Mahabalipuram Shore Temple
The Mahabalipuram Shore Temple built in 700-728 AD is one of the oldest structural stone temples of South India built under the reign of Narasmhavarman II. The temple located in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal and hence is named the Shore Temple. The temple is a complex of temples and shrines, built with blocks of granite dating from the 8th century AD.
The monuments and temples at Mahabalipuram including the Shore Temple complex were collectively classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
History of Mahabalipuram Shore Temple
The south Indian state of Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram was nicknamed “Seven Pagodas” since the first European explorers reached it. Legend has it that apart from the Shore Temple, six other temples once stood with it.
King Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava Dynasty is accredited for the architectural elegance of the Shore Temple as a structural temple complex. The Cholas later built additional parts of the temple after it took over Mahabalipuram from the Pallavas.
In December 2004, The Tsunami that struck the coastline of Coromandel exposed an old collapsed temple and also some ancient rock sculptures that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period. It is inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that is believed to have existed in the submerged coastline. Only a portion of the Shore Temple was damaged during the Tsunami that occurred in December 2004.
Legend behind the temple
Myth associates the temple with the famous story of Prahalada and his father King Hiranyakashipu. Prahalada was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. The King in his arrogance and rage dared to abuse the Lord and so was eventually killed by the Lord. According to the legend, Prahalada’s son Bali founded Mahabalipuram in this place.
Another myth goes on to state that the Gods caused floods to submerge a part of this temple and the city as they were envious of its architectural beauty.
The Mahabalipuram Shore Temple Structure
The Shore Temple complex encompasses three temples built on the same platform. The main Shore Temple with its chief deity Lord Shiva (in Lingam Form) faces east. This temple is five-storeyed and is built with sculpted granite stones.
The temple has three shrines – main and the second shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva while the third one dedicated to a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. The entrance to the temple is from the western gateway through a barren vault Gopuram.
Other Prominent Features of the Temple
- The temple’s sanctum sanctorum having a small Mandapam, enshrines Lord Shiva, and is surrounded by a heavy outer wall with a small space in between for circumambulation.
- The other shrines found in the temple are that of Ksatriyasimmesvara, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Durga.
- Like the Vishnu shrine, the inner and outer walls around the two Shiva shrines include rich cultural depictions.
- The temple tower or Shikaras of the two temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are octagonal in shape and have been built in the Dravidian style of architecture.
- The interior walls of the sanctum of the east facing Kshatriyasimhesvara temple features the Dharalinga and the Somaskanda panel.
- The outer walls of the Shore Temple also consist of artistic structures carved out of boulders, which have worn away in time due to its exposure to wind and water.
- At the entrance wall is a row of bulls representing Nandi (the holy vehicle of Lord Shiva).
- Shore temple stands as a background of the Mahabalipuram Dance Festival held in January/February every year.
- Shore Temple acts as a prominent landmark during the day grasping the first rays of the rising sun and was once believed to be a signal for navigation of ships at night.
- The temple does not involve active worship today but devotees can sometimes be seen worshipping and offering flowers to the deities.
- The temple structure is being conserved by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Significance of the Mahabalipuram Temple
The Shore temple marked an important transition from rock cut structures to free standing structural temple. It is a fine example of the Dravidian style of architecture. The significance of the Shore Temple also lies in the blend of religious harmony as it houses the shrines of both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
How to reach Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram in Chengalpattu district is well connected through road to all major cities in Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport is at Chennai (around 55 kilometres away).
The Shore Temple is a perfect destination to explore if you are a lover of art and history. Soak in the beauty of the Shore Temple and the sea while you are in Mahabalipuram.