The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram contains some of the best examples of South Indian temple architecture.
A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram (now called Mamallapuram), a once-thriving port city of the Pallavas, a dynasty that ruled much of South India between the 4th and 9th centuries A.D., is an excellent introduction to South Indian temple architecture. Established in the 7th century by Narasimha Varman I, also known as Mamalla, “the Great Wrestler,” the tourist town of Mahabalipuram attracts thousands to view the earliest examples of monumental architecture in southern India – incredible rock-cut shrines that celebrate Hinduism’s sacred pantheon and legends. This spectacular site, situated on the Bay of Bengal, extends across a boulder-strewn landscape and comprises rock-cut caves and monolithic shrines, structural temples and huge bas-reliefs that are considered the greatest examples of Pallava art.
The stone-carving tradition that created these wonders is still alive in the many workshops scattered around the village. Today, the descendents of these early sculptors continue to create carvings for temples, hotel foyers, and tourists; the sounds of sculptors chipping away at blocks of stone echo through the narrow lanes, an aural reminder of the sort of devoted craftsmanship that must have possessed the original masons who created the World Heritage monuments.
In addition to the ancient archaeological wonders, there’s the traveller ghetto of Othavadai Cross Street where you’ll hear the mellow trills of Jack Johnson and Bob Marley flags hang from the balconies. Stores sell things from Tibet, ‘Indian’ clothes that few Indians would probably ever wear, toilet paper, hand sanitiser and used books. Once here, you’ll know you’ve landed, once again, in the Kingdom of Backpackistan.
Click on one of the sections on the right for more information about Mahabalipuram.
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