February 26, 2012

Mamallapuram Shore Temple

Site Name: Shore Temple
Site Type: Monument
Location:  2 kms from bus stand, Mamallapuram, near Chennai (70 kms from Chennai), Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: An important tourist site and ancient monument in South India
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Chennai
Hotel: A lot of options are available within Mamallapuram and East Coast Road outside the town
Restaurants: Many options and varieties across the town

Mamallapuram, full of sculptures and monuments, is a very important tourist site in South India. The town is also called as Mahabalipuram. It is a small coastal town located near Chennai, the gateway to South India. This town is one of the oldest sea ports in South India. There are references about this historical town even in the literature of 5th or 6th century CE.

Shore Temple
Different Types of Monuments:

The historical and tourist town of Mamallapuram is popular due to its ancient monuments and sculptures of the Pallava kings. The monuments of Mamallapuram can be categorized into cave temples, monoliths or rathas, bas reliefs and structural temples. Pallava king Mahendravarman I constructed cave temples. His successor Narasimhavarman I (popularly called as Mamallan) started constructing monolith monuments (in addition to constructing cave temples). Both these types of monuments were constructed by his successor Parameshvaravarman I. His successor Rajasimha Narasimhavarman II introduced structural temples.

Shore Temple:

Shore Temple
Shore Temple (called as Kadarkarai Koil in Tamil language) is one of the prominent monuments of Mamallapuram. It is a structural temple located at the sea shore, hence called as the Shore Temple. It is believed to have been built during the reign of Rajasimha Narasimhavarman II (700-728 CE). This high rising monument might have acted as a landmark for the ships in those days. Hence, it is perhaps, due to this temple, the town was named as 'Seven Pagodas' by the Europeans in the olden days. Although it is widely believed that there are six other similar temples buried under the sea, there is no record for that and ASI couldn't discover the same so far.

Shiva Temple, Shore Temple Complex
The temple complex has three different temples and all of them are raised above the same platform. Only two temple towers survive today, but the third one is missing. The temple with larger tower faces the eastern direction towards the sea whereas the temple with small tower faces the western direction. Both the towers are pyramidal stepped which is topped with an octagonal sikhara and stupi above this.

The entire temple compound is covered by prakara coped with Nandi idols.

Temple #1:

The temple with larger tower has a big Shiv Linga idol in the main shrine. The upper part of the idol is broken. There is a Somaskanda (Shiva, Parvati and Skanda) panel at the wall behind the Linga. On either sides of Somaskanda the sculptures of Brahma and Vishnu are found. The external walls of the shrine have the sculptures of Durga and Shiva as Tripurantaka; also there are many sculptures in ruined condition.

Anantasayana at Shore Temple
Temple #2:

The middle temple is dedicated to Anantasayana - Vishnu in the reclining posture. Here, the ruined sculpture of Vishnu with four arms is found reclined on Sesha, the divine serpent. The temple's tower is not existing. The external walls of the shrine have the sculptures such as Krishna slaying the Asura Kesi, Krishna dancing on Kaliya serpent, Vishnu on Garuda rescuing Gajendra elephant from the crocodile, etc.

Temple #3:

The third temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, where the Somaskanda panel is found at the back wall of the shrine. The external walls have the sculpture of Ekpadamurti - one body, one leg with three heads depicting Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and another sculpture of Nagaraj under the five hoods of a serpent.

Somaskanda Panel

Varaha Temple:

The Shore Temple compound also has a separate circular shrine, which was discovered in a recent excavation. The circular shrine has the circular shikara. The idol of Varaha (the boar God) is found outside the circular shrine.

Varaha Shrine

Lion Image:

A monolithic lion image with open torso is also found in the compound. A carved miniature image of Durga is found inside the back of the hole. A female guardian is found seated on lion's leg holding a bow and the bull (depicting the Asura Mahisa) without the head is found near the lion.

Monolithic Lion Image

There are few Pallava period inscriptions found in the temple. From those inscriptions, it appears that Vishnu temple was constructed first and the place was referred as Jalasayana in those days.

If you travel to South India, you should not miss to visit Mamallapuram. If you go to Mamallapuram, you should not miss this extraordinary Shore Temple, the architectural marvel of Pallava kings.

Happy travelling.

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