Bangalore – Tiruvannamalai – Chennai – Mahabalipuram – 3 days (Dec 2013)
The drive to Mahabalipuram was by far the best drive of the trip. The roads were wide, and very well-maintained. The traffic too was not too heavy, making this a very fast trip. The road to Mahabalipuram runs right along the sea-coast during the latter half of the journey, making a visually interesting sight, and definitely kept the kids occupied by making them watch out for the next peek-a-boo view!
Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is a town in the Kanchipuram District of Tamil Nadu. This was a bustling port during the time of the Pallavas (7th Century CE). However, Roman and Chinese coins dating to the 4th Century CE have also been found, making this an active port engaging in trading even during the late Classical period. The place is today famous for the various sculptures dotting the Mahabalipuram coastline that were built by the Pallava rulers. The various styles of the sculptures and their themes (varying from Shiva and Vishnu idols to Buddhist influences) display the various influences brought by the visiting traders and craftsmen. The Pallavas had also brought back craftsmen as “spoils of war” from their wars with the Chalukyas during their reign. This is reflected in some of the sculptures that seem to echo those of Ajantha and Ellora.
The town was also referred to as “Seven Pagodas” by Marco Polo who named to such for the 7 Temples that dotted the shore. Today one 1 temple stands true, and is simply referred to as The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram now. The Shore Temple along with all the sculptures have been declares as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984.
We reached the town around 1pm, and drove directly to the stone cravings and caves for which Mahabalipuram is so famous for. The caves are spread over a large area, and we couldn’t possibly cover it all, not with 2 kids in tow and a flight to catch in Chennai later in the day. So we decided to stop at the main open-air sculpture called the Decent of the Ganges. The sculpture, made from 2 huge rocks placed side-by-side, shows the decent of the Ganga from Shiva’s tresses led by Bhagiratha. In fact there are 2 stories that seem to be connected with this bas-relief.
The first story is that of Bhagiratha (shown as an ascetic standing on one leg in penance) who preformed penance to Lord Shiva to make the Holy River Ganga flow over the ashes of his ancestors and release them of their sins. To break the force to the river reaching the plains, Shiva caught the river in his hair and broke it up into multiple rivulets. This was apparently displayed in a very graphic way in times part. there is a brick cistern at the top of the relief, and water was apparently let flow through the fissure in the relief to show Ganga flowing to the Plains.
Another story is that Arjuna from the Mahabharata performed penance to gain a weapon called Pasupata, Shiva’s most powerful weapon. Asuras had let loose a boar to kill him. Shiva took on the form of a hunter and stood next to Arjuna. Both shot arrows to kill the boar, and both claimed that their arrow was the one that killed the boar. They fought a duel to find who was superior, and Arjuna was defeated by Shiva. Shiva then showed Arjuna his true form and gave him the Pasupata weapon.
On one side of this bas-relief was a set of sculptures that depicted the agrarian life in (supposedly) the town. The sculptures were all life-sized, and were a treat to the eyes.
The other side of the bas-relief was an open lawn that led up to the other caves. Further along the lawn is a huge rock, seemly balancing precariously. This is commonly refered to as Krishna’s Butter Ball. It definitely makes for a great set of photos where one can pose as though they are either pushing or lifting the rock! And no prizes for guessing who made that particular attempt!😉
By this time it was already lunch time, and the kids were getting hungry. So we found a nice tree to sit under, and feed the kids.
The next stop was the Mahabalipuram shore. The temple was shut till evening, so that feature in our to-see list. Along the way we saw a lot of lovely stone sculptures. They were so beautiful, we couldn’t resist taking pictures. Some were idols of various gods, while a lot of the others were meant to be as decor around a house or garden. It was a wonder to see the sheer talent of the stone sculptors.
The path to the beach was dotted with shops selling various trinkets, stone items and sea food. The last was a bit of a problem with the over-whelming smell, but otherwise we enjoyed the (rather long) walk to the beach. The beach though felt like an anti-climax after that walk. It was really small. Being a weekday, there were not as many people as on a weekend, but it still felt crowded! We let the kids enjoy the water for 30-40 mins and then made our way back.
Just outside the town was a large Adyar Ananda Bhavan restaurant. We had a quick lunch, and left for Chennai at around 3.30-ish. We finally reached the Airport at Chennai around 4.30 pm in the evening. After seeing off my Sister-in-law and the kids, we started off for Bangalore at around 6pm. The evening traffic on the Highway was pretty heavy, and we finally got home at 12.30 am.
The trip holds great memories of amazing locales and fun-filled memories, and was an amazing end to 2013!