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Mahabalipuram: The Stone Divine

New Delhi, Tue, 29 May 2007 Pallavi Sharma

May 29: Mahabalipuram, founded by the famous Pallavan king Narsimhanvarman on the western limits of Bay of Bengal can not be described in better words than “the stone city�. It is more than an ecstasy to a person who combines in himself the love for nature and the taste for architecture. On the western side of the city one can appreciate the stone landscape with all its magnificence. The eastern side the vastness of the ocean and unique display of dancing rays of the sun ride along the waves of the ocean and spurts the radiance of life. The sun-bath along the silver-lined beach is a great amusement.

The magnificence of the structures at Mahabalipuram reflects the refined aesthetic sense of the Pallavan kings who patronised art, literature and sculpture making and transformed the south into a cynosure for the world. Mahabalipuram also carved niche for itself as a trade centre and hub for business transactions in South-East Asia. But this feature was overshadowed by its wonderful architecture and sculptor.

The very first thing that catches the eye of imagination is the stone-landscape in the tinsel town. A unique thing about Mahabalipuram art is that it does not follow any single style, but showcases the ‘Rathas’-temples in the form of chariots. Then there are cave-sanctuaries called ‘Mandapas’ and amazing open-air reliefs as ‘the descent of the Ganges’. Apart from these there is a shore temple, the only surviving of the seven pagodas, the other six merged with sea-water.

Panch Rathas
Main attraction in the rathas on the southern extreme of the stone city is their single-cell composition - these structures have been carved out of one large rock and much to the surprise modern architects. Five of the rathas have been termed after five Pandavas. The largest has been built on patterns resembling Buddhist monasteries with central hall having several cells.

Mandapas
Mandapas seem to carry the influence of the rock-cut caves of Ajanta-Ellora, found in the west of India. But the subject matter differs as these ten pavilions feature several Hindu gods and goddesses such as Vishnu, Krishna, Durga and mythological figures, Pandavas. The pillars of the Mandapas represent the initial phase of Dravidian style and have been the trend setters. Another mandapa is Ganesh mandap where Elephant God is worshipped even today.

Shore temple
Shore temple is devoted to both Shiva as well as to Vishnu. Lingam placed in the shrine for centuries have been witness to the routine movement of the sun. This temple is considered as the propounder of the stone-structured temple style of south India. The architecture of this pagoda impressed the Chola dynasty.

Open-air relief
The largest relief describes the very pious episode from mythology ‘the descent of the Ganges on earth from heaven on request of Raja Bhagirath. The natural spring gives the structure a realistic touch.

In the premises of the temple is erected a life size image of an elephant. And another simple structure is a huge sized boulder which provides shelter to the tourists. It seems as if it will roll down any moment, but it is there for centuries.

Art at Mahabalipuram is a pleasant integration of several styles. Structures here reveal the influence of Buddhist art, rock art of Ajant-Ellora plus the Brahaman style. A glimpse at all these structures takes you back to the grace of Pallavan dynasty and leaves in a pleasant surprise over such wonders. Most striking feature of the place is that it incorporates life in stones. They seem as live as moving tourists in the premises.


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