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Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
visit duration
3 to 4 hours

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The crowning glory of Mahabalipuram, built as a testament to Mamallapuram’s might as a busy port during the times of Pallava king Narasimhavarman, Shore temple, named simply after its location, is one of India’s oldest structural stone temples and, fittingly, a World Heritage site. Built by King Narasimhavarman back in the 8th century out of massive slabs of granite, Shore temple is really a temple complex housing three temples, situated on the coastline of the Bay of Bengal.

With its foundations overlain on mythical legends, Shore temple, visible afar from the sea, often acted as a guiding force to people and ships riding Bay of Bengal’s choppy waters, frequently luring them to the coastline of Mamallapuram. Soon the temple became the cornerstone of the Seven Pagodas legend and the temple a landmark known by mariners and explorers across the world, including Marco Polo.

Having borne the wrath of 2004 tsunami, fortunately there was very little structural damage to the temple and in fact, what the tsunami did was to unearth many ancient sculptures, including the remnants of a 6 foot high, 70 meter long wall, two temples and a cave temple, all having being submerged for the better part of 10 centuries or more. While this hasn't provided conclusive proof for legend of Seven Pagodas, but it does indicate the presence of a much grander and more elaborate temple complex than was previously thought. In fact, the Archaeological Survey of India has unearthed inscriptions (Pallava grantha), coins and many other items all this while buried in the depths of the Bay of Bengal.

Shore temple’s main shrine is the five-storied temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. In between the main temple and the other smaller temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as well, is the shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu, represented in his reclining form. The entire complex and the temples themselves are glorious exemplars of Dravidian architectural style and are replete with incredible ornamentation, carvings, sculptures and mythical figures. Circling the complex is a wall carved with images of Yali (mythical tiger like creature), Varahas (boar) and Nandi, the bull (Lord Shiva’s mount).