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Shore Temple | History, Architecture, Facts of Shore Temple

Embrace the Architectural Wonders of Elegant Shore Temple at Mamallapuram

Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the Shore temple is one of the numerous monuments built during the medieval period in Mamallapuram in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The temple comes under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Shore temple was built during 700 – 728 AD using granite blocks. Mamallapuram was once a promising seaport, where traders from South Asian countries, China and Sri Lanka visited.

There are textual references, where the town was called a thriving port and Malange. Marco Polo who saw the temple has referred to the Shore temple as the Seven Pagodas of Mamallapuram in his travel book. The temple was constructed by the Pallava King Narasimhavarman II. Though it is believed that there were several shrines in the temple complex, there are only two now. When one is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the other is to Lord Vishnu.

Shore Temple

Shore Temple | Image Resource : cdn.kastatic.org

Amusing History of Shore Temple

The Shore temple sought much attention during the time when the seafarers, especially European merchants passed through the Bay of Bengal coast. The temple was the landmark for the Mamallapuram port and it was called ‘Seven Pagodas’ by Marco Polo, while the Catalan Atlas Abraham Cresques called the temples as Setemelti, which means seven pagodas in Italian. Further references of the temple were made by Gasparo Balbi and Niccolai Manucci.

The construction of the temple structures, which was the apogee of architectural creations, was started in the 7th century by King Narasimhavarman II. The monolithic rathas and cave temples were the first to build; however, the construction of the Shore temple extended to the subsequent periods. The credit for the architectural splendor of the Shore temple complex is for King Rajasimha, who was also called Narasimhavarman II.

The temple complex seen now is a part of the temple series that existed in this submerged coastline due to the tsunami in 2004. There is a legend behind the origin of the Shore temple. The Hindu mythology says that King Hiranyakashipu hated Lord Vishnu and refused to worship him. His son Prahalada, who was the ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, kept insisting his father to have faith in Vishnu.

The furious king banished him and also punished him. When he tried to kill him out of rage, Lord Vishnu saved him. Not able to withstand his son’s devotion to Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu summoned Prahalada in his court and asked him to show where Vishnu is. To this Prahalada answered that he is everywhere.

Wild with anger, the king broke the pillar nearby to see Lord Vishnu emerging from the pillar in ‘Narasimha’ avatar, which is half human and half lion. Hiranyakashipu was killed and Prahalada was made the king. It was Prahalada’s grandson Bali, who found Mahabalipuram, now called Mamallapuram.     

Grandness of Shore Temple Architecture

The temple complex has three temples built on one platform. The principal temple is the Shore temple, facing east. The shrine is a 5-storied structure built using the granite stones, which are sculpted from a quarry nearby. The main deity is Lord Shiva, in the form of Shivalinga, on which the sun rays fall directly in the morning. Falling under the structural temple found earlier, the Shore temple has a 60-foot high pyramidal structure. It is positioned on the 15-meter platform. The other two temples, one for Lord Vishnu and the other for Lord Shiva again were also similarly constructed, but they look smaller than the main temple.

If you observe it carefully, you can find the shrines for Shiva orthogonal in structure. There is a ‘transverse tunnel vault gopuram’ through which you enter the two shrines. The rising towers called ‘shikharas’ exhibit pyramidal finish. The tier of the pyramid is distinctive with eaves overhanging and offering some shade.

The brilliance of craftsmanship can be viewed on the walls of the shrines. There are large sculptures of Nandi on the boundary wall. The outer walls are connected with supporting columns and you can see numerous images of rearing lions on them.

Know Some Features of Shore Temple

The Shivalinga is housed in the sanctum sanctorum called ‘garbhagriha’. There is a small pillared-hall called mandapa, which has a large wall surrounding it. The complex has two shrines at the rear end, facing opposite directions. When one is for Ksatriyasimneswara, the other is for Vishnu. Outside, there is the sculpted image of Goddess Durga seated on her lion.

The roofs of the temples are the semblance of Hindu architecture, which is similar to Pancha Rathas. There are finials to show the functional nature of a completed temple. The shikaras in octagonal shapes embrace the Dravidian architectural style.

The Shore temple is known for the Somaskanda panel and Dharalinga features. They are positioned in the interior of Ksatriyasimneswara shrine. The Dharalinga, which is enshrined in the ‘garbhagriha’, is made out of black basalt stone and is in Rajasimha style. It is of 6-foot high. The linga has the top portion damaged. The Somaskanda panel, a carved one, showcases the Shiva and Parvati, with their son Kartikeya and it is positioned in a small shrine.

There is a miniature shrine discovered by the Archaeological survey of India. It has a Bhuvaraha image positioned in an enclosure, which looked like a well. The structure is brilliantly carved on the bedrock and it is dedicated to Lord Shiva; However, you

can also find a reclining Vishnu image there. The Bhuvaraha is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of boar.

There are other sculpted structures like the half chamber of ardha mandapa, Brahma, Anantashayi Vishnu, Shiva as Tripurantaka, and so on.

Some Exciting Facts about Shore Temple

Here are a few amazing facts about this popular Mamallapuram temple.

  • The unique temple complex built during the Pallava dynasty and preserved during the Chola dynasty is identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • The five chariots found at the complex are dedicated to the Pandavas.

  • The architectural beauty of the structure is the bas reliefs, which are sculpted images jutting from the rocks.

  • A few of such popular bass reliefs are the descent of the Ganges, elephants, and more.

  • Three generations of Pallava kings worked on this astounding temple structure. To plan and build the site, it took 200 years.

  • The monuments at the temple complex are monolithic, which is crafted out of a single rock.

  • The structure of the shore temple was built from the top to the bottom and so it is quite distinctive.

Festivals Conducted at Shore Temple

As for the festival, there is only one festival conducted at the Shore temple and it is the Mamallapuram Dance Festival. It is held during December and January in Mamallapuram. The highlight of the festival is the various art forms performed by the experts of Kuchipudi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kathakali in the backdrop of the Shore temple and the surrounding rock structures.

The place is crowded by people and the festival extends for months.

Get to Know Shore Temple Timings

Mamallapuram is a tourist destination and a lot of visitors travel to the Shore temple to look at the scintillating architecture on the rocks. The temple opens at 6 a.m. and it closes at 6 p.m. There is an entrance fee of Rs.10 for Indians and children who are below 15 years need not pay for entry. The foreign tourists are charged Rs.340 per person. One can go around and explore the rock structures and the history of the temple.

If you are interested in learning the history and culture of the place, then it will take about 2 hours to go around and understand the theme of each art there.

How to Reach the Shore Temple?

Located near Chennai, it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to reach Mamallapuram by car. You need to travel around 56 km via East Coast Road. There is bus service from various parts of the Chennai city. Some of the common bus routes are Vandaloor Zoo to Mamallapuram, Chromepet to Mamallapuram and Potheri to Mamallapuram. In addition, there are mofussil buses that operate timed services from the central part of Chennai. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to travel depending on the location from where you get in.

Those visitors who wish to visit the Shore temple from other parts of the country can opt for a train or flight. The Chennai Central Railway Station has trains connecting from all the major cities and towns. From there, you can hire a cab or bus to reach Mamallapuram. The Chennai International Airport is situated at a distance of 55 kilometers from the Shore temple. There are frequent flights from various cities to Chennai. You can book a cab or bus to Mamallapuram from the airport.

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