Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is a town on a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is a collection of 7th- and 8th-century CE religious monuments in the coastal resort town of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The site has 40 ancient monuments and Hindu temples.
The entirety of Mahabalipuram can easily be covered in a day. I managed to book a tour via trawell.in for 3.5K INR for pickup and drop in chennai along with sightseeing spots at mahabalipuram. As such this can be done at a much lower price if you manage to reach mahabalipuram using some form of public transport and then rent an auto for the day for 1.5k INR; but I was in a hurry and did not have the time for research.
The following are the sites which I covered in sequence.
1. Shore temple & Beach
The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. Amazing architecture, well maintained with a beautiful garden entrance and with a minor entrance fee of 30INR at the time of my visit. The beach is right next to it but not maintained well at all; its not impressive either , so skip it. Lot of local stalls selling handicrafts, watches etc line the entrance to the beach. A couple of stalls serve food items as well. Spend about 45 minutes here overall
2. Raya Gopuram
Few hundred meters from the shore temple is the Raya Gopuram; Stone remains of an ancient, unfinished temple entrance with ornate carvings & sculptures. Spend only 5 minutes here
3. Varaha Cave
Located right next to the raya Gopuram downhill is the varaha cave which is a is a rock-cut cave temple. The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea. Also carved are many mythical figures. Spend 5 minutes here.
4. Krishna Butter Ball/Trimurthy temple
30 seconds downhill from the varaha cave is Krishna’s Butterball (also known as Vaan Irai Kal and Krishna’s Gigantic Butterball) ; a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline in the historical town of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India.The boulder is approximately 6 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighs around 250 tons.It stands on an approximately 1.2-meter (4 ft) base on a slope, and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years.
Attempts have been made for a long time to move the ball but with no success thus making the ball “legendary”. A visit to trimurthy temple which is next to the butter ball is good. Trimurthy temple is another fine example of indian rock cut temple architecture. Spend 20 minutes here overall.
5. Ganesh Ratha
Located 30 seconds uphill from Krishna’s butter ball is the Ganesh ratha.It is one of ten rathas (“chariots”) carved out of pink granite within the group of monuments of the Pallava Period at Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site since 1984. Spend 5 minutes here
6. Arjuna’s penance/Descent of the Ganges
Located on the same road as the entrance to Krishna’s butter ball a minute away and measuring 96 by 43 feet (29 m × 13 m), it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site.
7. Mahabalipuram Light house & Mahishamardini Temple
Located 5 minutes drive away atop a small hillock is the Mahishamardini Temple.
Mahishasuramardhini Temple is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century, of the Pallava dynasty. It is a rock-cut cave temple located on a hill, near a lighthouse, along with other caves in Mamallapuram. Atop the hillock is also India’s oldest lighthouse built in 640 A.D. The new lighthouse lighthouse with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone became fully functional in 1904. I decided not to go up the lighthouse since it was quite crowded as is. Spend about 25 minutes here.
8. India Sea Shell Museum & aquarium
A relatively newer entry to the list of “sightseeing” spots but an awesome one for sure, this is Asia’s largest sea shell museum housing a breathtaking array of sea shells on display. It was actually a visual overload to visit this place since I had never seen anything quite like this. There was a entry fee of 130 INR at the time of my visit but it is totally worth it. In addition to the Sea shell museum, there is small aquarium as well; not too big but houses at least 50 species of marine life. Mayabazaar offers consumers a range of products to purchase from including handicrafts, sea shells, bags etc.
9. Pancha Ratas
Pancha Rathas (also known as Five Rathas or Pandava Rathas) is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture and dates back to late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith, of granite. The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame.In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha.
There is a small entry fee of about 30INR at the time of my visit and is located 5 minutes away from the sea shell museum. The architecture is marvelous and structures are well maintained. Spend about 15 minutes here
Overall Mahabalipuram offers an amazing experience of old indian architecture. Totally worth a visit.