Often referred to as an Open air museum, Maahabalipuram dates back to the Tamil Pallava dynasty in the 7th-9th century. The structures here, mostly carved straight out of granite, are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian (South Indian) architecture. Mahabalipuram was named after the great demon Bali, who was defeated by Vishnu in his Dwarf incarnation (Vamana), who claimed all the land he could cover in 3 steps. He covered the earth, the heavens and the 3rd step he left for pushing Bali deep into the ground, never to appear on earth again.
Mamallapuram, the other name by which the town is known is named after the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman I who was known as the great wrestler (Mamalla).
The oldest structure in the area, the Shore Temple, built c. 700 AD, unlike Mahabalipuram’s other monuments, is a building (not carved from rock) The temple has shrines to both Shiva and Vishnu. Interconnected cisterns around the temple meant that the sea could be let in to transform the temple into a water shrine. But, in recent times, a stone wall as been added to protect the shrine from the rising seas and further erosion.
The 5 rathas are monolithic temples fashioned as chariots. Each is apparently a faithful reproduction of a structure built of wood. In fact, even the grain of the timber beams and rafters has been simulated in stone.
Arjuna’s Penance, also known as the Descent of the Ganges is a giant bas-relief filled with detailed carvings, including a family of elephants and monkeys.
The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British in 1827, and the Mahabalipuram group of temples were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.
Now a small and easy going village, Mahabalipuram attracts tourists from nearby Chennai, as well as foreigners who enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of this beachside town. However In January each year, Mahabalipuram hits the annual Indian festival calendar with the fantastic month-long Dance Festival. With a backdrop of the Pallava rock sculptures, the festival, one of the most vivacious festival celebrations in India is a tribute to the legacy of elegant Indian dance forms