|Mahabalipuram is a temple town situated along
the shores of the Bay of Bengal in the southern state of Tamil
Nadu. The sheer sculptural extravaganza of the rock-cut temples
is not only reflective of the artistic tastes of the erstwhile
Pallava rulers: the temples are also regarded as the birthplace
of an entirely new style of architecture, which came to be known
as the South Indian temple architecture. Mahabalipuram art can
be divided into four categories : open air bas - relief, structured
temples, man-made caves and rathas ('chariots' carved from single
boulders, to resemble temples or chariots used in temple processions).
The famous Arjuna's Penance and the Krishna Mandapa, adorn massive
rocks near the centre of the village. The beautiful Shore Temple
towers over the waves, behind a protective breakwater. Sixteen
man-made caves in different stages of completion are also seen,
scattered through the area. Mahabalipuram is about 60 Kms. south
of the city of Madras, in Tamil Nadu. Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram,
was the chief seaport of the Pallavas who ruled over much of
South India from as early as the first century B.C to the eighth
century A.D., and it is now recognized as the site of some of
the greatest architectural and sculptural achievements in India.
Temples of Mahabalipuram
Cave Temples were excavated by scooping out the scarp of the
hill. The scooping work starts from front to back. The cave
temple is usually divided into inner & outer mandapas,
distinguished by the difference in levels. The front mandapa
will have pillars & plasters numbering 4,6,8,10. The inner
mandapa contains single, triple or five cells. The cave temple
with little modification is categorized as Mamalla style.
The pillars under this style are slender & taller with
squatting lion at their base. The pillar is divided into distinct
parts known as kalasa, tadi, kumba, padma etc. Monolithic
Temples are locally known as Rathas. They were executed by
chiseling out the exterior face of the boulder. Work started
from top to bottom. The pyramidal vimana with sikhara at the
top is an important feature of this style. It can be rightly
said that these monolithic temples must have paved the way
for the structural temples with elaborate architectural &
sculptural details in the subsequent stage. There a total
number of 8 monolithic temples found in Mamallapuram. The
five rathas in one place, Ganesha Ratha, Valayankuttai Ratha
& Pidari Rathas.
Five Rathas – a small hill sloping
from south to north has been segmented into five divisions
& converted into monolithic temples. The heights of the
segments have been cleverly used for temples with single tier
to three-tiered vimana. Each monolithic temples shows different
kind of sikhara. The five rathas are Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima
Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha and Nakul Sahadev Ratha.
The Shore Temple on the Bay of Bengal was constructed in the
7th century during the rule of King Narsimha-Varman II Rajasimha
(c. 690-728).The Shore temples is a temple complex consisting
of two Siva temples and a carving of Anantasayana Vishnu.
The temple facing east is entered by a small gopura. On plan,
it consists of a small sanctum & a front mandapa &
is a two-tired vimana. The sanctum is housing a linga. The
Somaskanda panel consisting of Siva & Parvati with baby
Skanda is on the back wall of the sanctum. The dhara linga
& Somaskanda panel on the back wall of the sanctum are
the features of the Pallava temples only.
The temple facing west is also dedicated to Lord Shiva. The
temple is large in plan comprising sanctum, mahamandapa, front
mandapa, balipitha and dvajastamba. The temple’s vimana is
four tiered with octagonal sikhara. It is important to note
that stupis of both these temples are not covered by kalasa
(copper finials). The carving on Lord Vishnu on a boulder
in Anantasayana form is lying in between these two temples.
It belongs to the period of Narasimhavarman I and thus earlier
than the Siva temples.