seriously observant of the place – mostly thanks to my new phone camera.

For the benefit of the non-Chennai residents, I will go with the basics.

What is Mahabalipuram?

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram (meaning land of the great wrestler), is a sea-shore town on the coast of Bay of Bengal, in Tamil Nadu, India.

Where is Mahabalipuram?

It is located 60 kilometre south of the capital city Chennai of state Tamil Nadu, India.

How to reach Mahabalipuram?

Mahabalipuram is well connected by road from Chennai, which in turn is well connected by road, air and sea.

Get to Chennai via road/air/sea and:

(1) Hop onto many available Government bus services (including air-conditioned) from the central bus stand of Chennai, Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (2nd largest in India after Delhi’s Millennium Depot). Most of the buses start early during the day – 6am to 9am.

(a) Specifically, any bus that goes to Pondicherry has a stop at Mahabalipuram.
(b) There are separate buses directly to Mahablipuram
Inquire on reaching the bus stand for both points above – both work fine.

(2) Or if you would like to hire a cab or drive down, you can do the same – take the East-Coast-Road (ECR) which leads to Pondicherry from Chennai, and you will find Mahabalipuram on the left 60 kilometre later.

Why Mahabalipuram?

  1. It is classified as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.
    A World Heritage Site is a landmark which has been officially recognized by the United Nations, specifically by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are legally protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.
  2. It was a port-city during the 6th century – almost 2,000 years ago. It belonged to the south Indian royal dynasty of the Pallavas, and is famous for monolithic architecture – temples and monuments cut and carved out of rocks and boulders as they were situated naturally.

Having covered the basics, let me get down to my personal experience. 

We – three of us including myself and two of my friends – left by a Government bus around 8am from CMBT, Chennai’s central bus terminus.

East-Coast-Road (ECR):

The journey was through Chennai’s East-Coast-Road (ECR). Now this road is famous for its splendour on one side. Onto the left side on the way to Mahabalipuram/Pondicherry, are wide stretches of trees of many varieties (palm, casuarina, etc) and beyond the trees is the entire sea, Bay of Bengal. It feels like you are travelling with the sea.

East-Coast-Road
Caught In A Blur At 100 Km/Hr

Mahabalipuram:

Do the math. 60 km from Chennai at an average speed of 100 km/h – we reached Mahabalipuram in less than 2 hours.

The bus drops you at the town bus-stand. Better to come back a kilometre to refresh oneself with some good south Indian food at the A2B Restaurant (Adyar Ananda Bhavan), which has branches pan-India.

There is a wonderful resort of Radisson Blu at the town entrance. They have a plethora of facilities if one is looking for a luxury stay and experience. Our budget was a ‘budget’ budget, if you get what I mean, so this was not for us.

Luxury Five Star Resort
Radisson Blu 5 Star Luxury Resort – ‘Someday’

Now there were a lot of drivers willing to take us around and show the place at an affordable price – worth it if one is completely lost and is alright with not much privacy and of having a time constraint.

Places We Visited:

  1. Shore Temple
  2. Mahabalipuram Beach
  3. Descent of the Ganges
  4. Pancha Rathas
  5. Arjuna’s Penance
  6. Krishna’s Butter Ball

There are other places not mentioned here because we could not cover it all up in one day (the place shuts down after sunset).

A good 2 full days would be sufficient to explore every nook and corner of Mahabalipuram with wanderlust satisfaction.

I will describe each of the places we visited in detail below with brilliant captures from my phone camera.

Shore Temple:

The highlight catch of Mahabalipuram is the Shore Temple. As the name suggests, it is a temple on the seashore.

Entrance To Shore Temple
Entrance To Shore Temple

This is a structural temple built in the 8th century AD, using granite. It was built on a piece of land jutting out (called a promontory) into the Bay of Bengal.

At the time of construction, this place was a very busy port for the trade and commerce of the royal Pallava dynasty.

Pathway Back In Time - 8th Century AD
Pathway Back In Time – 8th Century AD
Up Close - A Brilliant Work Giving You A Feel Of History
Up Close – A Brilliant Work Giving You A Feel Of History
Smells Of Granite, Hears Of Olden Day Empire, View Of The Past - Feel Of History
Smells Of Granite, Hears Of Olden Day Empire, View Of The Past – Feel Of History
img_20160312_152856457
A Look Back In Time

The engravings and carvings into the granite were so meticulously done, that even almost 2,000 years on, they are still decipherable – they have not completely faded out.

Sun Shining Above The Temple
Sun Shining Above The Temple
Shrine Below Ground Level - Possibly In Water
Shrine Below Ground Level – Possibly In Water

This was discovered in the 1990s that this in fact, was an underwater shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

As you can see, the shrine is lower than the ground level – possibly to accommodate a water tank.

There are plenty of engravings and scriptures of old Tamil, slightly different from how Tamil is written today.

The entire temple gives you a feel of you having traveled back in time, which is amplified by the strong gush of the sea breeze now and then.

Mahabalipuram Beach:

On both sides of the Shore Temple is a beautiful stretch of coast – the Mahabalipuram Beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal in the direction towards the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The captures below show the sheer beauty of a beach in its purest form.

Mahabalipuram Beach
Saltwater Worsens Wounds But View Of Saltwater Cures All Of Them
When Sky Is Above Our Heads And Sand Beneath Our Feet, Life Is Good (Not Vice Versa Though!)
When Sky Is Above Our Heads And Sand Beneath Our Feet, Life Is Good (Not Vice Versa Though!)
The Earth Is Indeed Flat Isn't It?
Sky Kisses The Sea – The Earth Is Indeed Flat Isn’t It?
img_20160312_142254122
Panoramic View Of The Seashore
img_20160312_140346853
Land At The Point Where Sea and Sky Meet
img_20160312_141147809
A Rocky Seashore
img_20160312_151815900
Green Before Blue

Descent of the Ganges & Arjuna’s Penance:

This a a monolithic monument – a sculpture carved out of an existing rock/boulder.

It was carved out of 2 full boulders. It measures 96 feet by 43 feet.

img_20160312_170447
Monolithic Monument – Descent Of The Ganges

Interpretations:

(a) In one interpretation, it is said that Arjuna is performing a Tapas (meditation) to be blessed with a boon from Lord Shiva, so that it will aid Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata War.
The story of the penance is narrated in the epic Mahabharata under the subtitle the Kiratarjuniya. The boon, which Arjuna is said to have received, was called Pasupata, Shiva’s most powerful weapon.

(b) The river in the carving is said to represent Ganga or the River Ganges emerging from Shiva’s head. This provides the basis for an alternative interpretation of the mural. Rather than Arjuna, the figure performing austerities is said to be Bhagiratha. Bhagiratha is said to have performed austerities so that Ganga might descend to earth and wash over the ashes of his relatives, releasing them from their sins. To break Ganga’s fall from heaven to earth, she falls onto Shiva’s hair, and is divided into many streams by his tresses; this miraculous event is shown in the form of sculptures on the boulders being watched by the animals and human beings.

Arjuna's Penance
Arjuna’s Penance

Krishna’s Butter Ball:

Now this a near-scientific marvel.

Picture this – an 18 feet by 15 feet boulder weighing 250 tons rests on a less than square foot of area, unmoved by time (1,300 years) and even by elephants!

img_20160312_171700108_hdr
Krishna’s Butter Ball – Rock And Never Roll

It rests on a slope, yet has stayed still for more than 1300 years!

Claims are that many elephants (as much as 20) were trained to try and push it from its place – but it just did not budge.

The name comes from Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology and his mischievous habit of stealing butter from his mother  symbolizing he pinched out this much butter from the jar.

Some claim it is placed down on Earth by the Gods themselves, but the geologists beg to differ by stating it’s a scientific marvel.

Sunset With Krishna's Backdrop
Sunset With Krishna’s Butter Ball In The Backdrop
Behind The Bars View
Behind The Bars View

Miscellaneous Capture:

img_20160312_173546556-1
Cirrus Clouds Dotting The Sunset Sky
img_20160312_171051
Trees Never Get Old – Neither Do Tree Pics

 

Shopping:

There are plenty of small-scale shops all around the beaches. They sell lot of handicraft like bags, caps and hats.

Plus there are many sculptors and potters who continue the tradition of producing the clay models, etc.

Concluding:

Mahabalipuram is perfect for one who loves history and architecture.

A two-day and one-night stay is the perfect plan for any group visiting – you will get to visit a few other places of tourist interest and with a bit more leisure time.

Do take your camera with you, there is historic beauty all around!

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

 

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15 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Very well written.
    “Pictures speak louder than words”.
    A definite place to visit ,on my bucket list.

  2. Very nicely narrated Shakthi. Mind blowing pics.

  3. This is one amazing article! Good work!

  4. Prithviraj k Patil February 15, 2017 — 6:24 pm

    Amazing man !
    Loved the way u have put the whole journey in words 🙂

  5. Well written . Would definitively visit this place soon.

  6. Well written and informative. I like what you did with the caption of Radisson Blu picture. Keep traveling, good luck! 🙂

  7. Well penned ! Made me wonder why I never visited this place ..

  8. A nice verbal tour of Mahabalipuram…. Nice captions and photos of the place. I particularly relished the captions cited for Radisson Blu – “Someday” and “Green before blue”….. You have a good eye for pictures and I admire the clarity of your pics. Do realize the pro of a photographer in you….! 👌👌

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