Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (UNESCO/NHK)

Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (UNESCO/NHK)


This group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries in what is present-day India. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai

Monuments at Mahabalipuram

The Pallavas bridged the transition from rock-cut architecture to structural stone temples. Mahendra Varman I gloried in the construction of temple without the use of bricks, timber, metal or mortar. He built a number of rock-cut mandapas. They were simple pillared halls. The main feature of the front facade is a row of pillars each 7 feet high, the shaft being square in section with a 2 foot side above and below and the corners chamfered in the middle third to give an octagonal section. A heavy bracket provides the capital. In the earliest examples at Mandagappatu and Trichinopoly, there is no cornice above the pillars , but later roll moulding was added as at Pallavaram.

Mahendra I also built a rock-cut temple of Anantasayana at Undavalli (Guntur distrit) and the series at Bhairavakonda (North Arcot District) towards the end of his reign. In these temples at Undavalli, Mahendra attempted to copy a Buddhist vihara. It consists of four storeys of pillared mandapas set one above the other and rising to a height of 50 feet. His successor Narsimha Varman I (Mahamalla) built the rock-cut mandapas at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram).

Narsimha Varman also built monolithic rathas popularly called the seven pagodas.

Group of monuments at Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is known for its world heritage site complex of Group of monuments of the Pallava Period. Most of the monuments at Mahabalipuram are rock cut and monolithic. They denote the early Dravidian architecture and have inculcated in themselves the Buddhist elements of architecture.

The monuments at Mahabalipuram include the following:


This is first and foremost of Mahabalipuram sculptures. It is one of the 108 Divya desam. This temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, was built by Pallavas to safeguard the sculptures from the ocean. It is told that after building this temple, the remaining architecture was preserved and was not corroded by sea. It’s not a rock cut temple but was built as free standing temple.

Descent of the Ganges or Bhagiratha’s Penance

This is a giant open-air bas relief. It depicts Bhagiratha bringing down the Ganges to earth. It is world’s largest open air bass relief.

Varaha Cave Temple

Varaha Cave Temple or the Adivaraha Cave Temple is a rock-cut cave temple located at Mahabalipuram. This rock cut temple dates back to 7th century and is considrered to be one of the finest testimonial to the ancient Vishwakarma Sthapathis. 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.

Shore Temple

Shore Temple is granite made temple at Mahabalipuram built during the reign of Narsimhavarman. This group of temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is oldest strucutral temple (in contrast with rock cut temples) in India. Its a beautiful 5 storyed temple, which is a combined complex of 3 shrines 2 dedicated to Shiva and one to Vishnu.

Importance of Shore Temple

The Shore Temple marks the culmination of the architectural efforts that began with the cave temples and monolithic rathas. Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) – five monolithic pyramidal structures named after the Pandavas (Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva) and Draupadi. An interesting aspect of the rathas is that, despite their sizes they are not assembled – each of these is carved from one single large piece of stone. The close examination of the rathas at Mahabalipuram reveals that there used to be a school for young sculptors. For example, each of the different Rathas has been carved in a different style.

Mahabalipuram is a temple town situated along the shores of the Bay of Bengal about 60 kms from the south Indian city of Chennai. There are several famous temples at Mahabalipuram Shore Temple and 'Ratha' Cave Temples are the most famous amongst them.

Shore Temple

The Shore Temples at Mahabalipuram, a coastal village 50 km south of Madras, was built in the 7 th century, during the reign of Rajasimha, and they depict the final flowering of Pallava art. These temples are refreshingly uncluttered, unlike later grandiose Dravidian architecture and tower over the waves behind a protective breakwater. The temple with its beautiful polygonal dome enshrines Lord Vishnu and Shiva. These beautiful temples, ravaged by wind and sea have been declared world heritage by UNESCO .

'Ratha' Cave Temple

The magnificent 'Ratha' cave temples of Mahabalipuram was built by the Pallava king Narsimha in the 7 th and 8 th centuries. The beauty of the rock-cut sculpture of the temple is reflective of the artistic tastes of the erstwhile Pallava rulers. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

There are eight rathas at Mahabalipuram, out of which five are named after the 'Pandavas' (five brothers) of Mahabharata and one after Draupadi. The five rathas that can be seen are Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha and Nakul Sahadev Ratha. They are constructed on the style of the Buddhist viharas and chaityas. The unfinished three-storey Dharmaraja ratha is the largest. The Draupadi ratha is the smallest, it is one-storeyed and has an interesting thatch-like roof. The Arjuna and Draupadi rathas are dedicated to Shiva and Durga respectively.

Ooty Toy Train

If you are planning to visit Ooty this summer, the Queen of Hill Stations located in the South Indian state Tamil Nadu, don’t afford to miss a wonderful journey from Mettupalayam to Coonoor in the Ooty Toy Train. The exquisite journey will take you through the lush green regions of the Western Ghats. The journey for few hours in this monumental icon of South India will take you out of this world. Ooty Toy Train is functioning from 1908 and the distance covered is 46kms through the scenic locations of the Queen of Hill stations. The panoramic view of the hills around is so enthralling and it is for sure, your vacation will be complete with the awesome experiences traveling in Toy Train .

Ooty Toy Train has first class and second class compartments and the travellers can sit comfortable to enjoy the scenic locations all around.

The Magnificent Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram, a small town in the Tamil Nadu state, draws a staggering number of tourists from all over the country. The quaint place is home to a group of monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. These include temples, cave sanctuaries and much more. Some of these incredible structures are carved out of a single rock. The historical and cultural significance of these structures have put these on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, tempting hordes of history buffs to book cheap flight tickets and fly over.

Evidence suggests that Mahabalipuram was an important place even before the monuments were built. It was among the two major ports in the region. The seven iconic structures here also earned it the moniker, ‘land of the Seven Pagodas.’ Keep reading to know more about the intriguing monuments of Mahabalipuram.

Five Rathas

The Five Rathas are perhaps the most famous monuments in Mahabalipuram. The free-standing monolithic temples resemble processional chariots hence, the name ‘rathas.’ These temples are named after the five Pandavas and their wife, from the Hindu epic, Mahabharatha.

Arjuna’s Penance

Another famous monument at Mahabalipuram is Arjuna’s Penance. It is a 43 feet tall, giant monolith carved on the face of two adjoining boulders, stretching for a combined length of about 96 feet. The boulders are completely covered in intricate carvings of deities, birds, animals and saints. The bas relief is believed to illustrate an extract from Mahabharatha called Arjuna’s Penance, where Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas, performs rigorous penance to obtain Lord Shiva’s weapon. It is truly a sight to behold.

Shore Temple

Believed to be one of the oldest temples in South India, Shore Temple overlooks the Bay of Bengal. It is also one of the first temples to be built as per the Dravidian style of architecture. It has two shrines, one dedicated to Lord Shiva and to Lord Vishnu, with one facing east, and other, west.

Mahishamardini Cave

Mahishamardini Cave is a brilliant rock-cut temple dedicated to Goddess Durga. The cave walls are carved to depict the battle between the goddess and the demon king, Mahishasura. The walls also feature an idol of Lord Shiva meditating on Kailash Parbat.

Panchapandava Mandapa

The largest cave temple in Mahabalipuram, Panchapandava Mandapa is one of the finest examples of rock-cut cave architecture of ancient India. Like most of the other monuments in Mahabalipuram, the Panchapandava Mandapa is also adorned with gorgeous carvings.

Trimurthi Cave

Perched near the northern hills of Mahabalipuram, Trimurthi Cave depicts the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. It is unlike most of the temples built during the Pallava dynasty as it does not possess a pillared Mandap but opens directly to the three shrines. Besides, a smaller shrine dedicated to Goddess Durga is also present within the cave temple.

Varaha Cave

Right behind Arjuna’s Penance is Varaha Cave, carved out of a huge granite rock. The temple must have taken sculptors several decades to complete. The two pillars in front of the temple have images of lions on them. You can also see carvings of two dwarpalas guarding the inner sanctum of the temple.

If you are a history or culture enthusiast, Mahabalipuram is not a place you should miss to visit. Book cheap flight tickets and hotel rooms on HappyEasyGo and fly over to immerse in the historic charm of this place.

[pib] Declaration of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : World heritage sites in India

Mains level : Not Much

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has provided some useful information about the World Heritage Sites By UNESCO in India.

We regret for the distorted view of this newscard on the app. Pls refer to the webpage link.

World Heritage Sites in India

  • At present, India has 38 World Heritage Properties. All the sites under the Ministry are conserved as per ASI’s Conservation Policy and are in good shape.
  • ‘Dholavira: A Harappan City’ has been submitted for the nomination of World Heritage Site in 2019-2020.
  • Nomination dossiers of ‘Santiniketan, India’ and ‘Sacred Ensemble of Hoysalas’ have been submitted to UNESCO for the year 2021-22 cycle.



Under Protection of Archaeological Survey of India (22)

Under Protection of Ministry of Railways (2)

23. Mountain Railways of India Darjeeling,(1999), Nilgiri (2005), Kalka-Shimla (2008) West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh
24. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004) Maharashtra

Under Protection of Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (1)

25 Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, (2002) Bihar

Under Protection of Rajasthan State Archaeology and Museums (1)

26. The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010) Rajasthan

Under Protection of Chandigarh Administration (1)

27. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (2016) Chandigarh

Under Protection of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (1)

28. Historic City of Ahmedabad (2017) Gujarat

Under Protection of Bombay Municipal Corporation (1)

29. Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai (2018) Govt of Maharashtra

Under Protection of Jaipur Municipal Corporation (1)

30. Jaipur City, Rajasthan (2019) Govt of Rajasthan


Under Protection of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changes

31. Kaziranga National Park (1985) Assam
32. Keoladeo National Park (1985) Rajasthan
33. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (1985) Assam
34. Sunderbans National Park (1987) West Bengal
35. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988, 2005) Uttarakhand
36. Western Ghats (2012) Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra,Tamil Nadu
37 Great Himalayan National Park (2014) Himachal Pradesh


Under Protection of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changes

Pallava construction

Mamallapuram became prominent during the Pallava-era reign of Simhavishnu during the late 6th century, a period of political competition with the Pandyas, the Cheras and the Cholas and spiritual ferment with the rise of 6th- to 8th-century Bhakti movement poet-scholars: the Vaishnava Alvars and the Shaiva Nayanars. Mamallapuram’s architecture is linked to Simhavishnu’s son, Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE), who was a patron of the arts. Mahendravarman’s son, Narsimha Varman I, built on his father’s efforts and most scholars attribute many of the monuments to him. After a brief hiatus, temple and monument construction continued during the reign of Rajasimha (or Narasimhavarman II 690-728).

Mid-20th-century archaeologist A. H. Longhurst described Pallava architecture, including those found at Mahabalipuram, into four chronological styles: Mahendra (610-640), Mamalla (640-670, under Narsimha Varman I), Rajasimha (674-800) and Nandivarman (800-900). K. R. Srinivasan described it as reflecting three styles and stages of construction, calling the third period the Paramesvara style.

This chronology has been the subject of scholarly disagreement. Some scholars, such as Marilyn Hirsh in 1987, have said that the earliest temples are traceable to about 600 (under the poet-king Mahendravarman I). Other, such as Nagaswamy in 1962, have said that King Rajasimha (690-728) was the probable patron of many monuments many temple inscriptions contain one of his names and his distinctive Grantha and ornate Nāgarī scripts.

Evidence dating some of the Mamallapuram monuments to the early 7th century includes the Mandagapattu inscription (Laksitayana inscription) of Mahendravarman I. The inscription reads that he “brought into existence a temple without utilizing either timber or lime (mortar) or brick or metal”, and the temple was dedicated to “Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva”.

This was the first Pallava rock-built Hindu temple, and Mahendravarman I and his descendants probably constructed others. According to Mate and other scholars, the inscription implies that the Tamil people had a temple-construction tradition based on the mentioned materials which predated the 6th century.

The Mandagapattu inscription is not isolated, and additional Mahendravarman I inscriptions relating to cave temples have been discovered across his kingdom. Further evidence is in the form of cave temples (such as the Undavalli Caves) which predate the Mamallapuram cave temples, suggesting that Indian artisans began exploring cave architecture before the Pallava period. The monuments at Mamallapuram are generally dated by scholars to the 7th and 8th centuries

Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (UNESCO/NHK) - History

This group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.


Fifty six kilometre south of Chennai stands Mahabalipuram (traditionally known as Mamallapuram) the ancient seaport of the Pallava kingdom (7th - 8th centuries)

Mahabalipuram,which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 is a complex of rock cut temples, monolithic structures, rathas (chariot temples), mandapas (caves) and numerous Siva sculptures.

Cave temples

The Cave Temples were built before the reign of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I and are a complex of various temples that denote the oldest forms of Pallava architecture.

These consist of the Adi Paraha Perumal Cave Temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu), the Trimurti Cave Temple (dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva), the Krishna Caves, Mahishasuramardini Cave (dedicated to Goddess Durga) and the Yali or Tiger Caves (Narasimhavarman II or Rajasimha - The Royal Seat).

Pancha Ratha

The Pancha Rathas or the five chariots is essentially an architectural eclogue to the five Pandavas and their wife Draupadi from the Mahabharata. Each ratha (Draupadi ratha, Arjuna ratha, Bhim ratha, Dharmaraja ratha, Nakul-Sahadev ratha) structurally signifies the traits of each of the Pandavas which makes them different from one another. Carved from a single slab of rock, the walls of these rathas are adorned with bas reliefs and murals such as elephants and Nandi the bull.

Descent of the Ganges/Arjuna’s Penance

The Descent of the Ganges also known as Arjuna’s penance is the second largest ancient monolithic structure in Asia. The inscription depicts the mythical story of Arjuna from the Mahabharata and scenes from everyday South Indian life.

The centre represents the nagas (snakes) descending from a once water-filled cleft, representing the Ganges. The left has Arjuna performing self-mortification (standing on one leg), in order to procure Pasupatastra, the most powerful weapon from Lord Siva.

Shore Temple

The two towered Shore Temple at the very coast of Coromandel is one of the most significant representations of Pallava architecture. It consists of the seven pagodas that were built between 700 and 728 CE during the reign of Narasimhavarman II and is dedicated to Lord Siva. The entrance of the temple is marked by gopurams and the shikhara or the roof of the temple resembles a pyramidal structure, which is one of a kind. A complex of seven temples, there are a few along with other civil structures that presently lie under the sea.

Olakkanneshvara Temple

The Olakkanneshvara Temple or the Olakkanatha Temple is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva located on the top of a hill.

Mahabalipuram stands today as one of the most elaborate temple complexes in India from the ancient period. It not only represents a unique and magnificent style of architecture but is rendition of a significant stage in human history that is testimony to an ancient civilisation filled with architectural technology, monumental art and town planning.

Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

The monuments at Mahabalipuram are located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal in Kanchipuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. There are about 40 sanctuaries, including the world's largest open-air rocky shelter. These monuments include - Dharmaraja Rath, Arjuna Rath, Bhima Rath, Draupadi Rath, Nakula Sahadeva Rathas Five Rathas and Ganesh Rath. The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram was declared a World Heritage Site in the year 1984.


Mahabalipuram was a seaport at the time of Peripals (first century AD) and Ptolemy (140 AD). The city of Mamallapuram was found 2000 years ago. It was a very big port and it gave the address of India to many merchants. It was the second capital of the great Pallava ruler Narasimha Varman - I (630&ndash68 AD). Mahabalipuram has several temples - Krishna Cave Temple, Mahishasuramardhini Mandapa, Araha Cave Temple, Pancha Pandava Cave Temple, and Structural Temples are Coastal Temple and Olakkanneshwar Temple. The Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture looks after the conservation of this site. The Ministry of Tourism is also running a project named 'Integrate Development of Mamallapuram' for its protection.

Shore Temple

The Shore Temple of the coastal village Mahabalipuram, 50 km from Madras, was constructed during the rule of Rajasimha in the 7th century. This temple with beautiful polygonal domes has idols of Lord Vishnu and Shiva belongs to the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest rock-cut temples of South India.

Rath Cave Temple

The unique chariot cave temples of Mahabalipuram were constructed during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimha in the 7th and 8th centuries. These temples, cut by stones, reflect the grand architecture of the Pallava rulers. This temple is built to depict the glory of Shiva along with its chariots (temples in the form of chariots), Mandapa (cave sanctuaries), and giant open-air shelters such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges'. Known for thousands of sculptures.

Mahabalipuram has 8 chariots out of which 5 are named after the Pandavas (five brothers) of Mahabharata and one is Draupadi. Bhima Rath, Dharmaraja Rath, Arjuna Rath, Nakula Sahadeva Rath, and Draupadi Rath can be seen here. The style of construction of these temples was based on Buddhist viharas and Chaitya style. The incomplete three-story Dharmaraja Rath is the largest. Draupadi's chariot is the smallest. It is on one floor and its roof resembles the thatched roof. Arjun&rsquos chariot is dedicated to Lord Shiva while Draupadi's chariot is to Goddess Durga.

Olakkaneshwar Temple

Olakkananeswar Temple ('Burning Eyes', commonly called Olakkannath, also known as 'Old Lighthouse'), is located at Mahabalipuram in Kanchipuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. It is a structural temple similar to the coastal temple. It was constructed during the 8th century. It is built on a rock just above the Mahishasuramardhini Mandapa from where the entire city can be seen. It is dedicated to an avatar of Lord Shiva. The temple belongs to the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. This temple is sometimes called 'Mahishasura Temple'.

How to reach Group of Monuments

The nearest railway station is the Chengalpattu Railway Station which is located at a distance of 29 km from the city and one can hire a taxi to reach temples. While the nearest airport is situated in Chennai at a distance of 58 km. The city has well-connected and well-maintained roads where one can drive.

Best time to visit Group of Monuments

Mahabalipuram is a coastal town that experiences a tropical climate throughout the year. The winter season is the best time to visit here when the climatic conditions remain pleasant. The monsoon season experiences heavy rainfall sometimes due to which the sightseeing tour becomes difficult. The early mornings and evenings are a good time to visit the temple as the cool breeze blows which is an escape from the scorching heat of the day time.

Places to visit near Group of Monuments

Mahabalipuram boasts of famous temples and architectural marvels. This city has a plethora of famous tourist attractions and the places to visit near the Group of Monuments are Arjun&rsquos Penance, Mahabalipuram Beach, India Seashell Museum, Alamparai Fort, Sadras, Pancha Rathas, etc.

Mahabalipuram Group of Monuments, Tamil Nadu

Mahabalipuram Group of Monuments and Group Temples is a location in the southernmost fringes of the Indian peninsula, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is situated at the tip of state of Tamil Nadu on the Coramandel Coast where the Indian peninsula opens up into the Bay of Bengal. Mahabalipuram is renowned for its largest open rock reliefs and is home to a structural system of 40 temples and monuments and relics which are collectively declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram which translates to City of Great Wrestler. It is also referred by a few other names in Puranic texts which all when translated equate roughly on the same lines as above which could be a reference to the great 7th century royalty Narsimha under whose patronage the rock reliefs were executed here. The other name for this place

Mahabalipuram is also a subtle reference to show of strength when translated, although it literally means city of Mahabali who was a mighty demon king who was ultimately slayed by a dwarf avatar of Vishnu. However going by historical records and texts documented by travellers in their recounts, this place was a hub of trade and commerce attracting many foreign merchants and traders and hence the word mallal is derived from the Tamil word of the same name meaning prosperity.

Although there is no definitive evidence regarding the origin of these monumental structures, however they find mention in the traveller&rsquos records of accounts of their travels. And since this place had a reputation of being a trade hub, a lot of travellers and sailors are said to have confirmed the presence of structures similar to 7 Pagoda that became famous by the same name in Marco Polo's travel accounts.

Although these records are disputed by historians, but the structures or monuments haven&rsquot deteriorated over the period of time and they still stand resolute even today. They are a fusion of expression through the medium of rock cut art and sculpture and have many references to religion and life dominated by the Hindu pantheon and they can broadly be classified as Chariot shaped temples, cave temples, rock reliefs, structural temples and excavations.

Watch the video: Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram UNESCONHK (November 2021).