The Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

The Shore Temple, built in 720 AD, is located at Mahabalipuram, a village situated in the southern part Of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu. The temple is named as Shore Temple, as it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. The Shore temple is one of among the finest structural temples in India. The temple is completely built in granite stone which are dated back to early 8th century. The temple was built during the rule of King Narasimhavarman of the Pallava dynasty, and during that time Mahabalipuram was a main functional port. In the year 1984, the temple was classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also one among the oldest stone temples found in South India.

The Shore Temple, lying in the Coromandel Coast of Bay Bengal, constitutes of three temples, one large temple and two other small ones located in Mahabalipuram, which was earlier known as Mamalapuram. This city was earlier used as a port and was   built by the Pallava Dynas for trading purpose in the Kanchipurm kingdom.

The Shore Temple was also known as Seven Pagodas, and this name was given to it by the sailors who travelled to the Mahabalipuram Port. It is said that, when they travelled to the port they saw the tall tower of the temple, and eventually it became a navigation spot for them. The towers of the temple has high resemblance to Pagodas, hence it came to be known as Seven Pagodas among the sailors.

The designs used in the structure of the temple complex is a combination of various styles including the one used in cave temples and monolithic rathas of 7th century and was initiated by King Narasimhavarman I. And the complete credit for the architectural elegance of the temple complex goes to Narasimhavarman II, also known as King Rajasimha of Pallava Dynasty (700AD-728AD). The Shore Temple is now considered as the only temple complex that exist in this submerged coastline, proving this, the outline of its sister temples appeared off the shore during the attack of Tsunami in the year 2004. After the rule of the Pallavas in the Mahabalipuram, the Cola took over the port, and many examples of Chola architecture can be seen in the Shore Temple.

An old temple built completely of granite blocks was exposed in the shore of Coramandel Coast, during the attack of Tsunami, in the year 2004. This raised a speculation that the temple is one among the Seven Pagodas, which had been mentioned in the diaries of ethnic groups of Europe, and the remaining six pagodas are believed to be submerged in the sea. After the attack of Tsunami, many ancient sculptures of lions, peacocks and elephants, which are believed to be used as decorative pieces in the temple during the era of Pallavas, in the 7th -8th century.

Even though the temple area and its garden was attacked by Tsunami in 26th of December 2004, the temple was not seriously damaged as the water level returned to normal after few minutes, but the foundation and the ‘balipeetam’ and a small shrine of Varaha sculpture facing the boat jetty was destroyed at that time. As the foundation of the temple was built in granite, the strong waves couldn’t damage it.

 According to the legend based on the temple, the Prince Hiranyakashipu, refused to pray to god Vishnu, but his son Prahalatha, was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, and he criticised his father for not having faith in the Lord. The Prince banished his son from home but later took him in. Soon they both engaged in an argument in which Prahalada said that, Lord Vishnu was present everywhere, in the walls, in stones and in pillars, hearing this his father kicked one of the pillars, and suddenly a man with a lion’s head emerged from the pillar, who is believed to be one the avatars of Lord Vishnu. And it killed Hiranyakashipu. After that, Prahalatha became the king, and he had a son Bali. Bali is believed to have found Mahabalipuram.

There is also another legend which states that, all the Gods in the heaven went jealous over the extreme beauty of Mahabalipuram, and they caused the flood which lead to the complete destruction of the temple, leaving few monuments behind.

The Shore Temple complex includes three temples and all the three of them are built on the same platform. When you view the temple from north direction, it would seem as the perfect replica of Dharmaraja Ratha, one of the monuments in the Pancha Ratha complex, located in Mahabalipuram. The main deity of the temple, A Shiva Lingam is placed facing to the east, so that the sun rays falls directly on it. The main temple in which the Shiva Lingham is kept is a five storied Hindu temple building, unlike the rock cut temples in the area. According to Hindu belief, this temple is the first structural temple in south India.

In total the temple consist of three shrines, the main shrine and the second shrine which is smaller in size, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Between the first and second shrine is the third and smallest shrine, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This is said to represent the balancing of competing religious requirements. The outer wall facing the third shrine, and its inner boundary wall are heavily carved with sculptors and the main sculptor among them is of Nandi.

Inside the temple you can see a sanctum sanctorum, which is built in which the deity of Shiva Lingha is placed. At the back portion of the temple there are two shrines facing opposite direction to each other. The inner shrine is dedicated to Ksatriyasimnesvara, and the one facing the outer wall is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

The carvings in the roof of the Shore Temple, is similar to the style used in the Pancha Ratha temple. The decorations seen in the outer walls of the temple have close resemblance to that in the Panch Rathas.

Another one of the most interesting scene in the temple is the Dharalinga and the Somaskanta, which are sculptured on to the interior wall of the temple facing the Ksatryasimnesvara shrine. The sculpture of Dhar Lingha, or the Shiva Lingha, is carved out of black basalt stone, which is believed to be the style of architecture used by Rajasimha. The Somaskanda panel is a carving of the Shiva family, consisting of Shiva, his consort Parvathi and also Skanda. The Somaskanda panel is built over a stone slab.

The Lion monolith is one of the other attraction in the temple, which includes a partly sculptured and carved image of lion, with whole on its chest, and also a miniature form of goddess Durga is sculptured on its back. The sculpture is attached to the compound wall of the temple.

Regular buses and taxis are available to the Shore Temple from every part of Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport to the temple is located 60 km away at Chennai.