The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

The minute I glanced the shore temple of Mahabalipuram I was lost in transition. The temple is set amidst a perfect milieu:  rocks, waves and seashore. I always love to visit the Temples of Tamil Nadu especially for their architectural grandeur. But the shore temple was a completely different experience for me. The temple is an iconic heritage monument for people visiting Tamil Nadu. No doubt Mahabalipuram attracts thousands of art aficionados from all over the world. It’s a must see architectural wonder.

The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram caught at Sunrise

I had pre planned everything. I wanted to shoot the Mahabalipuram Temple just as the sun began to rise. I wanted to capture the temple and the beautiful sky colours at the dawn break. When you search for Mahabalipuram on Google you are sure to find thousands of beautiful pictures. But, I wanted to click something different. 🙂

Added a dash of creativity and clicked a different picture

Let me take you on a small tour of the Mahabalipuram: this historical retreat was an ancient seaport of the Pallavas who ruled from the nearby Kancheepuram between the 3rd and 8th Centuries AD. Mahabalipuram comes under the Kancheepuram district. The temple is accessible from Chennai and is situated around 60 kms from the city. The temple is ravaged by the sea; however the sculptures speak volumes about the splendid heritage of the Dravidian art and architecture.

The beautiful temple

As the dawn breaks.....

The ancient inscriptions say that, the outstanding monuments found in Mahabalipuram are the sculptural legacy left behind by the Pallava Kings Mahendravarman I, his son Narasimhavarman and their descendants. Legend says that, Mahendravarman was a famous patron of fine arts and devoted his wealth and time to nurture these arts. In fact, he was greatly influenced by the sculptures and carvings of the Ajantaand Ellora caves. Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram, a name derived from the former Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman I. He earned the name Mamallan since he was an acclaimed wrestler.

Marvelous Carving

Today, Mahabalipuram is one of the 16 protected World Heritage Sites. As you take a tour of the shore temple, you will find the monuments are broadly in the form of Monoliths, most of which are called the Rathas or Chariots. The Rathas are mini shrines chiselled out of big rocks and are in the form of temple chariots. They are also known as the Five Rathas or the Pancha Pandava Rathas, four are named after the Pandava heroes from Mahabharata and the fifth is called the Draupadi Ratha.

The Five Rathas:

Dharmaraja Ratha: this is best and biggest of the Five Rathas. The Dharmaraja Ratha is the tallest and has splendid carvings decorating the structure. The Bhima Ratha is the next which looks more or less like the Dharmaraja Ratha.

Carvings inside the Dharmaraja Ratha

The third is the Arjuna Ratha. This Ratha is immensely beautiful with sculptures of Lord Vishnu sitting on Garuda (his Vahana), Lord Shiva leaning on Nandi and Lord Indra with his elephant, Airavatha. You can also see a very realistic huge figure of the Nandi here. Next to the Arjuna Ratha, stands the magnificent Draupadi Ratha. This Ratha is dedicated to Goddess Durga and you will find different forms of the Goddess carved on the inner and outer walls of the Draupadi Ratha. The smallest of the Five Rathas is the Nakul-Sahadeva Ratha. Apart from a monolithic elephant which is majestically carved, this Ratha has less carvings and sculptures.

The Draupadi Ratha

Splendid Caves

Apart from the Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram also boasts of fantastic carved caves. If you take a look at the Mahishasuramardhini Cave, you will find the aesthetic excellence of the Pallava artisans. The cave has depiction of Goddess Durga’s battle with the buffalo-headed Mahishasur! The cave also has an excellent carving of Lord Vishnu reclining on his Adisesha (The Serpent Couch).

Stone carvings at the Mahishasuramardhini Cave

Next is the Varaha Cave. Lord Varaha is one of the Avatars of Lord Vishnu (one from his Dashavatar). You can find the story of Vishnu taking the form a powerful boar and plunging in the ocean to rescue the Mother Earth. The story is beautifully carved through intricate carvings!

Lord Varaha Cave

As you walk ahead, you will find the Krishna Mandapam. Believe me I just loved this Mandapam. The cave has recreated the childhood scenes of Lord Krishna in a beautiful way. Right from Krishna lifting the Govardhangiri Mountain to his playful childhood, the scenes have been etched on stone! For a minute I was lost looking at the Krishna Mandapam and admired the efforts put in by the artisans!

Krishna Mandapam

Scenes of Lord's Krishna's childhood carved on the walls

Arjuna’s Penance:

This is one of the main glorifying parts of Mahabalipuram. Arjuna’s penance is carved from a single rock 96 feet long and 43 feet high (can you believe it?) you need to take a closer look to see the marvelous carvings! Chandra, Surya, Siddhas, Kinnaras, Apsaras, Gandharvas, Ganas in attendance, Lord Shiva carrying his Trident, Sages in meditation are seen here depicting the theme of Arjuna’s Penance. Other wonderful sculptures like an elephant family, lions, boar, rats, deer can be seen at Arjuna’s Penance. Legend says that, Arjuna undertook a powerful Penance to secure a strong weapon from Lord Shiva to destroy his enemies. When Shiva granted the boon, visitors from heaven and earth reached to witness the Arjuna war! Hence, the Arjuna penance was created at Mahabalipuram.

Arjuna's Penance

The Big Rock: it’s time to see the iconic big rock of Mahabalipuram. 🙂 I have seen ample pictures of this rock stationed at Mahabalipuram. I loved the rock and clicked some good pictures.

The amazing Big Rock of Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is extremely renowned for the design of stone sculptures. The small town is filled with dedicated and extremely talented stone carvers and artisans. Huge statues of various Hindu Gods can be seen outside the shops of these artisans. Truly, a sight to watch them carve intricate designs!

Beautiful sculptures carved by artisans

Fast Facts:

To reach Mahabalipuram, the best way is to land at Chennai. Mahabalipuram is 60 kms from Chennai. Chennai has fantastic connectivity through rail, air or road. Once in Chennai, State Transport Buses ply frequently to Mahabalipuram through the ECR (East Coast Road) route!

Where to Stay:

Mahabalipuram is known for its beach resorts. I stayed at Pallava Dynasty, a cottage type resort just 5 minutes walk from the seashore. Mamalla Beach Resort, Hotel Sea Breeze, Golden Sun Beach Resort, Ideal Beach Resort are few names that you can check out if you plan a trip to Mahabalipuram


Well, since it’s a seashore travel destination you will find lot of sea food restaurants. For a complete veggie like me, you are sure to find Adyar Ananda Bhavan (most renowned restaurant of Chennai and they have their outlets at many parts of Tamil Nadu) and Saravana Bhavan hotels nearby! 🙂 🙂


The Mahabalipuram temple opens at sharp 6 am for tourists and visitors. It closes at 5 pm.

If you plan to hit the beach, make sure you reach either before sunrise or after sunset. It becomes extremely hot after the sunrise and you may not enjoy the beach! I reached the seashore at 5.30 am since the Mahabalipuram temple is opened for tourists only at 6 am. I enjoyed clicking some beautiful before-the-sunrise pictures. There is aThiruvalluvar (celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher) Statue on the beach of Mahabalipuram. I clicked this shot when it was completely dark! It’s the moon that’s shining above and not the sun 🙂 !!!

Thiruvalluvar Statue on the seashore

Here’s a sneak peek at some more pictures of the Mahabalipuram !

The sun and the temple

The sun behind the Temple Gopuram !

Silhouette of the Sculptures

Beautiful Temple Gopuram

PS: Let me tell you, I found some fantastic shops selling Coral Jewellery, pearls, and ethnic earrings! You will enjoy shopping at Mahabalipuram. You will also find beautiful embroidered bags (I did purchase one :).

So, I am sure you must be mesmerized by now reading this article, looking at the pictures, thinking about the food and not-to-forget the shopping experience I mentioned! All I can say is plan a trip soon and enjoy an amazing Mahabalipuram Experience!! Once you get back do Email me!!!!

Source: travel guide


7 thoughts on “The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

  1. Pingback: Halebeedu – the crown jewel of Hoysala temples « Revolutionizing Awareness

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  4. Thanks for the great write up. Is it safe to go here at 6 am in the morning ? Are there people around here that time ?

  5. Hi Shilpa , I am from Great Lakes Institute of Chennai and we are planning a Tedx Talk out here next week . I really liked your clicks of the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram . Would it be fine by you if we use a couple of photographs to exhibit the esence of Mahabalipuram at the event ( with credits ofcourse) ? Looking forward to your response ! Thanks

  6. Pingback: Mahabalipuram I. The Shore Temple : Silent Witness to History | TORN LEAVES

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