Believed to be ‘the city of great wrestler’ (Mamallavan or Mahabali), Mahabalipuram literally means ‘city of the Great Bali’. Derived from Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram is a modern name given to the town based on the tradition of King Bali being humbled by Vamana and having his splendid palaces submerged by the sea. The name “Seven Pagodas” has served as a nickname for the south Indian city of Mahabalipuram..
It is believed that there were seven magnificent temples what are known as the seven pagodas, built near the sea share. But the lonely survivor is the shore temples.The Shore Temple (700-728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. This is one of the oldest of the south Indian Temples which were structural temples constructed in the nature Dravidian style.
There are three temples of which two Shiva Temples face east and west respectively. The other one is the Vishnu Temple
One can find the beautifully carved twin Dwarka Palaks (gate keepers) at the entrance of the east facing Shiva Temples. On both sides of the temple inside are the marvelous sculptures of Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu with their better halves. The top part of the Shivalinga figure inside the temple is found damaged. There are sculptures of Somaskanda - lord Shiva with his better half, Parvati, and his sons, Skanda and Ganesha are found on the near wall. Apart from Lord Shiva’s sculpture, one can find the sculptures of Narasimha and Goddess Durgha also.
The central shrine is in the form of a rectangle. It has a magnificent statue of lord Vishnu which is known as Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana which means sleeping Vishnu. The peculiarity about this particular temple is - Vishnu reclines on the floor listening silently the sounds of names. The figure of Vishnu is found in segments which are to be looked through various doors. The other sculpture is portrayed in such a may that Lord Vishnu seated in mount Garuda helping Gajendra, the elephant, found in the southern wall and the northern wall is the portrayals from the life of lord Krishna. The grand temple is surrounded by mandapas and compound walls. There is a rock-cut of a lion rode by two young women. The lion has a small cut, a square shaped cut in its belly. A Huge rock near by the temple has been the target of the waves to touch it from the ancient days. There is also a carving of a buffalo demon running with a stick in his hand, located in the northern side. The temple looks beautiful due to the lights during weekend evenings.
This rock bas-relief was built by king Narasimha I. This rock is shaped like that of a huge whale. The sculpture is carved at the back portion of the whale shaped stone. It measures 27 meters in length and 9 meters in height with a crack in the middle of the rock. Arjuna is the great here of the great epic Mahabharata. On either sides of the rock one can fin d the God’s of the triple world, demi-gods, or gods of men, birds and beasts, the Nagas, the Nymphs all found mingling into the theme of Arjuna’s penance.
Figures of Sun and Moon are also seen. The other celestial (heavenly beings) of the race are the Yakshas, Gandharvas, Vidyadhars and attendants of Gods who can sing, dance and perform other fine arts. The other figures are Siddhas, Charnas, Kimpurushas, Kinnara (half-man and half-bind) with musical instruments like cymbals veena in their hands.
The other carving of a dense forest, the tribal and animals are seen. Influencing figures of a bid sitting on the tree, a black monkey staring the spectators and an iguana climbing a tree can be seen. Carvings of hunters with bow and arrows, rabbits, deer, tiger and a herd of elephants are also seen. This Arjuna’s penance is really a wonderful portrayal of art.
Apart from the Rathas there were other constructions too erected by the pallava kings. They were masters in building sock-cut carves and Mandapams. There are 14 such important constructions in and around Mamallapuram. Mythological scenes are depicted on these architectures. The Mandapams are mainly located on the main hill.
1) Krishna Mandapam: This is the biggest among the Mandapams and is dedicated to Lord Krishna.The sculptures inside this Mandapam beautifully picturize the myth of Lord Krishna (govardhana giri) during his brave and energetic adulthood.The pastoral life of the people is carved inside the mandapam. The sculptures that are beautifully portrayed constitute – a shepherd milking a cow while it licked its calf, a farmer walking with his child placed on his shoulder, a shepherdess carrying a pot of curd on her head, another with a rolled mat on her head and a tier of arranged pots in one hard, a young couple pictured beautifully and other pastoral portrayals.
2) Mahishasuramardhini Mandapam : This is a rock cut care temple. It consists of three small shrives in the inner wall which is exactly the typical pattern of the pallava art and architecture. On the northern wall, the battle between goddess Durga and the buffalo – headed demon, Mahishasura is beautifully inscribed Mahishasura symbolizes animal strength, ignorance and egoism to go with.
3) Varaha Mandapam: This is a fine completed architecture which lies besides the Arjuna penance. The entrance has two pillars engraved with two horned lion – bases, and a cell protected by two gate keepers.
There are four striking bas-reliefs, the northern wall with Lord Vishnu (Varaha) Varaha (the mighty boar) standing at one feet on top of Naga, the snake king. He is rescuing Prithvi, the goddess earth from the primordial ocean. Varaha triumphed in his attempt and he holds the disc with his upper hands and lower hands holding Prithvi who is seated on his knees. The southern wall portrays Lord Vishnu as Vamana (a small figured Brahmin). He (Vamana) approaches empower Bali. Here Lord Vishnu is portrayed with his cosmic form with eight hands and eight legs. Along with Vishnu, stand Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, the Sun and the moon. The eastern wall to portray with Goddess Lakshmi with two maidens and two elephants powering water on the head which are portrayed on the backdrop. The western wall has the carving of Goddess Durga standing on a lotus. She is standing under the shade of a royal umbrella with her four hands. This is exactly portrayed to that of Draupadi Ratha.
Panch Rathas...(five rathas)
These fine rock temples are located in a sandy compound. These five Rathas are the perfect examples of the evolution of Dravidian style architecture.
The Rathas have an association to the great epic Mahabharata which describes the heroes of Mahabharata with their wife Draupadi which is termed as pancha pandava rathas. The five rathas are (i) Draupadi’s Ratha, (ii) Arjuna’s Rath, (iii) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (iv) Bhima Rath and (v) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath.