chrispy thoughts

-the world as I see it

Monolithic marvels

My second post of 2016! I don’t know how I slackened off , wait, I actually do know how- those crazy stressful final months of my PhD! Well, now that I’ve completed that chapter, there are no more excuses. So I am hoping to increase the activity level on my blog , at least a wee bit. It shouldn’t be too hard, I guess.

In this post, I will be blogging about the granite monolithic wonders I saw on a recent visit to Mahabalipuram (maha=great, bali=strength and puram=city). Also known as Mamallapuram , this ancient temple town is perched on the Coromandel coast. Inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the year 1984, the monuments at Mahabalipuram date back to the 7th and 8th centuries, when the area was under the rule of the Pallavas, who were trailblazers in rock-cut architecture, and played a pivotal role in shaping the Dravidian style of temple architecture in South India.

We first arrived at the Pancha rathas – the five chariots, which also go by the name of Pandava rathas. They are often mistaken to have a connection with the Mahabaratha, but in reality, they are not of any religious significance. They are, however, testaments  of stone, that have been bequeathed to us from hundreds of years ago and surprisingly, unlike most Indian monuments that suffer from dire neglect and are evidence of our apathy towards maintenance, these structures are in pretty good shape. The credit for their condition should go to the sand that they were buried under until around two hundred years ago, when they were discovered by the British during an excavation at the site.

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The Pancha Rathas at Mahabalipuram

Each of the rathas is cut and shaped top down from a single rock and chisel marks are still visible on the surface. They are prototypes for the pyramidal Vimanas (temple towers) that came to characterise the Dravidian style of temple architecture and the progression of technique and structural form is clearly evident as you go from one ratha to the next, with the final one-  the Dharamraja Yudhistra’s ratha, bearing the closest resemblance to the typical structure of a Vimana.

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The Pancha Rathas at Mahabalipuram

From here, we proceeded to the Descent of the Ganges – an open-air sculpture executed in bas- relief ( a technique where the sculpted surface is slightly projected above the rest of the surface). The sheer finesse and detail with which the surface has been sculpted is awe-inspiring.

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The Pancha Rathas at Mahabalipuram

After managing to break away our wonder-struck gazes from the sculpted granite, we walked ahead to the spot of Krishna’s butterball- a huge rock doing a balancing act of sorts, thanks to friction and a well-positioned centre of gravity. It is rather impossible to get a picture of the rock without any human in the frame as there is no dearth of the “Look at me carrying that huge rock” people wanting a photograph beneath it, arms outstretched, squatting and all that jazz.

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You don’t mess with friction

Our final stop was at the Shore temple, seated on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Unlike the previous structures that are carved, this is a built temple. Located so close to the coast, the salt has taken its toll on the stone temple. In order to check the damage, a few years ago, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) applied a paper pulp treatment to absorb the salt from the stones and prevent further destruction of the monument. A water-repellent  chemical coating was then applied on to the surface of the stones, which was a bad idea because it has been reduced to bits and pieces that cling to  the stone surface in white patches, marring the beauty of the temple.

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The Shore temple at Mahabalipuram

The people sitting on the lawns around the temple come there for different reasons. Some of them are architecture students looking for inspiration, some look at it as a nice reading spot while a few others just come to enjoy the gentle sea-breeze which is a huge relief from the ruthless heat in Tamil Nadu. Me, I soaked in all the sea-breeze that I could before it was time to get rolling. Out here, the breeze is never enough!
Okay, it isn’t that bad, but you know me, I like to exaggerate at times.

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This entry was posted on October 7, 2016 by in Travel and tagged , , , , .

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