The Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram, ECR, Chennai

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The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram (Chennai) is one of the most beautiful ancient monuments in India, built in the Pallava period (7th – 8th Century CE). Unlike the other rock-cut monuments in this place, this one is a structural monument. Along with other monuments in Mahabalipuram (that belong to the same period), the Stone Temple has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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What makes this site even more interesting, is the myth surrounding it. The shore temple is believed to be one of seven monuments/ancient temples and the only one that has survived two major Tsunamis (before many centuries) that are believed to have submerged an ancient town in this region. It seems, the town of Mahabalipuram was a major port in the 7th/8th centuries and the reflections from the copper domes atop these temples were used like a light-house, to indicate the presence of the shore/town to ships.

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This temple is a five storied ancient monument made of granite. The pyramidal structure (60 feet) sits on a square base (50 feet). The outer walls contain statues of Nandi’s and lions. Mahabalipuram was influenced by both Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions, as Buddhism was wide-spread in the period when they were constructed. The construction of these temples are believed to have been completed by 640 CE.

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During the 2004 Tsunami, the sea around this region receded back by some 500 meters and locals reported seeing some long, straight-row of rocks on the sea-bed. Following this, the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and Indian Navy conducted an expedition using SONAR (in 2005) and discovered a 6-foot high and 70-meter long wall. They also found remains of two temples and one rock-temple, all within 500 meters of the shore, in sea. Archaeologists feel that more such structures might be discovered in future.

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Scientists believe that two large Tsunamis might have been responsible for submerging the temples and other structures in this place. They estimate that one large Tsunami should have occurred in between the Tamil Sangam period and Pallava period. Another large Tsunami is estimated to have occurred in the 13th Century CE, and that is suspected to have submerged the Pallava temples and possibly some parts of ancient towns/villages. This is the only temple that has survived, since.

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As you can see, there is rich history right around us and people should show more interest in knowing our history and heritage. It is history that has shaped us into what we are now and I believe that history can provide answers to some of the biggest questions in our lives. After all, our ancestors have done so much without any modern machinery/tools at their disposal, it is only logical that they were experts in multiple fields. Visiting such historical sites, kindles our interest to know more. That’s a good start.

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Destination Infinity

Photos: Destination8Infinity. All photos published under this creative commons license.

Reference: Wikipedia pages for Shore Temple, Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram.

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10 Replies to “The Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram, ECR, Chennai”

    1. Yes, it is a kalai vannam on stone indeed. It’s easy for people to pass through this structure and not realize how much efforts would have gone into building a temple like this, that too using granite. Also, it’s a wonder that this structure still stands firm after all these centuries!

      Destination Infinity

  1. Yes, we don’t notice what is under our nose! Such rich heritage we have. We give importance to them when a white man notices and writes about them. And we never had good historians like other countries. So we don’t know much about our ancestors with proof like they have. Even now, we ignore them by writing on them and spoiling them. We go there for a picnic, roam about chatting and never notice the beauty of the structures.

    Again, your pictures are beautiful, D.I.

    1. Lack of historians or lack of appreciation for them is a huge issue that our country is facing today. Although bodies like ASI are doing their bit, we need more intelligent, progressively minded & daring people to take up history/ancient architecture as their specialization. Uncovering our heritage is a challenging job and we have the people for it. Only, there are in other useless segments, currently.

      Destination Infinity

    1. Didn’t you take pictures when you went near them? Maybe you were mesmerized by their beauty and forgot to take pics? 🙂

      Destination Infinity

  2. Great photos! Inspiring to go there sometime soon, which I have done long back. It seems tsunami has destroyed and as well disclosed the sculptures here.
    I heard the Mamallapuram annual dance festival has shifted into the shore temple complex this year, from usual site at Arjuna’s penance.

    1. Yes, Tsunami has also uncovered some ancient sculptures and kall-vettu’s. With their help, they uncovered an ancient Sangam period temple (that dates back to more than 2 Millennium) here.

      Yes, the dance festival has shifted here. When I went, the stage was set but nothing was going on. Perhaps it happens in the evenings.

      Destination Infinity

  3. Tourism is the main industry — some might say only industry — in Mamallapuram today. Even the local fishermen, who tend their nets steps from the shore temples, sell most of their catch to restaurants and resorts. It’s the kind of thing that might have Narasimha Varman I, the great Pallava ruler, turning in his grave. But it’s more likely he’d be proud to see the fruits of his patronage still revered for its artistry and beauty after so many years.

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