Standing on the sea shore of Bay of Bengal in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu district of India is the famous Shore temple; seen from far as two pagoda style towers rising to the sky. Why is it so famous? It’s now merely an archeological site and as per our guide Mr. Ali, the government has removed all idols from the temple, lest people start worshipping them.
Mr. Ali says the Shore temple is famous more for what remains hidden under the sea, buried in sand. As per the legend (and archeological studies), there are six more such temples further out into the sea. The Shore temple is the seventh temple and the only one that is now visible. Mr. Ali claims (whether we chose to believe or not!) that the vimana tips of the buried temples were visible when tsunami (2004) had struck the coast of Mahabalipuram and he got to see them. In the brief instant during which the waves pulled back into the sea, it carried with it the sand also and the buried temple structures were revealed for a brief moment. Soon again the waves rushed back to the shore wrecking havoc and burying the temples in sand and under water. And where was Mr. Ali during the tsunami? He said his family had fled to safety; him and few colleagues were perched on top of the lighthouse a considerable distance away from the waterfront, but still offering bird’s eye view of the beach. The story is a bit far-fetched to believe. He says scuba divers have vouched for the existence of the underwater temples; only problem being they are buried in debris and sand.
It’s fascinating to believe that there were seven such temples set on the sea shore thousands of years ago; it must have been a glorious sight to behold. We now start to see what the Shore temple has to reveal about itself and it’s patrons. We were in Mahabalipuram travelling on road from Pondicherry, more on that in the post 👉 Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram 🚙💨…along the East Coast Road (Photoblog)
Unlike much of the other famous sculptures in Mahabalipuram, which are carved out of often single large rocks, the Shore temple is a masonry structure. Mr. Ali pointed out some of the remnants of the the centuries old cementing material used; the ingredients he said were eggs, honey, shells, lemon and sand. The temple is dedicated to the Gods – Vishnu and Shiva.
We were at Mahabalipuram in Oct 2019 when there was lot of beautification work in progress for the impending Modi-Xi Jinping meet and hence some of the entrances into the temple were closed. Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram (akin to Madras or Chennai) was built under the patronage of the Pallava kings who ruled the land from the 6th to 8th centuries AD and is often referred to as “Place of Seven Pagodas”.
The sculpture of the boar below is symbolising the 3rd avatar of Lord Vishnu. There is a fascinating story behind the sculpture – if you see the photo below, there is some patchwork done on the boar – as per the legend, the Chalukyas who attacked the Pallavas had the “Boar” as their emblem and must have taken offence at seeing a boar sculpture with its heading bowing down and must have hacked it to pieces.
The walls are lined with Nandis or bulls – the Lord Shiva’s mount👆.
In the photo below, the doors leading to the inner room in the temple seem new, but we couldn’t go inside. As per our guide inside is a broken granite Shiva Lingam, we can see it from outside (a faint glow from the lingam is seen in the photo below). A broken lingam is never worshipped.
There is another room in the temple where there is a statue of a reclining Lord Vishnu, but it was closed for repairs.
Then our guide pointed to the statue of lion with a hole for it’s heart and a deer near without a head (from hunting). Lion is the mount of Goddess Durga; the Goddess (a small statue) is seen riding on the right hind leg of the lion👇.
A peep inside the square cut in the heart of the lion, reveals a carving of the Goddess Durga👇.
It was nearing noon and the sun was blazing hot, evenings would be a better time to visit the temple, you will have more patience to walk around exploring all the nooks and crannies. But the crowd is less in the morning which translates to getting a parking space more easily for your vehicle. Hot and sweaty; but elated with the little facts and fables that we discovered about this historic treasure that has survived many tsunamis and still standing.
There are more magical monuments at Mahabalipuram.