Mahabalipuram Caves

Mamallapuram Caves

Useful Information

Location: 58 km From Chennai
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Guided tours:
Address: Mahabalipuram Caves.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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7th and 8th centuries excavated.


Mahabalipuram has a group of monuments, founded by the Pallava kings, carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram was previously known as Mammallapuram. The Pallavas, Patrons of Tamil culture made it their second capital. Mahabalipuram is unique in India asit has everything that makes a memorable visit; tradition, history, and piety.

Mahabalipuram art is divided into four categories: open air bas relief, structured temples, man-made caves and Rathas (chariots carved from single boulders, to resemble temples or chariots used in temple processions). The whole complex consists of 10 cave temples (man-made), 9 monolithic chariots-all in the name of 5 Pandavas, 4 Bas - relief sculpture panels on the rock walls, and the Shore Temple.

The Mahishashuramardini Cave consists of 10 cave temples, of which the most beautiful is the Mahishashuramardini Cave, which has fine bas-reliefs on its panels of enduring beauty. On one side there is Lord Vishnu in a sleeping posture which radiates peace, power, and wisdom. It is a masterpiece of Dhwani, or the art of suggestion. On the opposite side is a huge theatrical panel showing the Goddess Durga's fight with the demon Mahishasura, an episode recalled from the celebrated Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya.

The Varaha Cave portrays the two Avatars or incarnations of Lord Vishnu, as Varaha and Vamana. Particularly noteworthy here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers, in a mood of contemplative reverie, a lyrical softness and subtle grace, totally at variance with their primordial machismo that their role as guards of the gods imposes on them. The Dharmaraja Cave was excavated in the early 7th century, contains three empty shrines.

The Mandapams or porticos are grand specimens of art. Scooped out of solid rock on a hillside, each mandapam depicts exclusive carvings rich in detail. A serene pastoral scene at the Krishna Mandapam shows Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain, to protect his kinsfolk from the wrath of the Rain God Indra.

Text by Tony Oldham (2003). With kind permission.