The Shore Temple was constructed from 700 AD to 728 AD and is called as such as it overlooks the Bay of Bengal’s shore. Built with granite blocks, it is a structural temple, and as a part of the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, it has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It is cited as one of the ancient structural stone temples in the southern part of the country. A Sivalinga is enshrined within the Temple as is a shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. A small carved shrine of Goddess Durga on her vahana, the Lion is also prominently featured here.
It is interesting to note the plurality of deities worshipped here as it is symbolic of an attempt to balance various religious beliefs and requirements. It is one of the earliest indicators of religious tolerance shown by rulers during the period it was built in.
The Five Rathas, also called the Pancha Rathas in the local tongue, is a shining example of monolith Indian stone-cut architecture that dates back to the late part of the seventh century. Like the Shore Temple, the Pancha Rathas is also a World Heritage Site.
Carved during the reign of King Mahendravarman-I and the successor to his throne, his son Narasimhavarman-I, the purpose of this particular construction is still largely unknown and certain structures are incomplete. The sheer durability of the granite used to construct the Pancha Rathas shrines helped it survive the constant salty winds that come in from the ocean as well as a destructive tsunami that hit in the 13th century.
The five monolithic shrines that comprise this structure are named after the five Pandavas and Draupadi. It is a greatly recognised symbol of diversity of Dravidian architecture and remains an extremely popular tourist attraction.
The Tiger Cave refers to a Hindu Temple which is a rock-cut complex. It is situated in Mahabalipuram at a place called Saluvankuppam. The sculpturing of tiger heads on the entrance of a cave constituting the complex is what the monument gets its name from.
Believed to have been constructed by the Pallavas in the 8th century AD, it serves as a very popular picnic spot and tourist attraction. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is in charge of maintenance of the Temple Complex.
In the year 2005, an inscription on an outcrop in the complex was the main cause for an excavation to be carried out nearby, which in turn led to the discovery of a Sangam period Subrahamanya Temple in the immediate vicinity.
The beach is accessible from the Tiger Cave premises. A car parking fee of Rs. 10 is the only expense that one needs to incur for entry into this splendid monument.
Arjuna's Penance is a gigantic uncovered bas-relief monolith that was constructed somewhere around the mid-7th century and stands at a height of 43 ft. It is also known by an alternative name; the Descent of the Ganga.
The name can be traced back to two conflicting legends; one that says that it was named after Arjuna, the Pandava who went through many a hardship to procure Lord Shiva’s weapon and lay waste to his enemies and another that states that King Bhagiratha performed penance to bring the river Ganga down from heaven to earth in order to purify the souls of his ancestors.
The sculpted figures found here serve as a testament to the exceptional skill of the sculptors-in-charge. More than 100 figures of Gods, flying celestial creatures and wildlife are found here. A cleft that is believed to show the descent of the Ganga river to earth is found between two rocks, and it separates the monolith into two separate halves.
The Crocodile Bank lies around 14 km from Mahabalipuram and is home to alligators, crocodiles and snakes. Set up by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker in 1976, the main purpose of the Crocodile Bank was to breed Indian and African alligators and crocodiles in captivity.
Today, over five thousand reptiles are maintained in their natural surroundings in open pools where they can be viewed from a safe distance by visitors. The largest croc-breeding site in India, the park is spread over 3.2 hectares of land.
The Crocodile Conservation Centre located in the premises is where the breeding takes place, and the crocs are released in the waters of Chambal and Mahanadi (protected sites) after breeding. The park also serves to help the Irulas, a tribe of snakecatchers make a living as they take visitors through the process of venom extracting.
Entry Fee: Rs 30 for Adult, Rs 30 for Child
The Sculpture Museum at Mahabalipuram is a depiction of various figures like Gods and Goddesses from Hindu mythology. The stone sculptures, wooden carvings and paintings are worth a visit. The gallery here has around 3000 sculptures that have strong mythological and historical relevance. The sculptures here include that of metal, brass, wood and cement.
You can know more about the strong culture of Mahabalipuram that is dated back to the times of Gupta dynasty. There are creations of ancient creators as well as contemporary artists. Located at the East Raja Street, the Sculpture Museum is one of the must-visit attractions of the city.
The other attractions around the city include the Shore Temple, Crocodile Bank, Varaha Cave Temple and Mahishasuramardini Mandapa.
The Open Air Museum is located very close to the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram. This museum portrays the rich culture of the place, with a gallery that flaunts many images and sculptures that include granite sculptures and other works by over 200 sculptors.
The museum throws light on the sculptural history of Tamil Nadu. Apart from the beautifully sculpted figures, the museum also has artefacts that include stone chains, carved wheels, utensils and figurines along with the tools used for sculpting.
Step in to this amazing world of culture and heritage and learn more about the sculptural art. The other attractions around the place are the Shore Temple, Varaha Cave Temple, Crocodile Bank and Mahishasuramardini Mandapa.
Varaha Cave Temple, also known as Adivaraha Cave Temple, is a rock-cut cave temple located around 4 km away from the Shore Temple. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it comes under the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram.
Dated back to the 7th century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped here in the incarnated form of Varaha. The temple is also among the primitive structures built in Mahabalipuram.
The beautifully moulded lion pillars and the sculptures of Durga, Lakshmi and Varaha portray the finesse of the naturalistic Pallava art.
The other attractions near Varaha Cave Temple are Shore Temple, Krishna's Butterball, Crocodile Bank and Five Rathas.
Krishna's Butterball, also known as 'Vaan irai kal' and 'Krishna's gigantic butterball', is one of the must-visit attractions in Mahabalipuram. This balancing rock is 5 m in diameter, located on a smooth slope.
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna used to steal a lot of butter from the butter handi as a child, and the butterball in Mahabalipuram is symbolic of the amount of butter he used to steal.
The other attractions in the city include the Shore Temple, Crocodile Bank, Five Rathas and the Tiger Cave.
Mahabalipuram has 14 cave temples that are rich in their architecture and sculpture. One of them is Mahishasuramardini Mandapa or Mahishasuramardini Cave. This east facing temple is one of the finest examples of the architecture during the reign of Pallava dynasty.
The temple construction is left incomplete like many of the other caves during the Pallava period. The temple is dedicated to Mahishasuramardini, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. The temple portrays many scenes from Hindu mythology sculpted on it.
Another important sight here includes an image of Vishnu reclining on a seven-hooded serpent, Goddess Durga slaying the buffalo-headed Mahishasura. Other attractions near the temple include the Shore Temple, Crocodile Bank, Krishna's Butterball and Varaha Cave Temple.
The Little Art Gallery is one of the unique places where you can browse through some artistic works and also buy them.
The things kept for display here include shimmering chandeliers, pen holders, necklaces and other jewellery, handicraft products and other items that you may get for your loved ones. The other places in Mahabalipuram worth exploring include the Shore Temple, the Open air Museum, Varaha Cave Temple, Mahishasuramardini Mandpa and Crocodile Bank.