I had been to Chennai on two different occasions on business visit. On both the occasions I could not step out of office to see the city as the work schedule was very hectic on those visits. Last September, I had to travel to Chennai again on a Friday for office work. This time, I planned to extend my stay in the city over the weekend so that I could move around and see the city as well as meet my friends over there. My friend Ashwini had been asking me to come over so that we can plan moving around. He offered to be my local guide. The added advantage was that he stayed at a place called Navlur which is about 25 kms from Mahabalipuram.
After we finished work on Friday, my colleagues left back for Bangalore while I stayed back. On Saturday morning, I reached Ashwini’s home and after breakfast, we hit the road for Mahabalipuram around 10.00am.
Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is a small town located about 60 kilometers away from Chennai in India on the East Coast Road towards Pondicherry. It used to be a very busy seaport starting 1st century and has been a gateway to South East Asia including Sri Lanka for a long period. The town was developed into a city around 7th Century during the era of Pallavas who used it as a point of embarkment for their trade and diplomatic missions across the world.
Pallava dynasty ruled the various parts of Southern India from the period 3rd century up till 9th century and ruled from Kanchipuram which was their capital until the reign ended. There are different schools which indicate that the rule of Pallava dynasty was divided into 2 eras, i.e. “Early Pallavas” and “Later Pallavas” and collectively their reign lasted from 3rd Century till 9th Century. The entire reign was separated in between by a small period.
By 7th Century, Mahabalipuram had become one of the very important cities in the Pallava Empire primarily due to its nearness to the sea. During that period, they created many Chariot temples, Cave sanctuaries and Shore Temples amongst many other structures along Coromandel Coast. One interesting name that is connected with the city is “Seven Pagodas” as referred by Marco Polo in the travelogues which per historians relates to Seven Shore Temples of Mahabalipuram.
Only one of those seven temples aka pagodas survive now. This shore temple is in a sprawling complex that comprises three temples two which are dedicated to Lord Shiva and the third is dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is in reclining pose in the temple. The temple has been well maintained by Archeological Survey of India. All the monuments in the surrounding area are mostly made with monolithic rock-cut architecture which largely denoted that era. The monuments are spread across vast expanse and many of them seem to be half done or partially done. It is believed by many that this place might have served as school of architecture for young sculptors who would have used the surrounding stonish rocks to practice and hone the art.
After about 1 hour in the temple complex we came out as it was scorching hot and was very difficult to stand out over there. After coming out of The Shore Temple complex, we stopped over at the other side of the road which we guess was predominantly used by the students to polish the art of sculpturing... on the rocks.
My Travel Tip
- If you are travelling to Chennai, do not miss this place. It is very conveniently located on the East Coast Road towards Pondicherry.
- It will take about 8-9 hours. Preferably, start early in the day and you can be back in Chennai by afternoon.
- You may want to hire a cab which will help you in planning better as well as you can stop over at couple of places on the way.
- Don't forget to carry a hat as that will be the only savior in the scorching sun.