Mahabalipuram - where portraits on sand and stone speak about history and mythology.
Mahabalipuram, once called Mallai kadal/ Mamallapuram was a famous maritime port of The Pallava kings who ruled from Kanchipuram in 600 to 750 A.D. These kings had a flourishing maritime trade with distant kingdoms of southeast Asia like Cambodia, Malaysia, Sumatra and java. This place today stands as a testimony to the fact that the kings of yore patronized art and architecture. The pagodas, rock cut caves, single stone (monolithic) crafted rathas and bas- reliefs all belonging to the ancient times speak about the riveting legends, their beliefs and lifestyles of the pallava times. They are a visual treat and speak about the values of artisans in days of yore. They are crafted with faith, love, patience and determination when you had no calipers, T-squares, rulers and other aids to define your geometry and symmetry.
These rich sculptures, pagodas, bas reliefs and rock formations which defy physics has been recognized by UNESCO (1984), thus this ancient village is listed as a world heritage site and that explains why we have many foreign and domestic tourists who are scholars, devotees, artisans, architects and historians.
I was here on a December morning. I travelled a 55 kms sea shore route from Chennai to reach here. I always picturise a place I visit with the information and pictures available and was slightly disappointed when I found so many colorful kiosks, it did not match with my sepia toned structures against the blue background of sea which I saw in many pictures and mentally visualized. Lots of cola, gola, candy stores on either side of the road welcomed us. And many caravan stores selling glares, scarves, hats, caps etc That made me realize that today this place is not just an ancient sea port but has transformed into ‘Mahabs’ – a place where people come to chill, hang out, to experience the sun, sea and sand at the various boutique hotels and bay side resorts and has became a prime holiday spot . Notably a travel site which I have subscribed to on FB marked this as one of the favorite year end vacation spot for 2012 along with Pondicherry.That explained the crowd.
While paying the parking fee, we picked up the brochure/ pamphlet from the tourist office and took their guidance on the important places we must visit since we had to pack off in 3 hours time.
The important places he marked were in the order - Krishna’s butter ball, Ganesha ratha, Arjuna’s penance, krishna mandapam, light house, five rathas and shore temple.
We leisurely walked around reading the above monuments but missed one – the 5 rathas. Three hours time was very little to feel and read the place, we need atleast one day to go around. We missed the 5 rathas but spent considerable amount of time exploring the street side artisan shops and meeting the artisans who are the soul of Mahabalipuram . At mahabs, apart form the sound of wind and waves, you can’t miss the ‘tung – tung’ sound of hammer and chisel on stone.
Some captures at the place,
Krishna's Butter ball
It is magical to see a huge rock like this on a buttery surface where standing even for a few seconds is difficult. This stone has been tried to be moved by many pallava kings, elephants and even scientists but it has defied physics and stands still. What holds it? no body knows.
A frame from Varaha cave depicting Vamana placing his third leg on king Bali'. while keeping one on earth and the other on sky.
The rayar gopuram or mandapam had beautiful carvings from dashaavatar. This i believe was one of the unfinished pallava project.
a close up of the dashavatar speaks about the hand dexterity of the artisans. Much of the precision work are not protected by weather, the roughness adds to the antique value of this place.
Mahishasuramardini cave - It was pathetic to hear a guide telling a few foreign tourists " This is Durga, she is a powerful women who sit on a lion and killed rakshasas". I could only see a perplexed look on the tourists. I am sure they would not know who was durga or what rakshasas meant or do they know india and indian mythology better than indians?! Tamilnadu tourism, train the guides . They are the cultural ambassadors, i believe. Else, history, mythology and culture gets distorted.
the tower above the cave is beautifully crafted and has a railing around which gives a view of the place around
A mahabalipuram post is incomplete without stone art and sculpture. It has a stone art museum( i missed it) and a government run college of sculpture and architecture which is one of its kind in India( or only one?). Nowhere else, do we have a college for sculpture in India said one of the artisans.