Rock temples of Mahabalipuram

Located on the beaches of Mahabalipuram, Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu, the Temples of Mahabalipuram has also been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. These rock cut temples were conceptualized by Pallava Monarch Rajasimha. There are eight monolithic rock cut temples in Mahabalipuram and the architectural styles of these temples are the earliest trendsetters in the genre of South Indian style of architecture. The city of Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram, in honor of the Pallava King Narasimha Varman I.

Temple Name   –   Mahabalipuram Shore Temple

Main deity       –   Lord Shiva & Lord Vishnu

Location          –   Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Deity Worshipped

The three principal deities of the Temples of Mahabalipuram are Lord Shiva, Ksatriyasimnesvara and Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of a Linga and Lord Vishnu is worshipped in the form of Sheshnag. A carving of Goddess Durga in her Vahana i.e. the Lion is also found in the temple premises. Somaskanda also refers to a family photograph consisting of Lord Shiva, Uma Devi or Goddess Parvati and baby Skanda.

Archeological facts

The Temples of Mahabalipuram are a classic specimen of rock cut architecture. This style of architecture later developed into the South Indian Style of architecture. The area is also sometimes referred as The Seven Pagodas. After the Tsunami in 2004, some of the temples buried under the sand were revealed after the retreat of the waves.

It is also believed that the temples might have been the earliest training centers for rock sculpture. This belief is further testified by the fact that some of the sculptures found in and around the area are unfinished. An underwater survey carried by the National Institute of Oceanography has revealed the existence of some parts of the temple structure on the ocean floor.


The origin of Hindu religious architecture in southern India was born in Mahabalipuram. The Pallava and Chola Kings highly encouraged and commissioned the establishment of these temples. The poetry inscribed on the stones at Mamallapuram is dedicated to the Pallava Kings Mahendravarman-I, Narasimhavarman-I and Narasimhavarman-II respectively. Mahabalipuram was used as the chief seaport of the Pallavas and therefore the place was considered to be of immense significance to them. King Narasimhavarman I was also known as Mamalla and he was the primary force behind the carving of the five Rathas, containing the sculptures of a Lion, an Elephant, a Nandi and a Bull. Both Narasimhavarman-I and II played a very significant role in promoting the establishment of rock cut temples.

Scriptural references

The Europeans were amazed by the exquisite architecture of the Temples of Mahabalipuram and had named Mahabalipuram as the Land of Seven Pagodas. As per legend it is believed that there were six additional temples on the shoreline of Mahabalipuram. Lord Indra grew jealous of the exquisiteness of the architecture and sunk those six temples. Some of the local fishermen claim the existence of some of these temples.

Cultural Significance

The history and heritage of Mahabalipuram is of mammoth cultural significance. This place is essentially the birth place of a novel style of architecture. The Mahabalipuram Dance Festival organized by the Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu, further helps in portraying the rich artistic heritage of Mahabalipuram. The festival encapsulates the unparalleled prestige of the place.

Temple details

Architecture – The Pallava rulers had played a pioneering role in innovation and experimentation with new styles of architecture and for this express purpose, they utilized the exquisite landscape of Mahabalipuram. The architectural design constituted the earlier stages of Dravidian and Buddhist elements. The shores of Mahabalipuram are strewn with testimonies of numerous experimentations and innovations in the form of monolithic rathas, cave temples, sculpted reliefs and structural temples. Some of the most significant structures in Mahabalipuram are as follows:

  • The Shore Temple- A shrine dedicated to both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. The temple has been aptly described as, ‘a landmark by day and a beacon by night’.
  • Sthalasayana Perumal Temple- A shrine dedicated to Lord Sthalasayana Perumal and Nilamangai Thayaar. It is considered as one of the 108 Divya Desams.
  • The Mandapas: The main hill of Mahabalipuram is dotted with pillared halls or mandapas. The Ganesha Mandapa is the most prominent amongst them.
  • Near the Ganesha Mandapa, there is the depiction of the ‘descent of the Ganges’ in open air bas relief. The dexterous carvings give the impression of three dimensional perspectives.
  • The Five Rathas- Also known as the Pancha Rathas, the Five Rathas considered as one of the finest examples of monolithic rock cut architecture in India. These Rathas were constructed during the reign of Mahendravarman-I and Narasimhavarman I. The Rathas of the shrine are dedicated to the five Pandavas i.e. Yudhisthira, Bheem, Arjun Nakul, and Sahadeva.


The major festivals celebrated in the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple are as follows:

  • Pongal- Celebrated in mid-January, Pongal is the most important festival.
  • Masimagam and Brahmotsavam- These festivals are primarily celebrated in the Sthalasayana Perumal temple in the month of March.
  • Mahabalipuram Dance Festival: This festival is celebrated from the months of December to February. Renowned dancers and artists of both national and international stature are invited on this occasion.
Published On: 08-07-2014