Mahabalipuram: Getting a makeover for the VIP visit…and the Chinese connection

Mahabalipuram, 55 km from Chennai, situated on the east coast of the Indian peninsula, along the shores of the Bay of Bengal; this little town is seeing an unaccustomed flurry of people – security personnel, media, landscape workers. The residents are used to the tourists, both local and foreign – it’s a weekend getaway for the Chennaites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with beautiful temple ruins and rock sculpture.

A crane clearing away makeshift shelter of some sort in Mahabalipuram
A crane clearing away makeshift shelter of some sort in Mahabalipuram

This coastal town is now in the limelight as it is the chosen venue for the meeting between PM Modi and President Xi Jinping during the second week of October 2019. And preparations are underway in full swing for this power meeting. The roads have a fresh coat of tarmac and paint. The workers are clearing and sweeping the debris and foliage from the roadsides. The weather is not kind though, it is scorching hot outside☀️. The workers toil on working against a tight deadline.

The NH on the way to Mahabalipuram sporting a fresh coat of paint
The NH on the way to Mahabalipuram sporting a fresh coat of paint
The workers cleaning along the NH to Mahabalipuram
The workers cleaning along the NH to Mahabalipuram

The first question that arises is why is Mahabalipuram chosen as the meeting place? Built by the Pallava dynasty in 6th century AD, Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram (akin to Madras or Chennai) was also called “Place of Seven Pagodas”. One reason could be the pagoda style temple structure here that is similar to the Buddhist temples. 

The Shore Temple - a heritage site at Mahabalipuram
The Shore Temple – a heritage site at Mahabalipuram

Another reason could be that Mahabalipuram is unique in having a display of the four sculpture forms – Cave Temples, Carved Monoliths, Sculptured Scenes and Masonry Temples.

Buddha flanked by elephants is a new addition at Mahabalipuram
Buddha flanked by elephants is a new addition at Mahabalipuram

Buddha statues are very recent additions, to mark impending the historic meeting, probably would disappear after the meeting as there is no connection of Buddha to Mahabalipuram (apparently I was wrong, please refer the post scriptum).

Landscape work in progress at the archaeological sites in Mahabalipuram
Landscape work in progress at the archaeological sites in Mahabalipuram

Second question is what am I doing in Mahabalipuram? It’s Puja holidays for schools in Bangalore and about time we got out of the crowded city and standstill traffic. So we are off on another road trip and Mahabalipuram is a stop.

The VIP visit has put lot of restrictions on the residents of the city. It’s the daily wage workers who are suffering the most. As the D-day approaches the security and restrictions are bound to tighten.

But we managed a glimpse of this historic town, more later.

Till next post, take care !!

P.S. Apparently I was wrong about the Chinese connection, as per the report in The Hindu BL dated 5 Oct 2019 “Historians said that the ancient port town of Mamallapuram was used effectively by the Pallavas to trade with China. More importantly, Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who was an icon in China, was the third prince of a Pallava king who travelled to China in 527 AD. He went on to become the 28th patriarch of Buddhism succeeding Prajnatara.

However the Buddha statues seen scattered at strategic places are new, they may remain for the ensuing tourists as the media coverage is bound to create interest and attract tourists to Mamallapuram.

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