Group Of Monuments At Mahabalipuram Home > List Of World Heritage Sites In India > Group Of Monuments At Mahabalipuram

Group Of Monuments At Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1984 owing to the 40 sanctuaries found here. The world’s largest open-air bas-relief, the Descent of the Ganges is also located in Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is famous for its grand architecture. The Pancha Rathas namely, Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Draupadi Ratha, Ganesha Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, and also Nakula Sahadeva Ratha are architectures of the Pallava period in India. Several cave temples like Panchapandava Cave Temple, Varaha Cave Temple, Mahishasuramardini mandapa, and Krishna Cave Temple are also found in Mahabalipuram. Apart from cave temples, structural temples were built here. These structural temples include the Olakkannesvara Temple and the Shore Temple.

In the 7th century, this UNESCO World Heritage site was a flourishing and prosperous port of the Pallava Empire. Mahabalipuram got its name from the Great wrestler Mamalla who was also a Pallava king, Narasimha Varman I. The towering sculptures and beautiful intricate rock carvings showcase the creativity and talent of the highly skilled artisans of that period.

The breathtakingly magnificent Shore Temple surrounded by Nandi Bulls all around looking over the sea is main attraction of Mahabalipuram. After a strong cyclone in the sea washed away this Temple, it was re built stone by stone. The Shore temples were initially a group of seven temples known as the Seven Pagodas, but out of these seven, six have submerged in the sea.

The spectacular Arjuna’s Penance is situated further inland. This is the world’s largest bas-relief panel adorned by more than hundred figures of men, beasts, and gods. The five marvelous rock cut shrines are proof of how skilled the genius craftsmen and stone carvers of that era were. All the Rathas were carved out differently from single pieces of huge rocks.

With plenty of stalls showcasing and selling unique handicrafts and beautifully stone carved showpieces and the strikingly beautiful silver sand of beach enhance the charm of Mahabalipuram. This beautiful place must be visited to view the magnificent rock cut temples and the striking cave structures.


The town of Mahabalipuram town in the Kanchipuram district is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. It is around 58 kilometers (36 mi) away from Chennai or Madras. The beautiful sculptures and magnificent architecture of this place is exhibited at the museum of archaeology. The ancient stone carving techniques and the history of sculpture is taught at architectural school here. Improvements were financed by The Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture in 2003. These improvements included shifting of the bus terminus to Poonjeri, about 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) away. It is now the center of the town. A parking lot that was proposed near the Tigers' Cave on the East Coast Road leads to Mamallapuram has also been materialized.


Mahabalipuram was the main city of the soun-eat Indian Pallava civilization. It is a major center of the Siva cult and is hence visited by people. The sanctuary is widely known especially for its mandapas (cave sanctuaries), rathas (chariot shaped temples), and gigantic open-air reliefs. The well crafted sculptures that have a characteristic softness and graceful modeling have an influence even in Cambodia, annam and Java.

The Pallava rulers founded Mahabalipuram in the 7th century. Trade was carried out with various South-east Asian kingdoms of that time like Shrivijaya (Malaysia, Sumatra, and Java), the empire of Champa and Kambuja (Cambodia) through the harbor of Mahabalipuram. But now, it is more popular for its unique rock sanctuaries and beautiful Brahmin temples constructed and ornamented between 630 and 728.

During the reign of Narasimhavarman I Mamalla, most structures, like the rock-cut rathas, Arjuna’a penance which consists of open rocks with scenes sculpted artistically on them, the Govardhanadhari and Ahishasuramardini caves, the sleeping sculpture of Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the back o the Shore temple or the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple are thought to have been built.


All Holy places of the Hindus at Mahabalipuram are extraordinarily unique. They display an impeccable fusion of art, culture, legends and religion. The Dravidian stykle of architecture that belongs to the state of Tamil Nadu can be seen here at its best. The Mandapas or Cave Temples, chariots known as Rathas; the wonderful structural temple and Arjuna’s penance which is an open air bas-relief can be seen here. The legend is that this penance was done by Lord Arjuna to get Pashupata weapon from Lord Shiva. This rock cut architecture later became the basis or inspiration for architecture of South Indian temples in the later periods. This kind of temple architecture can also be clearly seen in temples of Annan, Java and Cambodia. The descendants of the sculptors and craftsmen of these shrines are actively involved in this city’s contemporary culture.


There are five basic categories into which these monuments can be divided:

  • The processional chariots or Ratha temples in the form of processional chariots are huge and immensely solid constructions made out of the blocks of diorite emerging from the sand. The Naharasimhavarman Mamalla’s reign between 630 and 668 saw the construction of the five most famous Ratha of the south. The city has been called Mamallapuram in the Cholas texts.

  • Mandapa or rock sanctuaries were designed as rooms and covered with bas-reliefs. The acts of the Varaha avatar of Vishnu are represented by the mandapa of Varaha. Also, there are mandapa of the Pandavas, especially that of Lord Krishna and of Mahishasuramardini.

  • A very famous part of the iconography of Siva is represented by the open air. It was the episode of the descent of Ganges to the earth by the order of Siva to nourish the world. Siva did this when King Bhagirath requested him to do so. The wise and creative sculptors depicted this heavenly event by making use of the natural fissure that divides the cliff. This cosmic event is witnessed by numerous Gods, goddesses, animals as well as mythological creatures like Kinnara, Apsara, Gadherya, Gana, Nagini and Nag.

  • Temples cut out from stone. An example of this architecture is the Temple of Rivage, constructed in the reign of King Rajasimha Narasimavarmn II (695-722). It depicts the glory and grandeur of Lord Siva with its pyramidal tower with several sculptures.

  • The single to triple storeyed Monolithic Ratha display a wide range of forms of architectures. The Draupadu, Arjuna and Dharmaja Ratha on the other hand have a square desighn. The Ganesa and Bhima Ratha have rectangular plan and Ratha of Sahadev is apsidal. Pallava Rajasimha introduced the Structural and promoted it at a large scale during 700-728 when the construction of the Shore Temple was at its peak.

How to Reach


Chengalpattu is the closest railway station. This station at a distance of 58 km from Mahabalipuram is connected to all major cities in the country.


Cities across Tamil Nadu are well connected to Mahabalipuram by network of roads. These cities include Pondicherry, Chengalpattu and Kanchipuram.


Chennai or Madras is the major nearest airport to Mahabalipuram. It is approximately 60 km from Mahabalipuram. A taxi to Mahabalipuram can be hired from Chennai, which is connected to all cities of India.

Visitor Information

With a small entrance fee, these monuments can be visited between 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. However, there is no fee for entrance for children less than 15 years old.


The famous Dance Festival is organized each year from mid January middle of February by the Tourism Department. Dancers and performers from all over the country showcase their talent and win over the hearts of the audience with their performance, spreading a feeling of happiness and joy. These performances look strikingly beautiful with the breathtaking ocean in the back drop. Dances from different states like, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Kathakali from Kerala, Odissi and Bharatnatyam, are put together beautifully and performed on traditional music beats. Apart from these dances, classical music performances and engrossing puppet shows are staged. The traditional aura and the calm and serene environment are captivating.

Pongal, a harvest festival is celebrated on 14th or 15th or January every year. The enthusiasm and joy of celebration is worth watching. People thank the sun, rain and nature for giving them the crops and they also pray for prosperity.

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