The Shore Temple is a structural monument built in the 7th century overlooking the Bay of Bengal at the rocky outcrop supervising the shoreline at Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram. A small rural area towards south of the Chennai city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram was a popular port adorned with many architectural splendours during the 7th and 8th centuries when the Pallava Dynasty was ruling.
The major attractions in the city are its several temples and rock-cut monuments that exhibit a stunning fusion of memorable past and inborn splendour. Most of these monuments are built according to the Dravidian temple style and Pallava sculpture. Constructed from the finely cut local granite, the shore is the live testimony of the Indian royal legacy.
The Pallava ruler Narasimha Varman II Rajasimha (700 – 728 A.D.) built the temple. The builder and artisans have inlaid the temple with the royal style of Pallava dynasty; as the Pallava art and architecture was at its peak during the period of construction. Among the oldest structural stone temples as against the rock-cut temples of South India, the unique layout of the temple, unlike other temples, was designed for a purpose. It was aimed at arresting the first beams emerging from the rising sun and lighting up the waters after the dusk. Wrecked currently by the wind and seawater, this temple marks the first Pallava structure to be constructed of stone instead of being carved from stone.
Considered among the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram to recognize the genius talent, the temple has its name in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most snapped temples in India, the temple has seen many historical proceedings of India. The significance of the Shore Temple is that its arrangement of the two Shiva shrines that hold a small Vishnu shrine in its middle signifies an effort to strike the stability level among the different but challenging religious needs.
A five-storeyed structural monument exhibiting the Dravidian temple architecture, the Shore Temple stands differently than its other accompanying monuments at the place, as they are rock cut. One of the important temples in the ancient times due to its structural feature in South India, the temple is shaped as a pyramid that is 60 feet high standing on a 50 feet square plinth. Initially forming the porch of the temple, a small temple located at the facade invites the visitors. Considered as one of the most key temples in South from the point of view of not only tourism but also from the view of archaeological discoveries, recent excavations have found new monuments hidden below the sand dunes.
Been outstandingly designed is the Shikhara or the spire that appears like a towering and staged style instead of looking like a common spherical Vihara. These shikharas are two in number wherein each tier is unique with hanging attics that cast shadows. Besides the exclusively decorated spires with carvings and sculptures, the other prominent features of this temple are its outer and inner side of the walls pinnacled with big images of Nandi (the divine vehicle – cow of Lord Shiva) and two pyramidal towers adorned with octagonal domes.
The roof decoration of the temple is in alignment with the embellishment of the Pancha rathas (5 chariots) been observed in the past temples. But currently, you will not be able to see this ornamentation as it is warned. Further, as another distinguishing feature, the finials cover the roofs from the top, which is a sign of the completeness and operational aspects of the temple. Percy Brown has described the Shore Temple as ‘a landmark by day and a beacon by night’.
Located in the east direction and facing the sea is the chief shrine within the area. The Shore Temple is devoted to both Lord Shiva, the perpetrator of truth and destroyer of the evil and Lord Vishnu, the perpetrator of life. Further, the temple’s three sanctuaries below the towers are also devoted to these two Hindu gods. The walls of the sanctuaries are not much ornamented, except that only their connected columns are inlaid with lion bases.
However, the exterior wall of the Lord Vishnu shrine and the inner edge wall are intricately engraved and sculpted. The sculpted panels show the scenes of real daily life. Further, the temple’s exterior walls are split into bays with plasters and its lower region is impressively carved with fostering lions. Last, but not the least; you will see a stone wall that is built in the current time to guard the complex from further erosion due to seawaters. However, the artwork is unbelievably lively and stunning.
Shrines and Deities
The Shore temple is fortunate enough to encompass the configuration of three shrines. Considered as the key shrine, the second smaller temple is devoted to Lord Shiva. In the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), you will view a Shivalinga, the phallic form of Lord Shiva. There is also a small mandapa accompanied by an arduous external wall. At the rear of this sanctum sanctorum, you will find the temple’s other parts such as the gateway, forecourt, and the assembly hall. Further, there are two shrines in front of each other where the inner one is dedicated to Ksatriyasimnesvara and other to Lord Vishnu that faces outwards. Both can be worshipped through a passage. The shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu is the third shrine small in size between the two orthogonal shrines of Lord Shiva. Here, Lord Vishnu is reclined on the Sheshnag, who is the divine snake king symbolizing consciousness according to the Hindu mythology.
The Mother Goddess Durga is carved on her divine vehicle called vahana, which is a lion. A noticeable unique feature here is a hollow cavity carved in the chest of the lion that might have been utilized as a miniature shrine.
It can be observed that the water channels might have been passed through the temple and the Vishnu shrine. The slanting barrel cryptic gopuram forms the entrance to the temple.
This refers to the sanctuary that holds a family photograph of Shiva, Uma (wife) also known as Parvati, and baby Skanda. One can notice that this image might is worshipped informally due to the presence of garlands. This is because formal worship involves a Brahmin and an emblem flying over the temple area.
The Dance Festival is organized from January 15 to February 15 with the Shore Temple as its background is a famous tourist attraction. Famous artists from distant places perform beautifully through the cultural dances of Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, and Odissi. Further, tribal dances, puppet shows, and classical and traditional music shows will just augment your joy even if you are a spectator. Further, January 14 or 15 also marks the grand festival of Pongal, a thanksgiving and harvesting festival.
Reaching the Temple
Reach by air, the nearest domestic and international airport is Chennai at 76 km. By rail, Chengalpattu is the nearest station at 29 km from Mahabalipuram. By road, a good network exists from Mahabalipuram to major cities such as Chennai, Tirukkalikundram or Pakshithirtham, Kanchipuram, and Pondicherry. In fact, you can reach the temple from anywhere in Tamil Nadu through a bus or taxi.