Sunday, December 30, 2007
A year doesnt end where it starts ..My last post this year is a tribute to the two cities - one that has shaped me and the other, which I hope will shelter me ..Madras /Chennai and Bangalore. And I thought the setting sun will be an apt metaphor for all that went right and wrong this year ..Im more an evening person and the soft, pink rays and the twilight zone have always been special to me .
To my family, friends and my fellow bloggers - Wishing all of you health, happiness and lots of positive energy and attitude ! Thank you.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
In school. I had studied about the monolothic temples and often as kids, we had played hide and seek in these caves. Today, the perspective had altered completely .
A tribute to the Pandavas of the Mahabharath , the Pallavas have built five Rathas or chariots out of just a single boulder. The Rathas are called Dharmaraja ratha (Yudhistrar), Bheema, Arjuna, Sahadeva -Nakula and their spouse , Draupadi .
The ASI site says that the monolithic temples are called locally as Ratha (Chariot) as they resemble the processional chariots of a temple. Temples of different plan and elevation have been carved and the left over portions were intelligently used to carve animals in a natural way. The architecture style is said to be Dravidian in nature , while Buddhist styles and designs are also visible .
These monolith temples were carved during the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I. Gods, mortals and animals are sculpted on these temples as some of them are three storied like the Dharamaraja ratha and single storied like Draupadi ratha.
The richest in terms of art is the Dharmaraja ratha . Simple forms of Siva, Harihara, Brahma are some of the Gods depicted here . A portrait of a king, possibly Narasimhavarman I himself above which his titles Sri Megha and Trailokiya - vardhana-vidhi are inscribed. To quote ASI site again - "the upper floors, a veritable gallery of images, have excellently modelled images of Siva as Gangadara, the earliest representation of Siva as Natesa in the Tamil country, Vrishbantika, Kankalamurti, Vishnu resting on Garuda, and Kaliyamardhana. "
The Bhima Ratha is more oblong in shape and the shrine is probably dedicated to the reclining Vishnu, The Arjuna Ratha carved out of a single rock and has several sculptures - Siva and Skanda among other Gods. The Draupadi Ratha is more like a simple hut and here you can find the presiding deity to be Durga. The Sahadeva-Nakula Ratha is near Arjuna ratha and the other Rathas here are Ganesha Ratha and Pidari Rathas.
The setting sun did not allow me to go beyond the rathas. The watchman soon drove us away as we went to Arjuna Penance . I could not take pictures as the light was failing and it would not be fair to display the architectural genius in such poor light .
It is interesting to note that post tsunami in 2004 , excavations have shown some carvings and sculptures under water and the ASI is working on the premise that there was probably a city under water . Underwater excavations are going on at various sites near by and Punjeri, a small hamlet across the backwaters is now suggested as the port town with the lighthouse close by
For more details, you can read http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/may102004/1231.pdf ,
http://www.nio.org/past_events/archaeology/session_I.jsp or the ASI site http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_mahabalipuram.asp.
To quote from one of the papers written on the website of National institute of Ocenography by Sundaresh*, A.S. Gaur, S. Tripati and K.H. Vora,
"According to the local traditions these structures are the remains of temple as there were 5 temples believed to be submerged out of 7 and the shore temple is the last surviving one located on the shore at Mahabalipuram. The earliest possible date of these structures could be around 1500 years BP, as the temple architecture has flourished during the Pallava period. The backwaters at Mahabalipuram, on the western bank of Buckingham canal probably served as a port at Punjeri during early centuries of the Christian era. The major and important factor affecting Mahabalipuram cost is erosion. A recent study suggested that the rate of coastal erosion in and around Mahabalipuram could be as high as 55 cm per year. Therefore cause of the submergence of these structures is probably severe coastal erosion. "
As we drove back , a light from the old light house steered us back into the present and its a still a testimony to the old town thats probably under water , swept away by an earlier tsunami or sea erosion or..
Getting there - Mahabalipuram is about 60 .kms from Madras and you can reach by driving through ECR or OMR. Buses are available as well from Chennai / Madras. There are five star hotels, resorts to shacks and for further details , visit www.mahabalipuram.co.in . The best time to visit will be December-January as the festival usually takes place around this time of the year
There is neither a tiger nor a dark dingy cave , but located in Saluvankuppam, five kms from Mahabalipuram , are a couple of rock cut temples . The name is derived from a cave temple which has a crown of carved heads of an animal that looks like a tiger It is said that the animal depicted is the mythological yali and it is known as the Yali Mandapam .
Small hillocks, big boulders set amidst casurania trees and the sandy shores make this a great haven for birds and an idyllic picnic spot . The mandapam is like an open air theatre and even today, some cultural events are held here
The rock cut cave temple with a Shiva Linga and a Nandi is at a corner while the temple is situated below ground level and hence the top of the rock that forms the roof of the temple is accessible for climbing.
The beach is located near the cave temples and its a much quieter option than the Mahabalipuram beach .
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The warmth of Madras is always special .More so, in December when the city is bathed in sunlight after a cold downpour. We were there for the weekend and the weather was just right to get on to the Coromandel Coast .A bit of breeze, lots of birds and blue skies was enough to tempt us to go outdoors . And so we found ourselves cruising down the ECR (East Coast Road) with no particular destination in mind.
Our mid afternoon reverie was interrupted by a gruff voice at the Toll Station who asked us where we were headed . And we both chorused - Mahabalipuram . Several school excursions have brought me to these shores , and many a time, the lure of the rocky beaches have brought us here, but its been a while since I had been to the caves and the carvings.
It was a Sunday afternoon and needless to say extremely crowded. There were swarms of touts, tourists, vendors and visitors vying for attention at this historic site. Mahabalipuram , also known as Mammalapuram was a thriving port during the Pallava regime between the 3rd and the 10th centuries . It is said that there was evidence of trade with Romans as well .
A bit of lore and history is behind these twin names. In Hindu mythology, an asura king named Mahabali was said to have ruled these shores and he was slain by the Hindu God, Vishnu in one of his avatars called Vamana Avatar Hence , the name , Mahabalipuram . Later on the port was flourishing under the Pallava king, King Narasimhavarman 1 also titled Mammalla for being a famous wrestler and this place was named after him . Interesting ways I would say to remember kings and Gods..but thats a different story altogether .
Amidst the casuarina trees and the sandy shores, were strewn rock cut temples and monolith sculptures . Stories from Hindu mythology were carved out in rocks and caves and each one has its own tale. We went to the Shore Temple, which is now a World Heritage Site . Our history books have taughts us that seven pagodas or such temples were initially constructed and this is the lone survivor. All the others are believed to be submerged in the seas. Built in the 7th century, this temple is a masterpiece .
There are three temples of which two Shiva Temples face east and west respectively. The other one is the Vishnu Temple. The Vishnu temple was built by Narasimha Varman I and the other two were built by Narasimha Varman II. The beautifully carved twin Dwarka Palaks (gate keepers) guard the entrance of the east facing Shiva Temples. Various carvings of Gods and Goddesses from Hinduism are depicted here , such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Parvati, Ganesha, Shanda , Narasimha and Durga.
The central shrine is in the form of a rectangle. Here the sculpure of Vishnu is found sleeping, hence the deity is known as Sthala Shayana Perumal or Ananthasayana.It is said that Vishnu reclines on the floor listening silently the sounds of names. There are other forms as well such as Vishnu seated in mount Garuda helping Gajendra, the elephant, found in the southern wall and the northern wall is the portrayals from the life of lord Krishna. The grand temple is surrounded by mandapas and compound walls. There is a rock-cut of a lion which is rode by two young women. The lion has a small cut, a square shaped cut in its belly. There is also a carving of a buffalo demon running with a stick in his hand, located in the northern side.
There is more to Mahabs as we fondly call it , than just the shore temple and I will have separate posts on the same..Being a childhood haunt, its one of my favourite places and I often feel a sense of pride and belonging when I visit these shores .