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SHORE TEMPLE’S DEEPEST MYSTERIES AND OTHER MIND BOGGLING FACTS. INCREDIBLE INDIA!
This blog is about the ancient Shore Temple of South India. The 2004 tsunami exposed many secrets of the temple complex. Read on to find out more about this gem of Incredible India.
Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram aka Mamallapuram was etched in my memory ever since I read about it in my school days. In 2010, during my first solo trip to Chennai, Mamallapuram and Pondicherry, I did arrive at the Shore Temple but as soon as I reached late evening its gates were closed.
I pleaded to the security, “Sir, please let me have a look, I have come from very far. From Delhi saar!” I lied. I had come from Mumbai, which is closer. Never mind, it didn’t work anyways and I had to be content looking at it from the rocky beach from across the barbed wire fence. I returned crestfallen, consoling myself with the views of the scenic route of the famous ECR aka East Coast Road of South India
I recently visited it again after 7 years, now as a travel writer and blogger No wonder, I made the most of it and admired the breathtaking piece of architecture to my heart’s content. This time, I made a stop here as it was one of the destinations of the Golden Chariot, the only Luxury Train of South India
INTRIGUING HISTORY OF THE SHORE TEMPLE, MAMALLAPURAM
Needless to say, it is called Shore temple because it situated in a scenic location which is on the shore of Bay Of Bengal. It dates back to the 8th century A.D. It was built between 700 to 728 A.D. under the rule of Narasimhavarman II aka Rajasimha of the Pallava dynasty of South India. My guide told me that Narasimhavarman II was also known as Mamallan and hence the new name of Mahabalipuram is Mamallapuram.
Narasimhavarman II build many other monuments which exist till date in Mamallapuram such as the monolithic rathas and cave temples. He initiated these in the 7th century itself. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The Cholas continued to make additions to the Shore temple after they defeated Pallavas and ruled, what is now Tamil Nadu.
UNMISSABLE STRUCTURES OF THE SHORE TEMPLE
As I circumbulated around the ancient temple, which sits atop a 50 square feet base, I was awed by intricate carving at every nook and cranny. The evening sun had lent a soft glow to the Shore temple, making it look even more ethereal and mystical. The first structure which impressed me was the 60 feet tall pyramidal spire of the temple, typical of temples of that era. The 5 storey Shore Temple is one of the oldest temples of South India which still survives. Its walls are built of granite.
Out of the three shrines, 2 belong to Lord Shiva (Somaskanda) while 1 shrine belongs to reclining Lord Vishnu. The reclining Vishnu is locally called Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana.
As I look closely, the walls depicted the lifestyle of commoners of that era. If you look closely, you will notice exquisite carvings of other important Hindu deities like Lord Ganesha, Lord Brahma, Goddess Parvati , Goddess Lakshmi, Shanda and Narasimha.
My favourite was however, the statue of a lion with its mouth wide open. A figure of Goddess Durga was carved on the right part of the body of the lion. It’s interesting to me as mostly in Hindu mythology Goddess Durga is shown riding a lion. The lion has a square cut in its chest. The cut has carved human figures in it. The lion was the most well preserved part of the Shore temple. The lion is in the south direction of the Shore Temple.
One of the shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva has been designed in way that the first rays of the sun fall on the Shiv Linga. The Vishnu temple faces west and was built by Narasimha Varman 1 while both the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva face east and were constructed by Narasimha Varman 2.
SHORE TEMPLE WAS ONCE THE PART OF THE MYSTERIOUS 7 PAGODAS:
This is the most exciting part of the history of the Shore Temple. Marco Polo and other European sailors addressed Shore temple site as Seven Pagodas. From 3rd century to 10th century, this place was a bustling port under the rule of the Pallava dysnasty. Even evidences of trade with Romans have been found. It is believed that the Shore temple was the part of a 7 temples complex, 6 of which have been swallowed by the sea over the centuries.
The Europeans mistakenly christened it as Pagoda due to the shape of the structures. Archeologists believe that the shape indicates Buddhist influence. The name Seven Pagoda has stuck since past 11 centuries and so has the myth around it. It is believed that the seven pagodas served as navigation landmark for the sailors. The devastating Tsunami of 2004 exposed ruins of other temples along with ancient artefacts briefly. The Shore Temple is the only surviving one since it was the last of the temples.
The post 2004 tsunami expeditions by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and Indian Navy confirmed the presence of ancient walls and structures under the sea. However, their link to the mythical Seven Pagodas could not be established as of now. During more excavations and searches, evidences of 2000 years old temples have also been found. Some of them even date back to the Tamil Sangam period. It is claimed that a 13th century tsunami destroyed the other temples and structures.
The excavations and more finding are still underway and it would be interesting to see how it unfolds. The new finding might throw more surprises and change the way we look at the history of the intriguing ancient city that Mamallapuram is.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE SHORE TEMPLE:
- The Shore Temple was classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
- Each year in winter (December/January), Dance festival is organized by Department of Tourism, Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Classical Indian dances like Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, Kathak , Mohini Attam, Kuchipudi and Odissi are performed by the stalwarts in the month long festival.
- The rows of beautifully stone carved Nandi bulls line the boundary of the temple.
- A large statue of the mythical Varāha (Avatar of Vishnu in the form of boar) stands on the newly excavated new site on the south of the Shore Temple.
- The Shore temple looks like a chariot when seen from a distance.
FAST FACTS ABOUT SHORE TEMPLE:
For Indian Citizen: Rs. 10
For Kids: Below 15 ears: Free Entry
Foreign national: US $ 5
The tickets are valid for visit to other monuments in the area.
Time suggested – Spend 1 to 2 hrs in Shore temple
TIMINGS OF SHORE TEMPLE:
Shore Temple opens from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Last tickets are sold at 5:30 p.m.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SHORE TEMPLE:
A visit to the Shore Temple is advised during sunrise or sunset. That’s when the temple is in its full glory. I visited during sun set and can vouch for it.
BEST MONTHS TO VISIT SHORE TEMPLE:
Indian winters (November to February) are the best time to visit it. Monsoon (June to September) is also a good time to visit Shore Temple.
Avoid Summer (March to May). These months can be unbearably hot and humid.
HOW TO REACH SHORE TEMPLE:
It is easily connected via buses from Chennai which is the nearest big city.
Private Taxis from Chennai to Mamallapuram and Pondicherry can also be hired.
Chennai is also the nearest airport from Mamallapuram.
Nearest railway station is Chennai
MAKE THE TRIP MORE EXCITING!
My first solo trip was – Chennai- Mamallapuram-Pondicherry. I did this circuit in less than a week.
Chennai to Mamallapuram is only 60 kilometers and takes around 1 hour 30 minutes on the picturesque East Coast Road (ECR)
Mamallapuram to Pondicherry is another 100 kilometers and takes around 2 hours on the East Coast Road.
Note: The Golden Chariot tour was facilitated by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation.
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