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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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HomeTamils - a Trans State Nation > Culture & the Tamil Contribution to World Civilisation > Dravidian Temple Architecture  > Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) Shore Temple

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Last updated
27/06/07

UNESCO World Heritage Listing
Professor  T.V.Mahalingam, 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, 1980
மாமல்லை - டாக்டர். இரா. நாகசாமி
Dr.Justice S.Maharajan on Tamil Culture at the 5th World Tamil Conference in Chennai, 1981
South 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 2002 and recorded evidence of ruins off Mahabalipuram. "
Under Water 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, April 2005

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram
DRAVIDIAN
TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
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 Britannica)


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.

Justification

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 Descent of 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 witness.

- 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 Siva.

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, Annam, Java).

- 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.


Professor  T.V.Mahalingam, 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.

The 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, 1980

"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 crumbled.

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 towers.


Varaha

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."
 



  Dr.R.Nagasamy in Mahabalipuram on the Web [see also Listing of Other Books by Dr.R.Nagasamy]

மூவிலை நெடுவேல் ஆதி வானவன்
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
ஆசிரிய மாலை


அணிந்துரை (திரு. இரா. நெடுஞ்செழியன்...
அணிந்துரை (திரு. மு. கருணாநிதி....
அணிந்துரை (திரு. சா. கணேசன்)....
ஆசிரியர் முகவுரை....
நகரம்....
சங்க காலத்தில்...
பல்லவர் காலத்தில்....
சோழர் காலத்தில்....
பாண்டியர் காலத்தில்....
சம்புவராயர் காலத்தில்...
விஜயநகர் காலத்தில்....
பிற்காலத்தில்....
அவந்தி சுந்தரி கதையில்....
ஆழ்வார் பாசுரங்களில்....
நந்திக் கலம்பகத்தில்....
பிற இலக்கியங்களில்....
தோற்றுவித்தவர் யார்?....
மாமல்லனே!....
பரமேச்சுரனே!
இராஜசிம்மனே...
கற்பனையே!....
.
குடைவரைக் கோயில்கள்....
குன்றன்ன கோயில்கள்....
பாறைச் சிற்பங்கள்....
கட்டடக் கோயில்கள்....
சாளுவன்குப்பம்....
கலை வரலாறு....
உருவ அமைதி....
மேலை நாட்டார்

 குறிப்புகள்....

காசுகள்....

Shore Temple

Varaha Cave Temple
Arjuna's Penance -  Bas Relief
Mamallapuram  in Monuments of India - Pancha Rathas
Arjuna's Penance
Krishna Mandapa
Manas on Mahabalipuram

 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 கிடக்கின்றன.

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 முயற்சியின் விளைவுதான் "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 பாராட்டுவதற்குரியதாகும்.

ஆசிரியர் இனிய, எளிய தமிழிலும், இலக்கிய நயம் சிறக்க அழகான முறையில் எழுதியுள்ளார்.

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 பெறுவார்களாக.


Dr.Justice S.Maharajan on Tamil Culture at the 5th 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 - Katherine Tanko
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 than plunderers.

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.

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