Mahabalipuram (Tamilnadu)

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Mahabalipuram, derived from 'Mamallapuram' is the prior and colloquial name of a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, now officially called Mamallapuram. It has an average elevation of 12 metres (39 feet). Mahabalipuram was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas around 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The name Mamallapuram is believed to have been given after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who took on the epithet Maha-malla (great wrestler), as the favourite sport of the Pallavas was wrestling. It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Landmarks The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture wherein Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples. The pillars are of the Dravidian order. The sculptures are excellent examples of Pallava art. It is believed by some that this area 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 young students. This can be seen in the Pancha Rathas where each Ratha is sculpted in a different style. These five Rathas were all carved out of a single piece of granite in situ. While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stonemason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture made out of sandstone, which is softer than granite, under 4 feet that took about 60 days to carve. The carving at Mahabalipuram must have required hundreds of highly skilled sculptors.

The Sangam age poem the rule of King Thondaiman Ilam Thiraiyar atKanchipuramof theTondai NaduportNirppeyyaruwhich scholars identify with the present-day Mamallapuram. Chinese coins and Roman coins ofTheodosius Iin the 4th century CE have been found at Mamallapuram revealing the port as an active hub of global trade in the late classical period. Two Pallava coins bearing legends read as Srihari and Srinidhi have been found at Mamallapuram. The Pallava kings ruled Mamallapuram from Kanchipuram; the capital of the Pallava dynasty from the 3rd century to 9th century CE, and used the port to launch diplomatic missions toCeylonand Southeast Asia.

An 8th century Tamil text written byThirumangai Alvardescribed this place as Kadal Mallai, (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’. It is also known by several other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. Another name by which Mahabalipuram has been known to mariners, at least sinceMarco Polo’s time is "Seven Pagodas" alluding to theSeven Pagodas of Mahabalipuramthat stood on the shore, of which one, theShore Temple, survives.The temples of Mamallapuram, portraying events described in theMahabharata, built largely during the reigns ofNarasimhavarmanand his successor Rajasimhavarman, showcase the movement from rock-cut architecture to structural building. The city of Mahabalipuram was largely developed by the Pallava kingNarasimhavarman Iin the 7th century AD.Themandapaor pavilions and the rathas or shrines shaped as templechariotsare hewn from thegraniterock face, while the famed Shore Temple, erected half a century later, is built from dressed stone. What makes Mamallapuram so culturally resonant are the influences it absorbs and disseminates. The Shore Temple includes many bas reliefs, including one 100ft. long and 45ft. high, carved out of granite.

All but one of therathasfrom the first phase ofPallavaarchitecture are modeled on theBuddhistviharas ormonasteriesandchaityahalls with several cells arranged around a courtyard. Art historianPercy Brown, in fact, traces the possible roots of thePallavaMandapato the similar rock-cut caves ofAjanta Cavesand Ellora Caves. Referring to Narasimhavarman's victory in AD 642 over the Chalukyan kingPulakesin II, Brown says thePallavaking may have brought the sculptors and artisans back toKanchiandMamallapuramas 'spoils of war'.

he fact that different shrines were dedicated to different deities is evidence of an increased sectarianism at the time of their construction. A bas-relief on a sculpted cliff has an image of Shiva and a shrine dedicated to Vishnu, indicating the growing importance of theseSangam perioddeities and a weakening of the roles of Vedic gods such as Indra and Soma.The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British in 1827.

 

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