Wonders of Mahabalipuram

Talking about glorious past of India, Mahabalipuram comes to my mind. Ancient temples, spell-binding sculptures, rocks reading epic poetry, and mysteries. Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is one of the World Heritage sites and a true testimony to rich Dravidian art and temple architecture. 


A popular legend that Gods were jealous of the architectural elegance of Mahabalipuram's monuments, and as a result, they caused floods to occur, which submerged most parts of the city, except for a few structures that are seen now.


This place is located on the East Coast Road in Tamilnadu. The name is said to be derived from the word "Mamallan", which means great warrior, a reference to King Narasimhavarman I., who was known for his love of art and sculpture. He was equally good at trading and having partnerships with other countries, especially with China. It is no wonder Mahabalipuram was chosen for the summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019.


My love for architecture and mysteries brought me to Mahabalipuram, though it was not planned. I was vacationing in Pondicherry and, out of blue planned to explore Mahabalipuram for one day. 

Negotiating heavy rain, we started our journey from Pondicherry. The drive from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram is a scenic one through east coast. Within two hours of the journey, we reached Mahabalipuram and surprised. The reason, weather was changed entirely, became hot and humid.


The first monument we saw was the Pancha Ratha (Five Chariots)






Each of the five monuments in the complex resembles a chariot and named after Pancha Pandavas and their common wife, Draupadi. We bought the composite ticket there that allows you to visit all the monuments with one ticket. 

Shore Temple 

The next one was the beautiful shore temple. It is so named because the temple overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. One of the finest examples of rock-cut stone temple. I overheard the conversation that this temple was acted as a landmark for the navigation of ships. 



I left my car in the parking area, and we walked towards other monuments. 


Arjuna's penance

It is few meters away from the shore temple parking area. You can see it for free as it is on the main road. 



Its big open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders measuring 29 m × 13 m. The panoramic view of life in the forest is skillfully sculptured, and an ensemble of over a hundred figures of gods, people, half-humans, and animals. The cleft between two boulders is brilliantly utilized to show the flow of river Ganga which is evinced by the presence of Nagas and Naginis. The entire stone carvings were looking vivid and lively


While there are still so many debates and two schools of thought, is it Arjuna's Penance or Descent of Ganges? Its official name, as per archeological record and information board, is Arjuna's Penance but does it represent Arjuna's penance? 


Krishna's butter ball

Let me ask you a simple question! What will happen when you place a spherical object on an inclined plane? will it roll down, right? If the diameter of any round object like a ball is less and the base which touches the ground is small, it will travel faster than the most object

But this theory appears to be failing in Mahabalipuram. Next to Arjuna's penance, there is one garden, and there you will see a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline and demonstrating an amazing example of a balancing act. You could see this enormous boulder from outside of the main road, but I went into the garden complex and had a closer look.



Its approximately 6 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighs around 250 tons, located on the edge of hill. It is really surprising to see how this boulder stands on a slope with its base touching only 1.2 meter base of the ground, refusing to give in to gravity. 


As usual, people around it blocked the views, and I was not getting a clear picture. While I was trying to take a close look, one young man asked me if I could take his picture. I said, ok. He then made a perfect pose, with his two hands, he tried to push the boulder. I smiled and took his picture from his mobile phone.


Later I noticed that was perfect and typical picture pose for most of the tourists.


Few being lazy simply sitting underneath and relaxing. let's talk about its origin, history, and myth around it first.


As per Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna often stole butter from his mother's butter handi. Devotees began to view this stone as Krishna's butter and, thus the name Krishna's butterball.


However, this giant boulder's original name is "Vaan Irai Kal" in Tamil, which means "Stone of Sky God".

We don't know the origin of this boulder, but it is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years, defying gravity. 

Few more stories of how Pallava king made failed attempt to move the boulder. In 1908 the Governor of Madras Arthur Lawley also decided to remove it. He feared for the safety of the town at the base of the hill. For these seven elephants were used to move the rock, but it didn't move an inch.

Mahaballipuran has seen all the natural calamity Cyclone, wind, rain, earthquake, and even tsunami all these years all failed to make any effect on this marvelous stone.


Is this a supernatural phenomenon or are there any scientific reasons? 


Many believe it's a natural formation but a stone taking this kind of shape owning to erosion, water flow, and strong wind is impossible, so how was this big ball brought here 1200 years ago. If it was impossible to push this rock downhill, how was it pushed up the hill? If you look around in the hill and see, you won't find any larger stone like this. Why is there only one stone?


Enough of myth, stories, conspiracy theories, here are two reasons I could think about, friction and center of gravity. 

Friction prevents the rock from sliding down, conceptually similar to how we stand on sloping ground Center of gravity allows it to balance on a small contact area. Its act of balancing and Krishna's butterball is not the only one in world. There are many.


In between Panch Ratha and Shore temple, there is one cave and lighthouse. We didn’t visit those places and left the town.



With lots of unanswered questions and admiration for ancient structures, I drove back to rainy Pondicherry from Mahabalipuram's heat. 



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