Sights to See
The world's largest bas relief, Arjuna’s Penance also known as the Descent of the Ganga, 27 m long and 9 m high, holds pride of place at Mamallapuram. This huge whaleback shaped rock features figures of gods, demigods, men, beasts, birds, etc. The bas relief tells the story of the pious Arjuna, one of the five heroes of the epic Mahabharata, who persuades Shiva to use his hair to break the fall of the holy river Ganga as she descends to Earth from heaven. The cleft between the boulders is where Ganga descends.
Krishna Mandapam features a sculpture on the rock face of one wall - Lord Krishna - as the protector of all living beings.
Located at the southern edge of Mamallapuram, the Five Rathas are five free standing temples. Four of them were carved out of the single long granite boulder. These temples are actually detailed replicas of ancient wooden structures. The Rathas (temple chariots) are named after the Pandavas, the five heroes of the epic Mahabharata. These monolithic Rathas with their gopurams, multi-pillared and sculptured walls, and Vimanas are full sized models of different kinds of temples known to the Dravidian builders of the 7th century.
This is one of the oldest temples in south India and belongs to the latter half of the 7th century AD. Said to have been constructed by King Rajasimha, it is a good example of the first phase of structural temples constructed in the Dravidian style. It has two shrines dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, facing the east and the west. This temple’s architecture influenced that of the Cholas who succeeded the Pallavas as the dominant dynasty in the area now covered by Tamil Nadu.
The rock-cut cave tradition, represented by more than 13 caves, was first initiated here by Mahendravarma. Notables among the cave temples are Konerimandapa, Mahishasuramardhini cave, Varahamandapa, Adivarahamandapa, Tirumurti cave and Krishnamandapa. The Mahishasuramardhini cave depicts Goddess Durga fighting a demon on one side and Lord Vishnu's cosmic sleep on the other, and is a particularly remarkable scooped cave. The Varaha cave is a small rock-cut mandapam featuring four panels of fine looking doorkeepers and four interesting bas-reliefs.
This is located 4 km north of the main monument complex. It was built as an open-air theatre, where cultural programmes were held during Pallava period.
Krishna's Butter Ball
The huge boulder near the Ganesha Ratha is popularly known as Krishna's Butter Ball. It rests precariously on a narrow rock base. Legend has it that several Pallava kings attempted to move it, but all the kings and their elephants could not shift the boulder even by an inch.
This newly established modern open-air museum of sculpture reflects the cultural heritage of the Tamils from the Sangam age. It is situated very close to the Shore Temple.
College of Sculpture
Here, training is provided in various branches of temple art and architecture, according to the Shilpashastra. The college also has a display hall, which exhibits beautiful traditional sculptures.