Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mahabalipuram

A trip to Mahabalipuram was due for sometime. I had visited this place sometime in 2001 or 2002 along with friends Nitin and Anand.



Mahabalipuram is about 60 KMs south of Chennai. One can easily drive here from Bangalore (about 360 KMs). 

I decided to go by train.

Overnight train reached Chennai early morning. From Chennai plenty of buses are available. They can be taken either from CMBT (Koyembedu) or from Adyar or Thiruvanmiyur.

If someone gets alight at Chennai Central Railway station, its better to take the bus from Adyar or 
Thiruvanmiyur as its on way to Mahabalipuram.

MTC bus 588 goes from Adyar and Thiruvanmiyur to Mahabalipuram. 568C goes from Koyembedu to Mahabalipuram.

It was pleasent morning as we alighted at Chennai central. Even at that time there was good rush. From pre-paid auto stand, we took an auto to Thiruvanmiyur.

Buses were there on roadside. We took an SETC bus to Pondicherry, which is 100 KMs further south from Mahabalipuram.

One needs to be little careful here. The buses going further south may take highway, so need to get down at Mahabalipuram cross. This is just 1 Kms or so from city center.

It was a beautiful morning. many people were jogging or playing at beach. The road goes parallel to 
shore.

By around 7 AM, we were at Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram or simply Mahabs is a town in Kancheepuram district. It is a pretty small place and most of the attractions can be covered by walk. 

Mahabs is an ancient historic town. It was a seaport during the time of ancient Roman Empire. Ancient Indian traders who went to Rome and South East Asia sailed from the seaport of Mahabalipuram. The dynasty of Pallavas were ruling here from Kanchipuram. They contributed with beautiful carvings, caves and temples here. 

Art historian Percy Brown traces the possible roots of the Pallava architecture to the similar rock-cut caves of Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. Referring to Narasimhavarman's victory in AD 642 over the Chalukyan king Pulakesin II, Brown says the Pallava king may have brought the sculptors and artisans back to Kanchi and Mamallapuram.

It is believed that Mahabalipuram served as a school for young sculptors. The different sculptures, some half finished, may have been examples of different styles of architecture, probably demonstrated by instructors and practiced on by students.

Ancient Tamil texts describe this place as Sea Mountain ‘where the ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking laden as they were with wealth, big trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps’. 

Ancient western mariners knew this place as "Seven Pagodas" referring to the Seven Shore temples of Mahabalipuram. Out of this only one temple survives today. Rest six are said to be taken over by Sea.

The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many hotels and resorts at Mahabalipuram. In general they are a bit costly. With some research, I got a room at Hotel Mahabs. It is conveneintly located at the center of town.

Quickly we got ready and rushed to take the much needed breakfast.

After breakfast, I understood the location of different monuments from hotel and then took the road towards the major attraction, the "Arjuna's Penance". This is also sometimes called as "Bhagiratha's Penance".

"Arjuna's Penance" or "Bhagiratha's Penance" is largest open air bas-releif of the world. It is carved  out of two adjacent rocks. The natural cleft, a very large perpendicular fissure, is skilfully sculptured in between the two boulders. A water tank was once located at the top of the rock to release water denoting the Ganges River. It cascaded over the relief to give the impression of the Ganga descending from the matts of Shiva.

The dimensions are of this bas relief is 96 by 43 feet (29 m × 13 m). Seeing carefully one can see both Arjuna and Bhagirataha doing penance on the left side of boulder. The legend depicted in the bas-relief  is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha.


Another legend is of penance of Arjuna to get the "Pashupat Astra" from Shiva for Mahabharat war. The nagas carved in the cleft represent fecundity and wealth. Shiva and other gods are shown blessing the saint. The scene is further accentuated with carvings of kings, sages, artists and animals.


One more interpretation of the myth seen in another part of the panel is that of a cat standing on one leg. It is interpreted as relating to the Panchatantra story of an ascetic. It denotes the cat luring a bird.
Depiction of Arjun with beard and visible ribs is at upper side of left boulder, while that of  Bhagiratha is at lower portion.

The left boulder is still incomplete.


The temples of Mamallapuram were built largely during the reigns of Narasimhavarman and his successor Rajasimhavarman. The city of Mahabalipuram was largely developed by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I in the 7th century AD.


Next to this is the inclining "Balancing Rock", more famous as "Krishna's Butter Ball". This huge boulder has kept its balance, even on a slideing surface for hundereds of years!
Further up, as we passed through two giant rocks, there is a shrine of Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh, the triology of GOD as Generator, Organisor and Destroyer. In front of this cave style temple is a water storage tank cut from solid rock of about 5 feet in depth.
One can see at many places, small holes in rocks. This was done to break the rocks in ancient times. In these holes, wooden blocks were fixed and then water was poured on them. As these wooden pieces soak the water, they generate force which breaks the rock. This process used to take months or even years to complete!
This I had observed in Hampi as well.
We returned from the temple and passing through "Krishna's Butter Ball", we reached a shrine, behind the bas relief. It is Ganesha Temple. It is said that the idol was installed about 2 centuries ago only. 
Further up is Varaha Cave. Beautiful sculpture over the walls show the craftsmanship of the time. There are stories of Varaha, Vamana, Lakshmi and Durga, carved in stones.
Slowly moving and clicking the place, we came out of complex and moved towards the other side of bas relief. There are Pandava Cave and Krishna's Mandapam.
Many of the pillars have carved with Lion, which was symbol of Pallava dynasty. The roof at Krishna Mandapam was carved during Vijayanagar times to protect it from Suna dnRain. It is in quite good conition. 
Krishna holding Gowardhan mountain, a man milking cow etc are famous carvings here. The lion carvings here are said to be influenced by sphinx in Egypt!
Infront of the Krishna mandapam is the ancient Sthala Shayana Perumal Temple. This temple is also famous as Thirukadalmallai temple. It is just behind the Mahabalipuram bus stand.
It is a Vishnu Temple along with his consort Lakshmi, who is worshipped as Nilamangai Thayar. The temple is believed to have been built by Pallavas, with later contributions from Medieval Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings and Madurai Nayaks.
As per legend, once sage Pundarika was performing penance worshipping Vishnu at this place. He collected Tamarasa flowers and submitted it to view Vishnu in Ksirabdhi Natha form, his posture in Tirupaarkadal.

He collected 1,008 flowers and in his intensity, he scooped out water also in full. Vishnu came in disguise in the form of sage and asked him for food. The sage went to acquire food for the old man, but while returning he found that Vishnu remained in the place. Since Vishnu stayed in this place, he was called Sthalasayana Perumal.The legend is sanctified by Sage Bhoothatazhwar in his verses in Nalayira Divya Prabandham.


It is said that earlier this temple was at shore and later it was shifted to current place by Vijayanagar Kings. The front Gopuram is still incomplete, which can be seen near the bus stand.
We prayed at the abode of Lord.

It was a bit hot by now. We took an auto for Pancha Rathas.It is about 2 KMs from Bus stand. It is easily walkable and we can come across a similar bas-relief to that of Arjuna's penance on the way.
But as it was hot and with kids accompanying us, we took an auto.
Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic rock-cut architecture. These are said to be carved in 7th century and attributed to the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I (630–680 AD, also called Mamalla, or "great warrior") of the Pallava Kingdom.

Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved out from a single granite rock.These magnificent piece of architecture were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I.
Each of the five rathas is a monolith, carved whole from a rock granite. It is likely that their original design traces back to wood constructions of temple chariots. Most of the rathas seems to be modelled on the Buddhist Viharas and Chaityas.

It was quite hot and humid summer afternoon, but being there had a charm. It was just awesome to see and appreciate the cultural greatness of ancient times!


Nearby is a newly established Sea Shell Museum. We decided to have a look there.
India Seashell Museum is one of the unique museum and said to be the largest seashell museum in India. It houses many thousands specimens of rare and unique seashells etc. Visiting there was very good experience to view thousands of different varities of sea shells and other realted things.

There is also a small aquarium. Kids were excited to be there. A little shopping at "Maya Bazar" completed our trip to the museum.


It was quite hot, so we took an auto and returned back to our hotel.


Evening 430 PM again, we took the way towards the famous Shore temple.
It is called as Shore temple, because it is at the shore overlooking the bay of Bengal. Ancient sailors called this place as place of Seven pagodas. It is believed that there were total Seven temples here out of which six have been submerged now. It is now inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that seemed to exist in the submerged coastline; this is supported by the appearance of an outline of its sister temples off the coast during the Tsunami of 2004, which struck this coastline.

This is built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. We took the required ticket and entered into complex.


This temple complex is actually consists of three temples. All the three Temples of the Shore Temple complex are built on the same platform. The main Shore Temple, which faces east so that the sun rays shine on the main deity of Shiva Linga in the shrine. The broken shivaling is there to tell the story of brutality of time.


The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva as well as the smaller shrine, which we see first when we enter the complex through current entrance. The third shrine, which is in between the two shiva shrine is dedicated to a Vishnu. It is said that it had water channelled into the temple. It was a legend of Vishnu reclining on Sea.


The temple walls are sculpted with Lions, Nandi and other dieties as well.


Slowly we passed through each nook and corner and paid obesience to the Lord, the rulers, the sculptures and the time!


On one side of temple, there is a monolith sculpture of lion with a hole in its torso. A miniature image of Durga is sculpted on the back of the image, which is a depiction of Durga as Mahishasurmardini.


After spending sometime there and clicking as much as to fulfill desires of my camera, we came out of the complex and walked towards the beach.
There was a big crowd. Passing through a narrow passage, we approached it. Many people were taking bath also and playing in watres, but I found it a bit dangerous as there was quite a dangerous slope.

We spend a couple of hours till Sunset. Occasionaly touching waters when it reached to our level.


It was very blissfull to  there, in the shadow of temple, Sun and waters!
As it approached dark, we walked back to hotel. A good dinner and a good sleep refreshed us for next day.
Sunday morning, again we rushed to shore to witness the Sun rise. Though we were a few minutes late, but stil were able to capture some golden moments in our camera and memories.

After breakfast, we checkedout and took bus 588 to Madras Crocodile bank.


The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology (or Croc Bank) was the brain child of the legendary Romulus Whitaker and other conservation visionaries who began work on the facility in 1976.The  goal was securing the breeding populations of the three species of Indian crocodile: the mugger (Crocodylus palustris), the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the rarest of all, the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).



The Croc Bank was originally designed to be a living genetic repository of crocodiles for safekeeping, to protect and multiply until such time when they could be returned to restock their original wild habitats. This action was initially met with tremendous success, but today, release into the wild has stopped due to shrinking wilderness areas and the lack of suitable habitat.


What started with a handful of crocodiles and a hit-and-miss experimental approach to captive breeding was so successful that by the 1990s there were over 8,000 crocodiles in residence. Today Croc Bank is home to 18 species of crocodilians, three of which are listed by the IUCN as critically endangered with a further three listed as threatened.


As the need for the conservation of reptiles grew, the Croc Bank increased its repertoire to include turtles, lizards and snakes and it came to be known as the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Center for Herpetology in 2003.

  
From Croc bank, we again took bus 588 to Dakshun Chitra.

It was quite hot and humid and we need to wait about 30 minutes before we got a bus.


Getting down at MGM stop, we asked a few people about Dakshinchitra. Nobody was aware of the place. Finally the Google Map helped me. It was just 500 meters towards Mahabalipuram from MGM stop. Surprisingly no one, even cab drivers knew the place.
We took tickets and put our luggage at reception. The lady there kindly accepted our request.

DakshinaChitra, meaning "a picture of the south",was founded by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF), an NGO started in 1984, by Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan. She founded the MCF in 1984 with the intent of preserving the regional culture and heritage.



British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker volunteered his services with the spatial conceptualizing of the layout of the museum with special emphasis on giving the artisans free space in building it.Benny Kuriakose, an assistant of Baker's, designed the public buildings and was responsible for the re-creation, conservation, and supervision of the heritage house buildings.



The museum showcases 18 heritage houses representing the living styles of people from the states of South India, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
These houses were bought from their original owners, dismanteled and then rebuild here.

The artefacts in the museum reflect the daily life in the Southern States.




We walked through all different galleroies and heritage home. There is option of learning making crafts etc. There was a puppet show. Though it was in Tamil by an artist from Thanjavur, but was quite entertaining.




The museum runs a center for living traditions of art, folk performing arts, and crafts set up with the objective of preserving and promoting the rich heritage and culture of South India. Potters trained at this center are issued a certificate of their upgraded skills by the regional office of the Department of the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts).




The museum also holds workshops for training in traditional crafts such as indigo dying and the products produced by the artisans here cater to the High end consumers.


There is an open air theater where cultural programmes and yoga classes are held.


Though it was quite hot summer noon, still there it felt good as in rural background with lot of greenery around.



Authentic crafts, art, textiles, jewelry etc are available at the Craft Shop located at entrance. There is also a Craft Bazaar located inside.

Food (lunch and snacks) can be had at the restaurant Bekal. But we didnt took lunch there as were not feeling to eat perhaps due to temperature.


Spending about 2 hours there we again took a bus to Chennai.


One can easily spend whole day there. I will do so in my next visit there.


We got down at Adyar and then an auto took us to Chennai Central station.


By 930 PM, we were at Home Sweet Home!

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