Mahabalipuram-UNESCO World Heritage site

Mahabalipuram is a historic city and UNESCO World Heritage site in Tamil Nadu, India. During the reign of the Pallava Dynasty, between the 3rd century CE and 7th century CE, it became an important centre of art, architecture and literature. Mahabalipuram was already a thriving sea port on the Bay of Bengal before this time.

Mahabalipuram is a coastal town in North Tamil Nadu. It is a favorite weekend getaway for Chennai residents and an important heritage destination for international travelers. It has other names, such as Mamallapuram or Seven Pagodas. This town got its other name from the belief that it was once home to seven temples. It is believed that a tsunami submerged six of these temples during the 13th century. Now we have only one temple surviving, namely the Shore Temple.


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The monuments we see today in Mamallapuram were built by the Pallava Kings who ruled this region between the 5th and 8th centuries. Hence Mamallapuram monuments are the oldest structural monuments of India built before 1700 years. Originally, Mamallapuram complex had more than 400 monuments. Only about 50 of them have survived till date. These monuments bear testimony to the incredible talents of the rulers and artisans who made them. The UNESCO has declared Mamallapuram a cultural heritage place especially highlighting the three monuments namely Descent of the Ganges, Panch Rathas and Shore Temple.

Some places to visit:

1. The Shore Temple

The Shore Temple is located on the beach and if local lore is to be trusted it is the one surviving structure of the legendary Seven Pagodas. Despite continuous erosive effects of the moist and salty sea air, the Shore Temple preserves its beauty in many parts. Built between 700 and 728 CE during the reign of Narasimhavarman II, this is indeed a remnant of a larger complex of temples and civil structures much of which lie under the depth of the sea now.

This temple was constructed in Dravidian style. It was hit with the worst tsunami in 2004.  However, the strong structure survived the catastrophe with the least damage to its structure and beauty. The mighty tsunami waves heaped the sea sand on the temple. Later when the sand was uncovered a few more sculptures that were hidden in the sand before the tsunami were discovered.

2. Descent of the Ganges

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Alternatively known as Arjuna’s Penance, Descent of the Ganges is a gigantic open air bas-relief sculpted out of pink granite. The dramatic relief sculpture narrates the tales from Indian epics such as the Mahabharata. Nearby mandapas, particularly the Krishna Mandapa, however, showcase scenes of pastoral life amid mythical figures. Other similar rock artworks close by have been left unfinished due to some unexplained reason.

There is an alternate belief that the rock relief represented how the sacred Ganges river was brought from the heavens to Earth. So some people prefer calling it the Descent of the Ganges.This sculptural collage consists of around 150 sculptures depicting some animals and birds, natural phenomenon, planets and dragon.

3. Panch Ratha

The five chariots or Pancha Rathas are rock cut temples each of them carved out from a single rock. These five temples are dedicated to the Five Pandava brothers and their consort Draupadi. Thematically and structurally, each ratha is significantly different from the other ones, but all of them were carved out of a long stone or monolith. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Krishna’s Butterball

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Krishna’s butter ball is a natural rock that looks stunning. This huge rock is found on a hilltop surface. How this rock stands there with the most minimal contact with the ground below is a matter of wonder. This could roll down anytime but it has not happened yet. For now, it is a great place for taking selfies. One can find this rock at the base of the hillock housing the cave temples.

5. Cave Temple

There is a small hillock behind Arjuna’s Penance where one can find many cave temples. A small trek takes one to the cave temples on this hillock. In the Varaha Cave Temple (the first image in this article), one can see delicate and intricate workmanship.
Another attraction is a half-finished building resembling a fort on this hillock. It is an unfinished temple called Rayar Gopuram.

6. The old Lighthouse

The old lighthouse that was used to guide the vessels and ships to the port of Mamallapuram sports an unconventional design. Built on a huge rock, this light house has some narrative sculptures carved on its stone walls.

There are three old lighthouse built near the half finished hillock fort. The more prominent one was built by the British only a century ago. The other two were the old lighthouses built during the 7th century by Pallavas.

Mahabalipuram as of today

Mahabalipuram is trying to re-create its image as the country’s premier beach resort but it has not completely lost touch with its past cultural exploits. Every year, it hosts classical dance and drama festivals to preserve and promote the heritage of a very ancient culture.

There are still many places to visit like Tiger Cave, Sadras Fort, Alamparai Fort, Mahabalipuram Beach and many more. Presence of beach makes this place to be unforgettable as the entire landscape will definitely makes you to admire of its beauty.


There are many places to visit in chennai like Valluvar kottam, Marina beach etc., but Mamallapuram stands separate among all the places. The reason for its popularity is mainly because of the presence of some beautiful ancient cravings and sculptures.

The entire place looks so beautiful with the environment and the atmosphere makes relaxed and calm. The temples and the rock cuts gives some great view to this place.

What are you waiting for? The right time to visit this destination is just around the corner! Plan a trip soon.

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