By Swami Harshananda
Mahābalipuram is also known as Māmallāpuram. It is a famous place of archaeological monuments situated at a distance of 50 km (31 miles) to the south of Chennai. It was an important port-city during the early Christian era and maintained trade relations with many countries like the ancient Rome, Persia and China. Old coins of these countries have been found at this place. It also became an important religious center during the period of Narasimha Varma, a Pallava king (circa CE 630-668). Since he was known as Māmalla, the city too got the name after him.
The important monuments at Mahābalipuram are:
- Shore temple
- Five rathas or monolithic temples
- Relief figure of Arjuna, Pāṇḍava hero, doing penance by the side of a river, carved on a big rock
- Few cave temples containing the idols of Viṣṇu, Varāha and Durgā as Mahiṣamardinī
It is in the Draviḍian style. It is of solid stone masonry. Originally, it had a massive wall surrounding it. Now, only some of its remains are seen. It is remarkable that this temple with two vimānas (small towers) has successfully withstood the fury of the waves of the ocean and the vagaries of treacherous weather for over twelve centuries.
There are actually three shrines here, two Śaiva and one Vaiṣṇava. Vaiṣṇava temple depicts Viṣṇu lying on the serpent Ananta.
Apart from the shore-temple, the rathas are of great importance. Five of them stand in the names of the four Pāṇḍavas, viz., Dharmarāja, Bhīma, Arjuna and Sahadeva. The fifth temple is of their spouse, Draupadī. They are monoliths of great beauty. Out of these Dharmarāja-ratha is the grandest.
There is also a Gaṇeśa-ratha situated at a distance of 1.2 km (3/4 of a mile) to the north of the other rathas.
Sthalaśayana Perumāl Temple
There is a temple of Sthalaśayana Perumāl. In this the deity Viṣṇu is in the reclining posture. Here the worship is continued till today. It is an old temple expanded during the times of Vijayanagar empire. Bhuta Ālvār, one of the three earliest Ālvārs, was born in this place.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore