Mamallapuram

Temples by the sea

Print edition : April 14, 2017

The Shore Temple complex consists of three structural temples and a few rock-cut sculptures, all eroded by the sea air and sand. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The cluster of five rock-cut temples at the southern end of Mamallapuram is collectively known as the Five Rathas. These temples were not dedicated to the Pandava heroes in the Mahabharata as is popularly believed. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The Dharmaraja ratha clearly shows how the rock cutters converted a rock into a shrine, working from top downwards. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The longitudinal-shaped Bhima ratha with its characteristic barrel-vaulted roof. It was probably meant to house an image of the reclining Vishnu. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The incomplete Arjuna ratha is a good example of a Dravida or south Indian temple, or Dravida. It has a rock-cut bull carved close to it. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The Adivaraha cave is the only one at Mamallapuram to have a ceiling carved with floral designs. The Pallava caves are simpler than the Ajanta or Ellora caves. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

A wall in the Adivaraha cave has a depiction of Vishnu in his Varaha avatar. He is holding up Mother Earth whom he has rescued from the depths of the cosmic ocean. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The bottom of the Mahishasuramardini cave. The British used the temple atop the cave as a source of light. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

Inside the Mahishasuramardini cave, there is a relief depicting the great battle between the goddess Durga and the buffalo demon. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

Arjuna's Penance, also called the Descent of the Ganga, is the most famous of the bas-reliefs at Mamallapuram and brings together a panoramic profusion of figures, people and animals. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

Close to Arjuna's Penance is a similar unfinished bas-relief depicting the same theme. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The Tiger cave, which is about 4 km north of Mamallapuram, contains heads of yalis, or mythical lion-like creatures, around a shallow niche in the rock face. Like many other caves, it has a waterbody in front of it. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The Diving Varaha in the Shore Temple complex. This is arguably the only representation in India of Vishnu in his Varaha avatar with the head pointed downwards (indicating it is ready to dive) as opposed to the others where the head is pointing upwards (indicating that Vishnu had already lifted the earth). Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

The incomplete Nakula-Sahadeva ratha has an elephant carved beside it. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

A row of Nandis were originally on the enclosure wall of the Shore Temple complex and were rearranged during the restoration work that took place in the 19th-20th centuries. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

In the Krishna Mandapa, which is next to Arjuna's Penance, a relief showing Krishna lifting the Govardhan mountain with one hand. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

A seated lion at a temple within the Shore Temple complex. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

Mamallapuram is unparalleled in animal art. Seen in the picture, a monkey picking lice off another. Photo: Shashank Shekar Sinha

The wall in the Adivaraha cave showing Vishnu in his gigantic Trivikrama form. Photo: Shashank Shekhar Sinha

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