Mahabalipuram part 3

The driver next took me to Five Rathas, a site perhaps a mile from the main park. ‘Ratha’ means ‘chariot’and these structures, though massive, stationary, and carved from boulders, are shaped like mobile chariots and are positioned in a line as if part of a parade. There are gorgeous details in the rathas, and monolithic animals standing guard.

Next we went back towards the main park, I believe at the western end. There was an entrance here and a path to a staircase leading to a hilltop shrine. From there, I could see the lighthouse built in the late 1800’s, and the sea. The shrine itself seemed to rise from the rock. 

On the way up, there is Mahishasuramardhini Cave temple, another unbelievable structure carved from rock, with amazing carvings inside. My guidebook says that the scenes depict a battle with and defeat of buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. You can see the demon holding a club-type weapon in the carving below.

Below, per guidebook, is “Lord Vishnu reclining on His serpent couch Adisesha”. Serpent couch!!!

And then to the upper structure. 

Here is the view with the lighthouse. I didn’t enter because it isn’t part of the ruins and I wasn’t interested, but one can go inside.

Beautiful!!! After this, we went to the town at the area with shops. Many sold rock carvings, from ones you could hold on your hand to some as tall as me. From there, the driver took me to a more modern temple, like many I’d seen in Chennai and elsewhere in India. I’m not sure why he took me there, but it was lovely. It is called Shri Vishnu Temple and it dates from the 14th century. I enjoyed walking around and noticing parallels with the more ancient structures.

Then we headed back to Chennai, me and my hired car. I enjoyed the air conditioning and watching, past the talismans on the dash, the chaos blooming around me.

That’s a giant load of hay in front of us, below:

Back in Chennai, we went out to dinner at this great restaurant in the mall near MB’s apartment. We did a photo shoot out front by the lions, of course. 

We ordered way too much food and enjoyed our time together until I had to get myself to the airport. And so this trip came to an end. Can’t wait for the next time, MB!! That goes for you, too, India!! I’ll close with a photo of this great plaque at MB’s apartment. It has the usual rules for apartment living, but the last line instructs “Live a happy life.” Yes!

Mahabalipuram part 2

With the Elephant Wall on my left, I walked up a hill and saw the large round boulder known as Krishna’s Butter Ball. 

The story goes that as a child, Krishna liked butter so much that he would steal it from his mother. There are many stories about this in Hindu mythology. Here is a link to a cartoon in English about baby Krishna and butter. The rock  is famously lodged in place despite many attempts, including the notable 1908 one that involved seven elephants, to push it down the hill. Here’s another pic from a different angle with people nearby for perspective:

My guidebook was not too useful as a map at this point. I meandered around the largely unlabeled park to see if I could find  the structures from the book. I think the next place I saw is called Tirumurthy Cave, carved into the hillside rock.

Note the lingham below. Incense and candles were recently burned here. I also saw visitors praying at some sites. These temples are still used! 

The terrain was dry and the day was hot and sunny. I kept going, despite being confused on exactly where I was and what I was looking for. My map insisted that there were many structures here and I found several. It is very possible that I missed some, too, but I really enjoyed walking around and not knowing what was around the corner. It was not very crowded and if it hadn’t been for the scattered litter I would have felt at times like I was discovering the place. 

There were goats and monkeys, too!

I climbed up a hill and many steps to see this temple, perched up high and with a view of the ocean. 

I went back down to the driver and we headed to the next site a short drive away.

Chennai and Mahabalipuram, India, March 2017

Back in Chennai we went to a fancy movie theater. We watched a great movie based on a true story – Lion. A young boy in India gets lost, becomes adopted by an Australian couple, and goes back to India to locate his biological family 25 years later. Details from the ornate theater:

We also went to the beach. It was  ten minute tuktuk ride from MB’s place. Despite what I had heard, it was a clean beach with people swimming and anti-litter announcements on a loudspeaker. I was excited to see the ocean from India, since I had spent the previous visit mostly in the desert. We were at the Bay of Bengal, across the water from southern Myanmar.

The last big thing I wanted to do before leaving Chennai was see the ruins of Mahabalipuram. This is a UNESCO world heritage site 50 km south of Chennai. It has gorgeous ruins from the 7th and 8th centuries when it was an important commercial and cultural center and seaport. I stressed out about how to get there and back- I am so programmed to take the frugal option (local bus) but I ended up hiring a cab for the day. The bus station was far from MB’s apartment and the bus ride was three times as long as the car ride. The cab would take me to the various sites and cost under $30 for the entire day. It felt indulgent to have an air-conditioned car and driver all to myself, but I splurged. It was my last day of this excellent trip, and I would be back in plenty of time to meet MB after work for a last evening hanging out. The driver picked me up at the apartment and off we went. The drive had some rural parts, but was almost completely through commercial urban streets. It felt like the city of Chennai stretched on and on. There were occasional glimpses of the water. Eventually we came to the first stop, the Shore Temple. 

According to the guidebook I bought here, this is the only surviving of seven original temples built on these shores in the 7th and 8th centuries by the Pallava Dynasty kings Mahendravarman and his son Narasimhavarman I. This southern India dynasty ruled from 275 CE to 897 CE and introduced influential script and architectural styles in the region. This particular temple has UNESCO World Heritage status and is known as the best example of Pallava architecture. It was awesome to see, especially with the Bay of Bengal so close by. 

The next stop was the Elephant Wall, which seemed to be at the main Mahabalipuram site and town center. The driver took my photo by the impressive carvings, then I was let loose to wander the ruins of the main park. 

The wall is called Arjuna’s Penance, referring to the trials endured by the Mahabharata hero in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon. It also tells the story of the birth of the Ganges river though actions of the sage Bhagiratha and the Hindu deity Shiva. My guidebook describes “the triple world of Gods and demi-Gods, of human beings, birds and animals and of Nagas and Nymphs- all fitting harmoniously”into the 100 feet long by 45 foot tall bas-relief. It is stupefying and stunning and gorgeous. 

The middle structure above is a few feet away from the Wall. It is carved into the rock and has lovely columns and more wall carvings inside.

More in next post!