Mamallapuram was an important port in the seventh century A.D. during the rule of the dynasty of the Pallavas, and its monuments date from the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Many of the monuments have suffered from age and sea corrosion, but still have a dramatic vivacity. This was an early, experimental stage of stone sculpture, with the temples and sculptures carved out of the rocks found on the shore and hillside.
The ratha temples are carved, in the form of processional chariots, out of giant boulders sticking out of the sand. The most famous are the Five Rathas.
The Shore Temple stands on a promontory, surrounded by the sea, its magnificent carvings worn down by centuries of sea erosion.
Mandapa (rock sanctuaries)
One of the most striking is the Mandapa of Varaha.
Perhaps the most dramatic and exciting of the monuments is Arjuna’s Penance: a massive sculptured rockface depicting ancient Hindu legends.
Mamallapuram is still a centre for stone carving and walking to the Shore Temple one passes by dozens of sculptors hammering and chiselling away at figures destined for temples across the world, as well as for the tourist industry.