OF THIS SECTION
University of Madras on Mahabalipuram in Tamil Art &
Architecture paper presented at
Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, January 1968
The Shore Temple at Mamallapuram, Dr.R.Nagaswamy
in Art & Culture of Tamil Nadu,
மாமல்லை - டாக்டர். இரா. நாகசாமி
Dr.Justice S.Maharajan on Tamil Culture at the 5th
World Tamil Conference in Chennai, 1981
India's Kingdom by the Sea - Katherine Tanko, 19 February 1999
National Institute of Oceanography: Mahabalipuram
and Poompuhar There exists a
popular belief in south India that the
Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram is the last of a series of
seven temples, six of which have been submerged. NIO team and
members of the Scientific Exploration Society, U.K., explored
Mahabalipuram. The archaeologists, professional divers and
photographers carried out underwater explorations during April
recorded evidence of ruins off Mahabalipuram. "
Investigations off Mahabalipuram Sundaresh*, A. S. Gaur,
Sila Tripati and K. H. VoraNational Institute of Oceanography,
Dona Paula, Goa, 10 May 2004 "Mahabalipuram, the
famous centre of Pallava art andarchitecture, is situated on the
coast of Tamil Nadu.The local traditions and the foreign
accounts vividlyrefer to the submergence of six temples out of
seventhat existed here. Recent underwater archaeological
explorations in the area have revealed many structural remains
including fallen walls, scattered dressedstone blocks, a few
steps leading to a platform and manyother structural remains.
The structures were badlydamaged and scattered owing to strong
underwater currents and swells. Due to thick biological
growth,engravings on the stone blocks, if any, could not
benoticed. Based on its alignment and form, they are con-sidered
to be of man-made in origin. Based on the archa-eological
evidences on land, the earliest possible dateof these structures
is estimated to be around 1500 years. The major cause of the
submergence of these struc-tures is severe coastal erosion
prevailing in the region."
Newly-discovered Mamallapuram temple fascinates archaeologists,
Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram
(Mamallapuram) Shore Temple
Pallava Period ( 7th - 9th century)
"In the field of art
and architecture, the Pallavas and Pandyas cut many cave temples and monolithic 'rathras'.
It was followed by many structural temples of which the Shore temple at Mahabalipuram and the
Kailasanatha temple in
Kanchi are the earliest." (Ancient Tamil Country, Dr.S.Sundararajan -
Navrang, New Delhi, 1991)
"The early phase, (of medieval temple
architecture: South Indian style of Tamil Nadu (7th-18th century) which, broadly speaking,
coincided with the political supremacy of the Pallava dynasty (c. 650-893), is best
represented by the important monuments at Mahabalipuram." (Medieval
temple architecture: South Indian style of Tamil Nadu (7th-18th century -Encyclopaedia
UNESCO World Heritage Listing, 15 October 1983
International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
Recommendation, May 1984 - That the proposed cultural property be included on the World Heritage List based on the criteria I, II, III and VI.
Founded in the 7th century by thePallavas sovereigns south of Madras, the harbour of Mahabalipuram traded with the distant kingdoms of southeast Asia : Kambuja (Cambodia), Shrivijaya (Malasia, Sumatra, Java) and with the empire of Champa (Annam) . But the
fame of its role as a harbour has been transferred to its rock sanctuaries and Brahman temples which were constructed or decorated at Mahabalipuram between 630 and 728. These monuments may be subdivided in
four categories :
- the ratha temples in the form of processional chariots, monolithic constructions cut into the residual blocks of diorite which emerge from the sand. The five rathaof the south, which are the most famous,date to the reign of Naharasimhavarman Mamalla (630-668), the great Pallavas king (the Cholas texts, moreover, call the city Mamallapuram) .
- the mandapa , or rock sanctuaries Modeled as rooms covered with bas-reliefs
(the mandapa of Varaha, representing the acts of this avatar of Vishnu; the
mandapa of the five Pandavas and, especially, the mandapa of Krishna and the
mandapa of Mahishasuramardini).
- the rock reliefs in open air, the largest of which is world renowned,
illustrates a popular episode in the iconography of Siva, that of the
the Ganges : the wise King Baghirata having begged him to do so, Siva ordered
the Ganges to descend to earth and to nourish the world. The sculptors used the
natural fissure which divided the cliff to forcefully suggest this cosmic event
to which a swarming crowd of gods, godesses, mythical beings (Kinnara,
Gandherva, Apsara, Gana, Naga and Nagini), savage and domestic animals bear
- temples, constructed in cut stone, like the temple of Rivage, which was
constructed under the King Rajasimha Narasimhavarman II (695-722), with its high
stepped pyramidal tower and thousands of sculptures dedicated to the glory of
ICCMOS recomends the inclusion of the monumental ensemble of Mahabalipuram on
the World Heritage List based on criteria I, II, III and VI.
- criterion I : the bas-relief of the "Descent of the Ganges" is -like that of
the island of Elephanta a uniaue artistic achievement.
- criterion II : the influence of the sculptures of Mahabalipuram, characterized by the softness and suppleness of their
modeling, spread afar (Cambodia,
- criterion III : Mahabalipuram is, preeminently, the testimony to the Pallavas
civilization of southeast India,
- criterion VI : the sanctuary is one of the major centres of the cult of Siva.
University of Madras on Mahabalipuram in
Tamil Art &
Architecture paper presented at
Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, January 1968
"Under Narasimhavarma I, Pallava rock-architecture took a new turn. besides cutting into rocks for caves, attempts were made to cut out monoliths from rocks. The rudiments of this practice are to be found in the carved-out stupas in the caves of Western India and the
vimana-form in the Tawa cave at Udayagiri but it was at
Mahabalipuram under the Pallavas that it found a full and eloquent expression.
Architecturally they depict the external aspects of contemporary brick and timber structures. There are as many as nine monoliths at Mahabalipuram of which the five, named after the Pandavas and Draupadi, are a well-known assemblage of contiguous excavations, the other examples are the Ganesa ratha, Valayankuttai ratha and the two Pidari rathas. As they represent varying architectural designs they are of primary importance for any study of the plan and different zones and the details of the Yima-nas.
Dharmaraja-ratha is three-storeyed with a square viguana and an octagonal dome. Though the
Arjunaratha is similar to this it is two-storeyed. The
Bhimaratha has a wagon-top roof and is single-storeyed unlike the Ganesa ratha, another example of wagon top roof, which is double-storeyed. The Draupadiratha
is hut-shaped and is square in plan and its roof is domical. The
Sahadevaratha represents the apsidal form with its back resembling that of an elephant, a feature high-lighted by the carving of a huge elephant by the side of the monolith. "
The Shore Temple at
Mamallapuram - R.Nagaswami in Art & Culture of Tamil Nadu,
"Mamallapuram was developed as flourishing seaport by the
great Pallava monarch, Narasimhavaraman I, and has ever since
remained important in the history of south India. A naval fleet was
despatched from here, by the same king, to Sri Lanka which was
conquered and his vassal, Manavarman, installed on the throne. But
above all, the grand conception of Rajasimha in cutting huge
boulders of granite into exquisitely carved rathas has provided this
seaside village with the most attractive and important monuments in
India. The free standing monolithic temples called rathas, the
lavishly sculptured cave-temples and the huge rock-face portraying
the sculptures narrating the story or Arjuna obtaining the pasupata
situated almost on the seashore, draw the admiration of the world.
The charm of the place is enhanced by a temple with two towers,
familiarly known as the Shore Temple.
Set against the background of unfathomable sky and the boundless
sea, each merging with the other in a far off horizon, with the
melody of the waves gently rolling over the outer walls, with the
two towers as if piercing the blue canopy of the sky, with their
sharp spires and with the green wood in the front welcoming the
visitor with a gentle breeze, the Shore Temple has a splendour
unsurpassed in aesthetic appeal. With the rising sun spreading its
rays like a golden ball, with white clouds moving across, the towers
are most fascinating. The temple, standing as it is on the coast for
over a thousand years with most of its sculptures having been
eroded, due to saline action but leaving vestiges here and there,
mere outlines, shines in its pristine glory.
This temple is the most complex group of all the temples of south
India, having two shrines placed one behind the other, one facing
east and the other west. These two shrines are separated by a
rectangular shrine sandwiched in between and having its entrance
from the side. This shrine is dedicated to Vishnu, who is
represented as lying on his serpent couch and known as Talasayana
Perumal. The other two shrines are dedicated to Siva. There is a
large open court at the western end.
A little to the south of the sancta and within the compound is a
majestic lion which carries a miniature Mahishasuramardini carved
inside a square cavity cut in the neck of the animal. Two attendant
deities of the Goddess are shown as mounted on either side of the
animal. A little to north of this, in the platform, is an
exquisitely carved deer shown with majestic ease. Unfortunately its
head is mutilated. In between the deer and the lion could be noticed
a dwarf with only the legs preserved.
This temple with triple shrines was built by Narasimhavarman II,
familiarly known as Rajasimha. That Rajasimha was a great patron of
art, literature and other fine arts is revealed in innumerable
titles he assumed for himself like Vinanarada. He was a great
devotee of Siva and a prolific temple-builder. Both lithic records
and copper plate grants of the Pallavas extol him as one who
lavished wealth on temples and scholars.
It is to the genius of this monarch that we owe the monumental
Kailasanatha temple of Kanchipuram,
and the Talagirisvara temple at Panamalai. An inscription in Pallava
grantha characters, in the balipitha at the western end of the Shore
Temple, extols the prowess of Rajasimha.
This temple has been so often visited and illustrated that the
very name of the Shore Temple would recall the two towers standing
on the shore. However, there is one factor which has escaped
attention. The temple originally consisted of three, vimanas the
third vimana which was over the Vishnu shrine has crumbled down.
That these shrines were under regular worship for long is borne out
by literature and epigraphs.
Thirumangai Alvar, who lived in the eighth century A.D. has sung
of the temple and refers to Lord Vishnu as Kadalmallai Talasayana.
Rajaraja, the great Chola emperor, has left two inscriptions in the
temple, recording gifts of lands, etc. Interestingly he mentions the
names of the three shrines of at Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvaragriham,
Rajasimha Pallavesvaragriham and Pallikondaruliya Devar shrine.
As mentioned above, Rajasimha who constructed this temple, was a
king of varied tastes and delighted in assuming hundreds of titles,
as evidenced from the Kailasanatha temple inscriptions. Amongst his
titles, mention may be made of Rajasimha, Narasimha, Kshtriyasimha
and Purushasimha, as also Mahamalla, Saturmalla, Amitramalla, etc.
It is, therefore, evident that the Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvara
and Rajasimhapallavesvara mentioned in the inscription are after
Rajasimha's titles. A recently discovered label inscription found on
the lintel of this Vishnu shrine, in the Pallava grantha script of
the Rajasimha age, gives the name of the temple as Narapathisimha
Pallava Vishnu griham. This find confirms that the Vishnu temple was
also built by Rajasimha. The other reference is to the Talasayana
shrine. An inscription of Virarajendra Chola, also found in the
temple, refers to this Lord as Kadalmallai Emperuman.
From the above it is evident that all the three shrines in the
temple were under regular worship for a considerable time. It is
well-known, that according to the prevalent custom, a temple is
placed under worship only when it is crowned with a vimana, and duly
consecrated with a stupi (Kzcmbhabisheka). It is, therefore, certain
that the Talasayana shrine of the temple had a vimana, which has
The above conclusion is amply justified by the presence of a
course of rectangular and square pavlion ornaments (bhadrasalas and
vimana types) which formed the first storey of the vimana. This is
further proved by the rectangular pavilion ornaments of the other
storyes still lying scattered inside the
compound. Judging from the extant remains, the vimana was of a
rectangular type with a series of stupis arranged in a line on it
ridges, and attained a height between those of the big and the small
Though rectangular vimana over the sanctum went out of existence
in later times, it was present Pallava days. The monolithic temples
of Ganesa and Bhima rathas, both in Mamallapuram, are splendid
examples of the rectangular vimanas. The Mahendravarmesvaragriha,
constructed at the entrance of the Kailasanatha temple of
Kanchipuram by Rajasimha's son, a structural example of the
rectangular vimana still preserved.
The same rectangular structures form the principal form of
the gateway towers called gopuras in the south Indian temple-complex
in the succeeding centuries.
Rajasimha's conception of this temple-complex, with two square
vimanas interspersed with a rectangular one, each spire from the
land's side showing an increase in height and the whole being set
against the background of the ocean is .indeed a marvel, an
inspiration and vision quite befitting a great artist like Rajasimha."
on the Web [see also
Listing of Other Books by Dr.R.Nagasamy]
இடமருங்கு ஒளிக்கும் இமையக் கிழவி
தனிக்கண் விளங்கு நுதற்பிறை மேலோர்
மிகப்பிறை கதுப்பிற் சூடி வளைக்கையின்
வாள்பிடித்து ஆளியேறித் தானவன்
மாளக் கடும்போர் கடந்த குமரி
மூவா மெல்லடித் திருநிழல்
வாழி காக்கவிம் மலர்தலை யுலகே
Preface by Era Neduncheliyan - தமிழக அரசு கல்வி அமைச்சர்
மாண்புமிகு நாவலர் இரா நெடுஞ்செழியன் அவர்களின் அணிந்துரை
தமிழக வரலாற்றுப் புகழையும், பண்பாட்டுப் பெருமையையு, நாகரிக
மேம்பாட்டையும் விளக்கிக் காட்டிடும் அரண்மனைகள், கோட்டைகள், கோயில்கள்,
கட்டிடங்கள், குகைகள், சிற்ப்பங்கள், கல்வெட்டுகள், செப்பேடுகள்,
ஓலைச்சுவடிகள், மண்டையோடுகள், புதைபொருட்கள் தமிழக் மெங்கணும் சிதறிக்
அவற்றையெல்லாம் பேசவைக்கும் பணியில் தொல்பொருள்
ஆராய்ச்சியாளர்கள், வரலாற்றுப் பேராசிரியர்கள், இலக்கிய வல்லுநர்கள்,
கலைஞர்கள் ஆகியோர் சென்ற் சில காலமாக ஈடுபட்டு வருகின்றனர்.
மேலை நாடுகளில் வரலாறு, இலக்கியம், கல்வெட்டுகள், கலை ஆகியவற்றின்
அடிப்படையில் எண்ணற்ற வியப்புக்குரிய நூல்கள் அந்தந்த நாட்டின் சிறப்பை
வெளிப்படுத்தும் முறையில் வெளிப்பட்டு வருகின்றன. வரலாற்றுப் பெருமை
வாய்ந்த கலைச் செல்வங்களைக் காணச் செல்வதற்கு முன்னர் அவை பற்றிய்
நூல்களைப் படித்துப் பார்த்து விட்டு தூண்டப்பட்ட ஆவலுடன்
அச்செல்வங்களைக் காண விழைகின்றனர்.
குறிப்பாக மேலை நாடுகளில் கல்லூரி மாணவர்களிடத்திலும் பள்ளி
மாணவர்களிடத்திலும் இந்தப் பழக்கம் பரவலாகக் காணப்படுகின்றது. இது
போன்ற பழக்கம் நம் நாட்டிலும் பெருகினால்தான் நம் கலைச் செல்வங்களின்
அருமை பெருமைகளை நாமும் உணர முடியும்; பிறர்க்கும் உணர்த்த முடியும்.
தமிழகத்திலும் அப்படிப்பட்ட நூல்கள் உருவாக்கப்பட வேண்டும் என்பது தான்
தமிழக அரசின் பேராவலாகும். அந்த ஆவலை நிறைவேற்ற எடுத்தௌக் கொண்ட ஒரு
"மாமல்லை" என்னும் இந்நூல்.
இந்நூல் வரலாற்றுச் சிறப்புப் பெற்ற, சிற்பக் கலை நிரம்பிய
மாமல்லபுரத்தைப் பற்றிய பல்வேறு செய்திகளை நிரம்பிய மாமல்லபுரத்தைப்
பற்றிய பல்வேறு செய்திகளை இலக்கியத்திலிருந்தும்,
கல்வெட்டுக்களிலிருந்தும், சிற்பக்கலை நுணுக்கத்திலிருந்தும், வரலற்றுக்
குறிப்புக்களிலிருந்தும் திரட்டித் தருகிறது.
தமிழ்க அரசின் தொல்பொருள் ஆரய்ச்சித்துறையின் இயக்குநரும், சிறந்த்த
இலக்கிய நுண்ணறிவு, கல்வெட்டு ஆராய்ச்சியறிவு, தொல்பொருள்
ஆராய்ச்சியரறிவு, வரலாற்றறிவு, ஆகியவற்றை ஒருங்கே பெற்றவரும் ஆன திரு
இரா. நாகசாமி அவர்கள் இந்நூலை உருவாக்கித் தந்திருப்பது
ஆசிரியர் இனிய, எளிய தமிழிலும், இலக்கிய நயம் சிறக்க அழகான முறையில்
தமிழக அரசின் தொல்பொருள் ஆய்வுத்துறை வரலாற்று அடிப்படையில் கொண்டு
வந்துள்ள முதல் நூல் "மாமல்லை" என்ற இந்த ஆராய்ச்சி நூலாகும். இது
போன்ற பல நூல்கள் வெளிவர வேண்டும் என்பது தமிழக அரசின் பேராவலாகும்.
தமிழ்க பெருமக்கள் இந்நூலுக்குப் பேராதரவு தந்து அதனால் பெரும் பயன்
Dr.Justice S.Maharajan on Tamil Culture at the
World Tamil Conference in Chennai, 1981
"In Mahabalipuram, near Madras stands a
rock-hill carved in the 7th century A.D.. into more than a hundred pieces of sculpture,
which have been described by H. Zimmer as 'the grandest expression of plastic
Indian art, one of the largest, most beautiful and most dramatically striking masterpieces
of all times'. Another Frenchman, Leopold Bazou who was inspired by this description
went to Mahabalipuram to study the sculpture and
was struck with the powerful master-mind that had conceived the whole scene He declared,
'Art has reached here its full mastery' but he was astonished that the artist had nowhere
signed his name to authenticate his work. Bazou exclaimed. 'Names have never meant much in
South India . . . Self depreciation tempered with a deep sense of humour, has ever been a
virtue of the Tamils.'"
South India's Kingdom by the Sea -
International Herald Tribune, 19 February 1999
For many, the great Mogul palaces of North India with their
glittering facades and Arabian Nights minarets represent
Indian architecture at its most vibrant and exotic. But
these treasures — built by India's foreign rulers — are
about as representative of indigenous Indian art as
Calcutta's colonial buildings.
For me, the true seat of India's architectural glory rests
in the southern province of Tamil Nadu. Here, in the fishing
village of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), south of Madras,
you can witness the legacy of more than three-centuries'
worth of early Tamil art. Scattered among the town's rocky
hillocks are magnificent rock-cut temples, fabulously
detailed tableaux and dramatic shore temples representing
some of the finest examples of ancient temple art in India.
Mamallapuram's combination of sun, surf and ancient ruins
has made it one of south India's most popular holiday spots.
The white-sand beaches that curve north of town are lined
with tidy resorts, while in Mamallapuram itself there are
plenty of small guest houses and family-run restaurants to
choose from. It is the kind of place where you can prowl
ancient ruins in the morning, then retire to a sun-warmed
beach in the afternoon; start the day with a lazy breakfast
on a shady verandah, then watch the sunset over fresh
grilled fish and a few cool beers.
Steps from the sea, beyond a breakwater of jagged rock, I
found Mamallapuram's trademark eighth-century shore temples.
Soaring up into the sky against a backdrop of blue sea and
casuarina trees, they occupy what must be the most romantic
temple setting in India. The shore temples are a favorite
among Tamil families who flock to the site on Sundays.
A Magnificent Past
It has been many years since these temples were used for
worship. Even so, groups of women in glittering saris moving
against a backdrop of golden stone and sand breathed life
into these incredible monuments, hinting at their
magnificent past. The main temple, dedicated to Vishnu, was
built so close to the shore that its base was lapped by
seawater. Twelve-hundred years of plate tectonics have
pushed the temples safely onto dry land.
Unfortunately, centuries of salty spray blowing in from
the Bay of Bengal have eroded much of the artwork decorating
the stone facades. The temple's greatest significance is not
in the details of its carvings, however, but in its
pyramid-shaped peak, or vimana.
These were among the first stone temples to be built in
this style. The new temples, with their soaring peaks rising
up out of the sands, set the standard for south Indian
temple building that has endured to this day. It was the
Pallavas, Tamil Nadu's first great imperial power, who
created Mamallapuram's shore temples.
Although their capital was at Kanchipuram — about 65
kilometers west of Madras — it was here, at their seaport on
the southeast coast of India, that they created their most
exquisite works of art. Little is known of the Pallavas.
Some claim they traced their lineage back to the great
Mauryan emperor Asoka; others that they were little more
Whatever the case, they were the first great patrons of
Tamil art. Through the development of music, dance, poetry
and sculpture they helped establish a distinct Tamil
identity. More significantly, they created a style so fresh
and daring it would influence the development of Tamil
temple building for centuries to come.
The best example of Pallava sculpture is found 500 meters
inland. The stunning Penance Panel — more commonly known as
Arjuna's Penance — is a beautifully preserved, open-air
tableau more than 30 meters long. It tells the story of the
descent of the Ganges with a lively cast of characters
including nagas (snake people), dwarfs and a hypocritical
cat. Folk art depictions of life in the seventh century show
woodsmen carrying bows and an exotic collection of animals
from elephants to iguanas.
Images reflecting the everyday life of ordinary villagers
is one of the things that make the rock carvings at
Mamallapuram unique. - Strength of Krishna One of the best
examples of this is the Krishna Mandapa, an elaborate
bas-relief that predates the Penance Panel. In it, Krishna
is seen lifting Mount Govardhana with one hand to protect
local villagers from the wrath of the god Indra. Instead of
consorting with other gods, he is surrounded by ordinary
scenes of village life: a shepherd playing a flute; a mother
nursing her baby; a couple dancing hand in hand; even a cow
playfully licking her calf while being milked by a farmer.
The Penance Panel was created during the reign of King
Narasimha Varman I, who ruled from 640 to 668 and was
responsible for some of Mamallapuram's greatest works of
art. Such was his contribution that he even named the port
after himself. Assuming the title of Mahamalla (great
wrestler) after an important military victory, he named the
Pallava port town Mahamallapuram (Mahamalla town) before
launching a flurry of artistic activity. Some of the
temples, it has been suggested, weren't even built for
worship, but to show off the talents of local artists.
One of Narasimha Varman I's most curious legacies is the
Five Rathas. Set amid sandy dunes on the southern edge of
town, these free-standing temples were carved out of
individual blocks of granite. The temples are decorated with
gorgeous bas-reliefs in typical Dravidian style. In addition
to voluptuous Durgas and noble Shivas, there is also a
seven-foot-high elephant beautifully carved out of solid
rock. Its significance is unclear, but it's likely that the
elephant — whose backside is the same shape as the temple
next to it — is a little joke, compliments of Pallava
architects. Of course, the Pallavas' artistic legacies are
not restricted to Tamil Nadu.
In addition to being artists and temple builders, the
Pallavas were also great seafarers, carrying trade and
Hinduism across Southeast Asia. In Java today you can
still see the scattered remains of Hindu temples dating from
the fifth century. The most stunning, though, are the
magnificent ninth-century temples at Prambanan. With their
soaring vimanas and elaborate carvings, it is certain they
were either built with help of Pallava artisans, or at the
very least, heavily influenced by their work. And they're
not the only ones.
Wander around Mamallapuram's dusty streets today and your
step soon slows to the gentle rhythm of chisel tapping
against stone. Fourteen hundred years after Tamil artists
first began turning lumps of rock into temples for the gods,
sculpture remains a part of everyday life. On every street
corner, young men chip away at mounds of stone producing
Ganeshes, Shivas and Parvatis — this time for the rash of
tourists shops that have sprung up around town.
Tourism is the main industry — some might say only
industry — in Mamallapuram today. Even the local fishermen,
who tend their nets steps from the shore temples, sell most
of their catch to restaurants and resorts. It's the kind of
thing that might have Narasimha Varman I, the great Pallava
ruler, turning in his grave. But it's more likely he'd be
proud to see the fruits of his patronage still revered for
its artistry and beauty after so many years.