One of the most visited spots on the East Coast Road, Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is best known for the iconic shore temple. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India within a fenced, landscaped enclosure away from the beach and the market with which it was once contiguous. Visitors with tickets are permitted access through a tiny turnstile. Across a lawn shimmering in the sun, the grey stone pagodas of the Shore Temple rise ahead of a barricade of beach casuarina trees and sea rocks piled up to prevent the sea from eating away at this littoral treasure.
It is a structural temple, an assembly of granite slabs. In the 8th century, when the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram was built, the place on which it stands was a bustling port. The Pallava dynasty, under its king Narasimhavarman II, ruled over the region then. The first European sailors, who sighted the temple from the shore, gave it the name Seven Pagodas. One of the earliest explorers to stop by Mahabalipuram was the Italian Marco Polo.
Many historians believe that the Shore Temple is a survivor of a city that is largely invisible today. For long this fact has been debated - some scholars argued that the remaining pagodas had been swallowed by the sea while others maintained that the sunken city was a figment of fertile imagination. The December 2004 South Asian Tsunami, despite its wake of destruction, put the argument to rest. Great sections of an underwater city were exposed, particularly in one moment when the sea drew back 500 metres before sending the killer waves swelling to the land. The Shore Temple suffered little damage in the tsunami though some of the structures in its neighbourhood were not so lucky. Further excavations have revealed more ruins, breathing new life into its enigma.
Enjoy these Mamallapuram moments from The Great East Coast Drive, by AZHAR MOHAMED ALI.