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Tamilnadu archive

Mahabalipuram , TamilnaduJ C Thomas

The whole place looked like a battle ground after the devastating Vardha cyclone- uprooted trees flooded walkways, and broken roofing sheets all around. The sodium vapour lamp posts were bent down to the ground as the customary prostrating position of petty leaders in front of the supremo. The nearby Kalpakkam Nuclear Power station was shut down due to the sand ingression into the turbine. The wind blew at 120 Kilometres speed. That was this December.



War and peace

More than once this small place experienced fierce battle, between Pallavas and Pandyas. One of the themes in this shore spread across is nothing but Kurukshetra epic war between Pandavas and Kauravas. And dedicated temples or Raths (chariots) the heroes and of course a lone heroine too. The lone heroine is Draupathi (Panchali). The sounds of war bugles, horses trampling and arrows flying all the, possibly a sound and light show are missing there. Tsunami changed the landscape

Twelve years back, in December 2004, Mahabalipuram was stuck with another natural fury. The Tsunami (Tsu= big, Nami= weaves)waves rose 12 meters above the sea. And the road was inducted with sea water. But there was a blessing in disguise. The Tsunami that struck the coastline of Coromandel exposed an old collapsed temple built entirely of granite blocks. European sailors described the temple as the Seven Pagodas Six temples would have been submerged in another prehistoric Tsunami or natural calamity remains submerged in the sea. The Tsunami of 2004 also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries.



Wraths of Gods

Gods were jealous of the architectural elegance of the monuments of Mahabalipuram, and they took revenge. They caused floods to occur, which submerged most parts of the city, except for a few structures that are seen now. If that myth has anywhere near the truth, Gods are still not happy and send series of the cyclone, flood, and Tsunami. But the fact is that the geographical location of this shore in the Bay of Bengal is prone for severe low pressures and turf especially during November-December if every year. Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, was a busy port with a lighthouse during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. (Narasimhavarman 11 is known as Mamalla).



Legend of Bali

The mythical figure Prahlada was usually having a pronoun Bhakta (Pious) had a son named Bali. Bali is the one who installed this city "Maha Bali Puram." The conflict of interest between the atheist Prince Hiranyakasipu and his son Prahlada an ardent follower of Vishnu has all the elements of modern drama. Prahlada was unceremoniously thrown out of the palace for criticising his father's atheism. However, he was taken back, but the argument continued. Prahlada said that Vishnu was present everywhere, including in the walls of their home, his father kicked a pillar. Vishnu emerged from the pillar in the form of a man with a lion's head and killed Hiranyakasipu. Well you will find few sculptures of Lions The shore temple for than 15 centuries or so temple is glorifying Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Nandi, Durga, etc. Those stone carving of the temple. A part of the temples got submerged in the sea over the period. Fish everywhere.

Devouring the lobster at the restaurant Moonrakers were two young French girls, who are part of the environmental preservation group in Auroville Ashram Pondicherry. The ashram has a French dominance after Aurobindo, the spiritual Guru. They drove 120 Kilometers on their BMW motorcycle to see what happened to their famous shore temple due to Vardha cyclone. And of course, they came to enjoy the seafood pretty famous in Mamallapuram. One of them drew a flask from the hip pocket of her jeans and poured the Caviar on the lobster. Tamilnadu has strict rules against the consumption of liquor whereas Pondicherry has none. Essentially the Shore temple is a complex of three temples, one large and two small. Even though the pagoda is Mongolian origin, the sailors mistook the shore temple to be one of those categories..



Theory behind granites

The large rocks were hauled to the destination of the temple from nearby quarries. I heard a small clicking sound near the rocks. A team of students and apprentices from nearby Cholamadalam Artist Village were doing research on the sculptures. Cholamandalam Arts was started in 1966 in an area of 10 acres which is 35 Kms from Mamallapuram. The community was founded by K.C.S. Panicker of the Madras School of Arts along with his students and a few artists associated with the college is now a self-sustained artist village.
The clinking sound came from the hammer striking the rock from the leading artist (incidentally named also Panicker, which is a surname favorite in adjoining State of Kerala meaning artist, worker or builder). He was explaining his team about the three most important types of Rocks in the world- masculine, feminine, and the eunuch. The qualities of the sculpture vary very much with the type. The sound produced from the muscular rock is bit authoritarian. And the Female rock created a melodious music. But from the third category, a mixed and not so pleasant sound emanate. Panicker was explaining with Sanskrit shlokas (chanting) explaining the rock art. Incidentally, the texture and color of the rocks also vary. Like Krishna Shila (Black stone taken from the color of Krishna) can produce the best sculpture that can last ancient time. Panicker was telling the group ' these granites are not lifeless. They grow every year. You should get permission from them to cut them.' How many man years would have been behind these mammoth sculptures?.

Caves too The starting with the Cave temples and the monolithic Rathas were the first project King Mamalla started in the 7th century. Essentially this is a structured temple. The architectural creation of sculpturing cut-in and cut-out structures continued during subsequent periods, as seen in the Atiranachanda cave, the Pidari rathas and the Tiger Cave..



Sister temples

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10 years since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

The Shore Temple was not severely damaged due to the 2014 Tsunami. The water level returned to its normal level within a few minutes. But the bali peetam (sacrificial altar) in front of the temple, the steps leading to the boat jetty, and the small shrine with the Varaha (Boar) sculpture at the basement of the Shore Temple were severely affected. The hard granite rock foundation and the groynes erected around the temple area on the coastline also aided its protection. (A groyne is a rigid hydraulic structure built from an ocean shore or from a bank that interrupts water flow and limits the movement of sediment.)



Dance and music

Jalashayana (sleeping in water) is the main theme of the shore temple as such. The preparation for the Mamallapuram Dance Festival is on. But this year the festival including Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kathakali is at low ebb. This festival attracts many artists and visitors to Mahabalipuram. Incidentally this is the best period climate wise..



Poetry in stone- Shore Temple

The main Shore Temple, which faces east so that the sun rays shine on the main deity of Shiva Linga in the shrine, is a five-storied structural Hindu temple rather than rock-cut as are the other monuments at the site. Built with sculpted granite stones hauled from a nearby quarry, it is the earliest significant structural temple in South India. Its pyramidal structure is 60 feet high and sits on 50 feet square platform. The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is devoted to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The two Shiva shrines are orthogonal in configuration. The entrance is through a transverse barrel vault Gopuram (Tower)..

The Wind laden with salt is blowing into the land. The salt content is around 10% in this region, one of the highest. The salt content can damage the structures. Salt absorbing chemical treatment is applied on all exposed surfaces..

Had refreshing tender coconut water which is better than any artificial beverage. But I was annoyed to see few groups of youngsters smoking weeds and drinking in the shadows of the rocks. The sun was about to set. And the giant natural rock perched on a hillside, seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics, recalling the stealing of butter by Krishna as a baby was casting a shadow. But the touts at the illegal parking, demanding astronomical parking fee for the car was the killjoy. But the journey back to Chennai, erstwhile Madras, 61 Kilometres away was taking longer due to th uprooted trees and dark streets.