India is a breathtaking and mysterious place. It is a country where the past meets present, and the most classic example are the places of worship that have withstood the ravages of time. The history of these ancient halls reflects the nuanced aspects of the Hindu religion.
One such temple, the Shore temple, holds the key to unlocking a part of India’s ancient secrets in the town of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. Here is a story that will take you on a journey that has intrigued humankind for ages!
A mythical story surrounding the Shore temple
According to a popular legend, Prince Hiranyakasipu (Asura and king of Daityas) was not in favor of worshiping Lord Vishnu. However, his son Prahlada (considered a mahajana), was a great devotee of Vishnu. The Prince banished his son and eventually allowed him to come back home.
After coming back, Prahlada told Hiranyakasipu that Vishnu was present everywhere. This led the Prince to kick a pillar, and Vishnu emerged in the form of a man with a lion’s head, killing Hiranyakasipu.
Prahlada inherited the throne, and his grandson Bali (Daitya king found in ancient Hindu texts) created Mahabalipuram on this religious site.
Lord Indra’s Vengeance
According to a local legend, there might have been seven temples (seven pagodas) lined up on Mahabalipuram’s shore. However, Lord Indra got angry with the town’s prosperity and unleashed a storm, sinking the city. Only the shore temple seems to have survived in the aftermath of a “natural disaster”.
Turn back the time with India’s 8th-century history
Shore temple is one of the oldest structural stone (granite) temples in Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram. It is built somewhere in the 8th century AD and dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, etc. It built was built when the coastal town was one of the major port cities during the reign of Narasimhavarman ll of the Pallava Kingdom.
The temple owes its name to the fact that it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a part of the Group of monuments and comprises a complex of temples and shrines.
A landmark for navigation
Another fascinating story about this place is that it was considered a landmark for navigation after Marco Polo and other European Merchants embarked on a journey to India. They called the holy site Seven Pagodas.
One of the oldest reflections of the Hindu religion, the coastal temple, has a lot of history to its origin. Even though the credit for the Shore temple complex’s architectural design goes to Rajasimha, the architecture of this site was continued by the Chola dynasty after they defeated the Pallavas.
Shore temple: A part of the seven pagodas
It took a natural disaster to reveal Mahabalipuram’s link with the Europeans. The 2004 tsunami revealed temple ruins made of granite blocks. This probably fueled the idea that Mahabalipuram was a part of the seven pagodas mentioned by the European seafarers. Rock sculptures of peacocks, elephants, and lions used to decorate walls and temples under the Pallava dynasty during the 7th and 8th centuries were also discovered.
The complex houses a Bali Peetam in front of Shore temple steps leading out the jetty and a small shrine with Varaha sculpture (boar- an avatar of Vishnu) at the base of the temple.
A complex of three ancient temples
After a few archaeological findings, two inscriptions were discovered on the slab of a Shiva temple within the complex. The inscriptions stated the names of the three temples- Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvara-gruham, Rajasimha Pallavesvara-gruham, and Pllikondaruliya-devar.
The temple complex was called the Jalashayana. Another shrine dedicated to Vishnu was found here. The inscription on the shrine mentions this as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha.
One of the oldest structural temples of South India
If viewed from a particular direction, the Shore temple complex is considered a reflection of the Dharmaraja Ratha (Pancha Rathas complex). The Dharmaraja is also a perfect representation of monolith Indian rock-cut architecture.
The main temple of the Shore temple complex has been constructed facing the east so that the sunlight on the Shiva Linga in the shrine. The main temple’s unique thing is that it is a structural temple instead of a rock-cut establishment.
An ancient religious site filled with Shiva sculptures
The two Vimanas (the whole temple building) has a pyramid style outline. Unlike other temple architectures, the outer wall of Vishnu’s shrine and the inner side of the boundary wall has many sculptures of Nandi. Nandi is a guardian deity of Kailasa, Shiva’s home. He is usually portrayed as a bull.
The Vimanas of the two Shiva dedicated temples are a part of the Dravidian architectural style. The two distinctive features of the temple are Dharalinga and Somaskanda Panel. The Dharalinga (Shivalinga) has been made in Rajasimha’s style.
The Somaskananda panel, a carved stone panel, has an image of Shiva and Parvati and Kartikeya. You can find this in the small shrine inside the temple. Sculptures of Tripurantaka (manifestation of Shiva) and Durga can also be found on the main shrine walls.
The world temple conjures in mind revered religious destinations housing idols of gods and goddesses. The roots of Hindu religion are spread all over India, and this notable, sacred, and historically rich temple makes a worthy spot to find out more about ‘The Golden Bird’s’ past.