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Location : 58-km From Chennai
Also Known As : Mamallapuram
Carved In : 7th And 8th Centuries

Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram, Tamil NaduMahabalipuram lies 58-km south of Chennai, which has a group monuments, founded by the Pallava kings, carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram was previously known as Mammallapuram. The Pallavas, Patrons of Tamil culture made it as their second capital. There is no site of monuments like Mahabalipuram in the whole of India, which has everything that makes a site memorable; tradition, history, piety, western annals and current importance of tourism.

Mahabalipuram art is divided into four categories: open air bas reliefs, structured temples, man-made caves and Rathas ('chariots' carved from single boulders, to resemble temples or chariots used in temple processions). The whole complex consists of 10 cave temples (man-made), 9 monolithic chariots-all in the name of 5 Pandavas, 4 Bas - relief sculpture panels on the rock walls, and the Shore Temple.

The Mahishashuramardini Cave
There are 10 cave temples; out of the all the most beautiful is the Mahishashuramardini cave (mid-7th century). The Mahisasurmardini Cave has fine bas-reliefs on its panels of enduring beauty. On one side of which is Lord Vishnu in a sleeping posture and on the other side of which shows the Goddess Durga killing a demon.

The Somaskand a sculpture radiates peace, power, and wisdom while Lord Vishnu is shown in omniscient repose in a masterpiece of 'Dhwani' (the art of suggestion). On the opposite side is a huge theatrical panel showing Goddess Durga's fight with the demon Mahishasura, an episode culled from the celebrated Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya.

The Tiger Cave
The Tiger cave is located 5-km towards north of the main monument, which was once used, as the venue for cultural shows and performances exclusively for the royal family.

The Varaha Cave
The Varaha cave portrays the two Avatars (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, as 'Varaha' and 'Vamana'. Particularly noteworthy here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers, a mood of contemplative reverie, a lyrical softness and subtle grace totally at variance with the primordial machismo their role as guards of the gods imposes on them. The Dharmaraja cave, built in the early 7th century, contains three empty shrines.


Shore Temple is one of the oldest in South India, which stands on the seashore with its paved forecourts. Arjuna's penance, which is the world's largest bas-relief, is another wonder. It is 27m long and 8m high massive rock panel titled after Arjuna, the hero of the Indian epic 'Mahabharata'.

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram, Tamil NaduThe monolithic sculptures of the six Rathas or chariots for the Pandava brothers and their queen Draupadi, a Ganesh Ratha, an Old Lighthouse, and the Kodaikal Mandapam, offer tourists a delightful experience with the relentless sound of chiselling by the artisans and the roaring waves to be heard in the backdrop.

One can also find a brilliant composition in stone, the 'Descent of the Ganga', which is another interpretation of the bas-relief. Myriad ornamental figures of celestial beings are shown adorning the divine spectacle. Among the other exclusive frescoes are recreations of the Panchatantra tales.

The 'Mandapams' (porticos) are grand specimens of art. Scooped out of solid rock from a hillside, each mandapam depicts exclusive carvings rich in detail. A serene pastoral scene at the Krishna Mandapam shows Lord Krishna lifting the 'Govardhan' Mountain, to protect his kinsfolk from the wrath of the Rain God Indra.


Air: Chennai is the nearest airport, handling domestic and international flights.
Rail: Mahabalipuram is easily accessible by rail and the nearest railway station is located at Chengalpattu.
Road: Mahabalipuram being an important tourist spot of Tamil Nadu is well connected by road with all major cities and towns of the state. Private tourist taxis and state-run buses ply frequently to this place.


There are many hotels available in the area to suit all budget ranges such as the state-run Tamil Nadu Beach Resort Complex.

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