The Quest for the Mythical Submerged Temples of Mahabalipuram

The Quest for the Mythical Submerged Temples of Mahabalipuram

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Mahabalipuram is an ancient city located in the Kancheepuram district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Historically speaking, Mahabalipuram was once part of the Pallava Dynasty, a Tamil dynasty that ruled over part of southern India between the 3rd and 9th centuries AD. One of the architectural achievements of the Pallava kings was the construction of a complex of temples commonly known as the ‘Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram.’ Of these seven temples, only one - the Shore Temple, remains visible today. The other six temples are thought to have been submerged under the sea.

The Name of the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram

Sources say that the name Mahabalipuram is meant to honor the benevolent King Bali, also known as Mahabali. This king is recorded to have sacrificed himself to Vamana, the fifth avatar of Vishnu, following which he is said to have attained enlightenment.

Mahabali sacrificing himself to Vamana.

The Beautiful Architecture of the Seven Pagodas Enraged a Deity

The Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram were built during the reign of Narasimhavarman II in the 8th century AD. The Shore Temple is a building with five stories. Due to its position, the first rays of the rising sun would fall on the deity that this temple was dedicated to, Shiva. The role of the Pallava kings as patrons of the arts can also be attested by the fact that this temple is decorated with intricate bas-reliefs. Many other outstanding structures built during the reign of the Pallava kings were decorated similarly. Additionally, there are many monolithic sculptures scattered around the temple complex.

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram , Tamil Nadu, India. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Remarkable as the Shore temple may seem, it is the six other submerged temples that have gained the most interest. According to a local myth, the beauty of Mahabalipuram aroused the jealousy of Indra, the deva of rain and storms . As a result, the deity is said to have submerged the entire city, including six of the seven temples, under the sea during a great storm. Only the Shore Temple was left above the water as evidence that this beautiful city had once existed. Whilst some believe that the myth is just a story, others are convinced that there are six temples under the waters somewhere off the coast of Mahabalipuram.

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Underwater Investigations for the Remaining Six Temples

The latter belief led researchers to conduct underwater investigations in an attempt to prove that the myth of the Seven Pagodas was indeed based on real events. In an article published in May 2004, researchers reported that they had come across underwater structures during their investigations. These include “long walls having 2 to 3 courses, scattered dressed stone blocks of various sizes and shapes and stones having projections,” which were “considered to be man-made in nature.” Additionally, it was speculated that the structures were “probably constructed for diverse purposes.”

Stone block with the joinery projections (left) and steps leading to the platform (right) found underwater at Mahabalipuram, India. ( National Institute of Oceanography )

In the same year, more evidence supporting the reality of the myth of the submerged temples came to light following the devastating tsunami that occurred on the 26th of December. During the tsunami, it was reported that “a long, straight row of large rocks emerge(d) from the water just before the waters rushed back again.” When the waters returned, these features were submerged again. Still, the force of the tsunami managed to expose some objects that were covered by centuries of silt. These objects include a large stone lion found on Mahabalipuram’s beach, as well as a half-completed rock relief of an elephant.

Lion statue that appeared after the December 26, 2004 tsunami on the beach of Mahabalipuram, India.

Investigations Continue

These recent discoveries have sparked renewed interest in the Mahabalipuram legend. Based on these new pieces of evidence, it has been speculated that the underwater structures off the coast of Mahabalipuram may have been part of a small seaport city. The investigators, however, did not jump to the conclusion that these structures belonged to the legendary submerged temples. It was only after years of analysis that divers and scientists were ready to confirm the existence of at least one ancient temple and the possibility of many more constructions.

To date, the team of geologists, archaeologists, and divers have found a 10 meter (32.8 ft.) long wall, a short flight of stairs, and chiseled stone blocks. These were found 800 meters (2624.7 ft.) from the shoreline at a depth of nearly 8.5 meters (27.9 ft). Although it has been difficult to identify many of the structures due to thick aquatic growth, experts believe they are about 1,100-1,500 years old. It is hoped that through further investigations, a greater understanding of these underwater structures can be gained and the myth of the seven submerged temples might one day be considered a true historical event.

Part of one of the submerged temples reportedly visible during low tide. Mahabalipuram, India.

Featured image: Shore Temple. ( University of Southampton )

By: Ḏḥwty

13 Things About Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

The Shore Temple which is on the banks of the Bay of Bengal is one of the main attractions of Mahabalipuram. Its beautiful structure is an architectural marvel, which depicts the ancient finesse of art.

The Shore Temple which was built during 700 - 728 AD has stood the test of times. Once a busy village port of Mahabalipuram is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tamil Nadu.

Let us get into the glorious past of Shore Temple!

Shore Temple

The Shore temple is located on the shore of the Bay of the Bengal in Mahabalipuram, a village town in the Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. The town is today called Mammalapuram and situated around 58 km south of Chennai. Hailed as one of the oldest structural stone temples in the world, it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The temple is one of a cluster of ancient monuments which have withstood the ravages of time and still exist in Mammalapuram. It is one of the seven Pagodas that initially existed, of which six temples are submerged in the sea. Currently, the site is under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India, who is taking steps to conserve and protect the temple. The vicinity of the temple has been beautified by the horticultural society, and a lush green lawn welcomes visitors. This magnificent temple is one of the most prominent tourist attractions of India and enjoys the patronage of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

History of the Shore Temple

The creation of this structural masterpiece is credited to the King Narasimha Varman II of the Pallava Dynasty who was popularly called as Mamallan. Sometime in the mid-7th century he initiated construction work on the Cave temples and the imposing monolithic Rathas. Work on sculpting the cut-in and cut-out structures continued during subsequent periods during the reign of several South Indian kings. The Chola kings also continued to work on the temple and their involvement in the construction of the temple is evident from the style and design of some structures.

Legend of the Shore temple

According to Hindu mythology, a mighty king named Hiranyakasipu refused to worship Lord Vishnu, but his son Prahalad was an ardent devotee of the Lord. He refused to obey his father’s diktats and was banished from the kingdom. Upon returning, he was confronted by his father who dared him to prove the existence of Vishnu. Prahalad duly informed him that Vishnu is present everywhere in all animate and inanimate objects. Hiranyakasipu then challenged him to make Vishnu appear out of a pillar and kicked it, whereupon a fierce Avatar of Vishnu in the form of a Man-Lion (Narasimha) emerged. This fearsome form of the Lord effortlessly carried the king to the threshold and killed him. Prahalad ascended the throne with the blessings of Narasimha and had an illustrious grandson named Bali, who was renowned for his generosity but a little vain. The town was named Mahabalipuram to commemorate Bali’s sacrifice to Lord Vishnu in his Avatar as a Dwarf (Vamana).

Significance of the Shore Temple

The majestic Shore temple is also referred to as the Seven Pagodas and unfortunately most of the structures are submerged. The structure which has survived the onslaught of the waters is a complex of three temples, one large and two small. This structure once served as landmark for navigation of ships by ancient seafarers, who termed it as the Seven Pagodas.

Architecture of the Shore Temple

The Shore temples are built in the same architectural style, with the main temple facing east, ensuring the first rays of the Sun shine on the Shivlingam within the shrine. It is a massive five-storied structural shrine replete with sculpted granite rocks. It also holds the distinction of being one of the oldest structural temples in South India. The pyramidal structure is around 60 feet high and rests on a 50 foot square platform. The circular shikara is erected on a circular griva and built in the Versara style of architecture. A spire in the shrine is spectacularly embellished with several sculptures and carvings. The small temple in front is made of finely cut local granite and served as the original porch. This and the main shrine are dedicated to Lord Shiva. One shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is depicted in a reclining posture. All the shrines have intricate carve sculptures and topped by large sculptures of Nandi. The location of the temple on the very margin of the sea where it is exposed to many dangers indicates the sheer gumption of the builders and the capabilities of their craftsmanship.

Festivals Related to Shore Temple

A gala dance festival is held every year in Mammalapuram during Dec-Jan. It is organized by the Department of Tourism, courtesy of the Government of Tamil Nadu. This month long extravaganza features exponents of various traditional dance forms of India. It is held against the backdrop of the spectacular Pallava rock sculptures and features Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kathakali dance performances. The festival is a huge draw and attracts massive crowds from all over the world.

Location – How to reach the Shore Temple

Mahabalipuram or Mammalapuram is around 58 km away from the city of It is frequented by visitors throughout the year and numerous resorts have sprung up on the road leading to the town. The town itself has several hotels, resorts and lodges who offer accommodation to suit all budgets. It is a thriving tourist center and easily accessible by several modes of transport.

By Air: The Chennai Airport is located around 48 km away.

By Train: The nearest Railway Station is in Chengalpattu, around 24 km away.

By Bus: Mammalapuram is well connected by bus service.

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Legend Of Mahabalipuram’s Submerged Pagodas

The shore temple at Mahabalipuram. All photographs:

Underwater mysteries have always fascinated us and have given us enough to research on and to recreate the history of early human life on earth. Among many such marvellous enigmas that have been lingering in the minds of many historians and archaeologists is the story behind the deluged structures of Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram (ancient name) is a town in the Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu, situated at a distance of 60km to the south of Chennai. The town formed a part of pre-historic age and was a vibrant sea port during the era of Periplus (1st century C.E. manuscript that lists all the coastal landmarks) and Claudius Ptolemy (140 C.E.), from where the ancient Indian traders navigated to the South-East Asian countries.

This ancient port city is believed to have been founded by King Mahabali (son of King Prahalada and grandson of King Hiranyakasipu). Later evidences show that the city was inhabited by the rulers of the Pallava dynasty during the 3rd and 9th centuries.

According to historians, Pallava King Narasimhavarman II initiated the construction of temples along the Coramandel coastline. The complex derives its name ‘seven pagodas’ owing to the fact that there were seven temples. Local folklore states that the prosperity and the mesmerizing beauty of Mahabalipuam instigated a feeling of envy among the gods, especially Lord Indra.

As a result, Indra is said to have immersed the entire city including six of the seven temples in a disastrous storm leaving behind the famous UNESCO World Heritage site of the Shore Temple –evidence of that this city once existed.

The stone blocks and the stepped platform found submerged at Mahabalipuram. One of the structures that was left behind after the 2004 tsunami. Photo credit:

Loval fishermen claim that they were able to witness the gleaming copper tops of the submerged out at the sea. This myth further grabbed attention after the catastrophic tsunami of December 2004, during which the water level receded by 500 meters and numerous people saw long rows of straight stones.

Also, as an aftermath of the disaster, several small statues and temples were left uncovered, further urging the Archaeological Survey of India and the Indian Navy to scrutinize the site. This underwater investigation disclosed a large series of buildings, walls, platforms that have been elucidated as forming a large complex. Foundation walls, broken pillars, scattered dressed stone blocks and other granite structures are among the other finds of the survey.

The line of rocks visible after the tsunami. Photo credit:

These present day revelations have ignited a renewed interest in this legend. Based on these new evidences, it has been deduced that the underwater elements found off the coast may have been part of the port city. Archaeologists believe that a major part of the temple complex might have been ruined due to a tsunami in the 13th century.

Divers inspect the submerged pagodas of Mahabalipuram. Photo credit:

Another suggestion made by the researchers is that the land area might have undergone severe erosion due to the fluctuating coastline. Also, the researchers do not want to jump to any immediate conclusions but would want to do a thorough investigation and who knows one day might be able to prove the myth of submerged temples to be a true historical occurrence.

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The underwater castle ruins of a lost civilization in Turkey.

Sitting below the waters of the Middle-East’s second largest lake is a 3000-year-old castle. Thought to be the remains of the ancient Urartu civilization, the castle is around a kilometer in length, with walls of up to four meters tall.

This lost civilization once thrived in modern-day Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. Although much of the ruins are under the lake, there are still remnants that can be seen by the lakes edges.

Shore Temple

Legends say that this famed Shore Temple was initially identified as part of the Seven Pagodas at Mahabali puram. It is a very sacred temple and one of the ancient Hindu legends referred to the origin of these pagodas in mythical terms. A story is connected with the history of the temple- Prince Hiranya kasipu refused to worship the God Vishnu. The prince’s son, Prahlada, loved and was devoted to Vishnu greatly and criticized his father’s lack of faith. Later, Hiranya kasipu banished Prahlada but then relented and allowed him to come home. After that the Father and son quickly began to argue about Vishnu’s nature. When Prahlada stated that Vishnu was present everywhere, including in the walls of their home, his father kicked a pillar. In the form of a man, Lord Vishnu emerged from the pillar with a lion’s head, and killed Hiranya kasipu. Eventually Prahlada became the king, and had a grandson named Bali. Later on, Bali founded Mahabali puram on this site. Mythology stated that Gods were jealous of the architectural elegance of the monuments of Mahablipuram, therefore they caused floods to occur, which submerged most parts of the city, except for a few structures that are seen.

The best time to visit the temple is during Sunset and Sunrise as it adds to the charm of the temple. Visitors can carry with them a camera to capture the scenic beauty of this temple. The ticket counter of this temple closes at 5:30 PM.

For Kids: Below 15 ears: Free Entry


The Shore Temple was constructed in 700–728 AD. This temple got the name- Shore as it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. This temple is a structural temple and was built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. The site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty at the time of its creation. It has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 as one of the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. People say that it is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India and is a complex of temples and shrines.The shore temple is also one of the most temples.


There are basically three temples inside the main premise. And all the three Temples of the Shore Temple complex are built on the same platform. The temples appear to be a replica of the Dharmaraja Ratha if viewed from the northern end. The main Shore Temple faces east because the sun rays shine on the main deity of Shiva Linga in the shrine. It is a five-storied structural Hindu temple rather than rock-cut as it was built with sculpted granite stones hauled from a nearby quarry. Records say that it is the earliest important structural temple in South India. And its pyramidal structure is 60 feet 18 m high and sits on a 50 feet -15 mtr square platform. In front, there is a small temple which was the original porch and that porchis made out of finely cut local granite. According to the recent excavations, it has been revealed that the new structures are under the sand.

The Quest for the Mythical Submerged Temples of Mahabalipuram - History

Jayanta Kumar Mallick

Location: Coromandel Coast facing the Bay of Bengal, Tamil Nadu.
Approach: Nearest airport Chennai, 60 km away railhead Chengalpattu, 30 km away.
Tourist attractions: Shore temples, Pancha Rathas, Arjuna?s Penance, Thirukadalmallai, Varaha
Cave Temple, Mahishamardini Cave, Lighthouse, Monument: Descent of the Ganges, Beach, Museum, Dance Festival.
Accommodation: Lodges, hotels, beach resorts.
Entry: Free except Museum.
Timing:? 06:00-17:30.
Best time: October-March.

Named after the cruel mythical King Mahabali slayed by Lord Vishnu. Came to prominence during the Pallava dynasty (7th-8th Centuries). Also a sea-port during the time of Periplus (1st century AD) and Ptolemy (AD 140). Some architectural activity going back to the period of Mahendravarman-I (AD 600-30), the father of Mamalla. Rock-cut rathas, sculptured scenes on open rocks like Arjuna’s penance, the caves of Govardhanadhari and Mahishasuramardini, the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple (the sleeping Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the rear part of the Shore temple complex) are attributed to the period of Narasimhavarman-I Mamalla (AD 630-668).? Dotted with ?Seven pagodas’ once upon a time. Now only Shore Temple’ remains, rest submerged in the sea as written by Robert Sotheby’s ‘Curse of Kehama':

Of the ancient kings, which Baly in/his power/Made in primeval times: and built/above them/A city, like the Cities of the Gods,/Being like a God himself For many/an age Hath Ocean warr’d against his/palaces,/Till overwhelm ‘d they lie beneath the/waves,/Not overthrown, so well the awful/Chief/Had laid their deep foundations…/When now the Ancient Towers/appeared at last,/Their golden summits in the noon-/day light,/Shone over the dark green deep that/rolled between/For domes, and pinnacles, and spires/were seen/Peering above the sea. a mournful/sight!

Of the nine monolithic temples, the most important is Five Rathas, known after five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata, carved out of a single rock. Dharmaraja, Arjuna and Draupadi rathas square, Bhima and Ganesa rathas rectangular and Sahadeva ratha apsidal. Draupadi ratha a simple hut like kutagara shrine, while Arjuna ratha a dvitala vimana with a mukhamandapa Bhima ratha with a salakara wagon-vaulted roof Dharmaraja ratha a tritala vimana having functional shrines at all the talas Nakula-Sahadeva ratha experimental architect.

Shore temple is a complex of three temples, viz, Rajasimhesvara (a small tritala vimana facing west), the Kshatriyasimhesvara (the larger east facing vimana) and Nripatisimha Pallava Vishnugriha (an east facing, oblong, flat-roofed mandapa shrine) housing the reclining Vishnu. These shrines are enclosed by two prakara walls with openings constructed in later times. The inner surface of prakara walls once contained panel sculptures, worn out now. The notable cave temples- the Varaha mandapa, Mahisamardini mandapa, Paramesvara Mahavaraha Vishnugriha (Adivaraha cave).

The Tsunami in 2004 exposed several submerged temples and a whole new layer to the history of Mahabalipuram.

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The Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram

There are many famous myths in the world of travel, from Georgia’s Golden Fleece to Ethiopia’s Ark of the Covenant, but one of the most intriguing lies in the Southern Indian town of Mahabalipuram. The town is famous for its stunning bas reliefs and the wonderful Shore Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in around 700 AD, the temple is spectacularly located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, but what is perhaps even more impressive is the thought that there may once have been seven of these shore temples. According to a myth that has circulated around India and Europe for over 11 centuries, seven temples once stood along Mahabalipuram’s shore. Local legend suggests that the god Indra became jealous of this earthly city and sank it during a great storm, leaving only the Shore Temple above sea level.

The Tsunami Offers a Glimpse of the Truth

These stories persisted with no real evidence until the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Just before the tsunami struck India, the sea pulled back 500 metres. Amazingly, fishermen and tourists who witnessed this reported seeing a long straight row of large rocks emerge from the water, what could have been remnants of the Shore Temples. As the tsunami struck, the ruins were once again submerged beneath the waves.

In 2005 the Indian Navy searched the coastline using sonar, and discovered the remains of two submerged temples and one cave temple – so not the mythical 6 missing temples, but suddenly the ancient stories did not seem so outlandish. Since then more evidence of ruined temples off the coast has been uncovered by archaeologists, and scientists now believe another devastating tsunami struck the coastline in the 13 th Century, causing destruction to much of the town - the god Indra's vengeance on the temples.

So it appears that once upon a time there may well have been seven shore temples. Thankfully India’s existing Shore Temple survived the tsunami of 2004, and can be seen today on our South Indian Odyssey tour. One of the oldest temples in South India, the weather-worn Shore Temple was built by the declining Pallava dynasty, and the emerging Chola dynasty, which came to create so much fantastic art, used it as a model for their temples.


Marco Polo and the European merchants who came to Asia after him called the site Seven Pagodas. One of these is believed to be the Shore Temple. The temple probably acted as a landmark for navigation of their ships. As it appears like a Pagoda, the name became familiar to the seafarers. [5]

This structural temple complex was the culmination of the architectural creations that were initiated by the King Narasimhavarman II in mid 7th century starting with the Cave temples and the monolithic Rathas. [4] Even though the architectural creation of sculpturing cut-in and cut-out structures continued during subsequent periods, as seen in the Atiranachanda cave, the Pidari rathas and the Tiger cave, the main credit for the architectural elegance of the Shore Temple complex in the category of structural temples goes to the King Rajasimha (700–28 AD), also known as Narasimhavarman II, of the Pallava Dynasty. It is now inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that seemed to exist in the submerged coastline this is supported by the appearance of an outline of its sister temples off the coast during the Tsunami of 2004 which struck this coastline. [3] The architecture of the Shore Temple was continued by the Cholas (in the temples that they built) who ruled Tamil Nadu after defeating the Pallavas. [6]

The tsunami of December 2004 that struck the coastline of Coromandel exposed an old collapsed temple built entirely of granite blocks. This has renewed speculation that Mahablaipuram was a part of the Seven Pagodas described in the diaries of Europeans, of which six temples remain submerged in the sea. The tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. [7]

Though the tsunami of 26 December 2004 that occurred in the Indian Ocean struck the temple and the surrounding garden, the Shore Temple was not badly damaged, as the water level returned to its normal level within a few minutes. The damage was to the foundation of the bali peetam (sacrificial altar) in front of the temple, the steps leading to the boat jetty, and the small shrine with the Varaha (Boar) sculpture at the basement of the Shore temple. As the temple foundation is on hard granite rock, it could sustain the waves created by the tsunami the groynes erected around the temple area on the coastline also aided its protection. [8]

According to the two inscriptions found in the slab of smaller Shiva temple, the names of the three temples mentioned are as Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvara-gruham, Rajasimha Pallavesvara-gruham and Pllikondaruliya-devar. The entire temple complex is called as Jalashayana (lying in water). This confirms that the Vishnu shrine was the first shrine to be excavated here. The inscription on the lintel of the Vishnu shrine also mentions this as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha where Narapatisimha is a title of Rajasimha. [5]

An archaeologist has observed that: "In locating the temple on the very margin of the sea, exposing it to avoidable dangers, the builders, there can be little doubt, sought theatrical effect." [9]

The Mamallapuram Dance Festival is held every year during Dec-Jan in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. This dance festival is organised by Department of Tourism, Govt. of Tamil Nadu. Exponents of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohini Attam and Kathakali perform against this magnificent backdrop of the Pallava rock sculptures. It is vibrant festival of dance where enormous audience enjoys this one month long festival. [10]

As the Shore Temple was initially identified as part of the Seven Pagodas at Mahabalipuram, an ancient Hindu legend referred to the origin of these pagodas in mythical terms. Prince Hiranyakasipu refused to worship the god Vishnu. The prince's son, Prahlada, loved and was devoted to Vishnu greatly and criticized his father's lack of faith. Hiranyakasipu banished Prahlada but then relented and allowed him to come home. Father and son quickly began to argue about Vishnu's nature. When Prahlada stated that Vishnu was present everywhere, including in the walls of their home, his father kicked a pillar. Vishnu emerged from the pillar in the form of a man with a lion's head, and killed Hiranyakasipu. Prahlada eventually became the king, and had a grandson named Bali. Bali founded Mahabalipuram on this site.

Myths also mention that Gods were jealous of the architectural elegance of the monuments of Mahablipuram, 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. [11]

Layout Edit

All the three Temples of the Shore Temple complex are built on the same platform. Viewed from the northern end, the temples appear to be a replica of the Dharmaraja Ratha. [5] The main Shore Temple, which faces east so that the sun rays shine on the main deity of Shiva Linga in the shrine, is a five-storied structural Hindu temple rather than rock-cut as are the other monuments at the site. Built with sculpted granite stones hauled from a nearby quarry, it is the earliest important structural temple in South India. Its pyramidal structure is 60 feet (18 m) high and sits on a 50 feet (15 m) square platform. There is a small temple in front which was the original porch. [12] [13] It is made out of finely cut local granite. [14] The shore temple is also one of the most popular temples. Recent excavations have revealed new structures here under the sand. [13] [15]

The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Arkadeep, as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is dedicated to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The two Shiva shrines are orthogonal in configuration. The entrance is through a transverse barrel vault gopuram. The two shikharas have a pyramidal outline, each individual tier is distinct with overhanging eaves that cast dark shadows. [1] The outer wall of the shrine to Vishnu and the inner side of the boundary wall are extensively sculptured and topped by large sculptures of Nandi. [12] The temple's outer walls are divided by pilasters into bays, the lower part being carved into a series of rearing lions. [16] The temple walls have large sculptures of Nandi. [17]

Features Edit

The temple has a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) in which the deity, Sivalinga, is enshrined, and a small mandapa surrounded by a heavy outer wall with little space between for circumambulation. At the rear are two shrines facing in opposite directions. The inner shrine dedicated to Ksatriyasimnesvara is reached through a passage while the other, dedicated to Vishnu, is facing outwards. The Durga is seated on her lion vahana. A small shrine may have been in the cavity in the lion's chest. [13]

The Shore Temples configuration of the two Shiva shrines with the small Vishnu shrine in between illustrates an attempt to balance the different, competing religious requirements. [1]

The roofs of the temples have ornamentation similar to the Pancha Rathas. The roofs have finials on the top, indicative of its religious functional nature, as it was a completed temple. The octagonal shape of the shikaras of the two temples dedicated to Shiva are in the Dravidian architectural style. [5] Beneath the towers, the sanctuary walls are mostly blank without any decorations but the columns are carved over lion mounted bases. [18] The decorations on the outer faces of these shrines are similar to those seen on the Pancha Rathas, though due to their closeness to the sea, are partially eroded due to salty winds. [17]

The most distinctive feature of the temple are the Dharalinga and the Somaskanda panel, which are enshrined in the interior walls of the sanctum of the east facing Kshatriyasimhesvara temple. The Dharalinga is deified in the garbhagriha, which is in square shape of 12 feet (3.7 m) and the height is 11 feet (3.4 m). The Dharalinga or Shivalinga is in Rajasimha style, carved out of black basalt stone. It has sixteen faces with slight fluting to create a crown at the top. The top portion of the linga is damaged. Its total height is 6 feet (1.8 m) with one foot embedded in the foundation to provide stability. [5] A bas-relief, which is a family image of Shiva and his consort Parvati with their child Kartikeya built over a stone slab is located in a small shrine in the temple. This is also called the Somaskanada panel, a carved stone panel. Two more similar panels are seen at the entrance porch of the temple. This type of panel is also depicted in the nearby Dharmaraja Ratha of the Paramesvarvarman's era. [5] [19] [20] The ardhamantapa or half chamber which is the first chamber before entering the sanctum sanctorum, also has sculptures of Brahma on the south wall and Vishnu on its north wall. Sculptures of Shiva as Tripurantaka and Durga are seen on the back side of the north wall of the main shrine. There is also a circumambulatory passage to go round the main shrine in a clockwise direction. [5]

The smaller Shiva temple behind the main temple is a double storied structure with a stepped pyramidal tower with an octagonal shikhara built over a circular griva. A kalasa and finial are fitted above the shikhara. kudus (horseshoe-arch dormer like projections) and small shrines are part of the cornices at both levels of the structure. A Somaskanda panel decorates the back wall of the inner shrine. There is no mantapa (hall) in front of this shrine (probably damaged). The external walls display two panels. One is called Ekapadamurti, an eye-legged form of Shiva with Brahma and Vishnu emanating from his sides. The second panel is of Nagaraja (king of serpents) standing below a five-hooded serpent. [5]

Anantashayi Vishnu (reclining posture of Vishnu lying on the serpent Ananta) is enshrined in a small rectangular shrine between the large Kshatriyasimhesvara temple and the Rajasimha Pallaveshvara temple. Vishnu is depicted with four arms but his attributes are missing (damaged). The temple structure's rectangular tower is missing. The typical design of kudus and small square shrines are part of the cornice arrangement. The external walls have carvings of Krishna slaying the demon Kesi, Krishna dancing over Kaliya (the seven hooded serpent), and Vishnu seated on his vehicle Garuda in the act of saving Gajendra (elephant) from the mouth of a crocodile. Inscription noted in Pallava Grantha script is on the lintel indicating it as the earliest shrine of the complex. [5]

The entire compound wall surrounding the temples is sculpted with large sculptures of Nandi, the vehicle or mount of Shiva, [17] and also with Yalis and Varahas (boars). [8]

A monolith sculpture of a partly carved and partly sculpted lion with a hole in its torso is erected within the compound wall of the temple complex. A miniature image of Durga is sculpted on the back of the image, which is a depiction of Durga as Mahishasurmardini. The open mouth of the lion is inferred as representation of its role as the favourite mount of Durga. A female guardian with a bow is also carved on the leg of the lion. [5]

Miniature Shrine Edit

In 1990, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered a miniature shrine with the Bhuvaraha image in a well type enclosure. This is dated to the Pallava King Narasimhavarman Mamalla's (AD 638–660) reign. It was enclosed with an elliptical well built during Rajasimha's (AD 700–728) period. These are carved on the bedrock that also has the reclining Vishnu in the Shore Temple complex. [21] The miniature shrine is also dedicated to Shiva. [22] [23] It has sixteen-sided base which is carved from bedrock. The circular wall and superstructure are of structural type. There are lions depicted on the pilasters. It is reported as a unique single tiered temple and not seen in other temples of the Pallava period. Its circular shikara, is in vesara style architecture. [24] The shikhara is erected on a circular griva, which has kudus and maha-nasikas on its four sides and each nasika has an image of Ganesha. The kalasa above the shikara is missing. [5] The carving of the Bhuvaraha depicts Varaha as the boar incarnation of Vishnu. This image is in unusual form, unlike another Varaha depictions in other regions of the country, as there is no Bhudevi shown nor an ocean. The depiction is in the form of Varaha performing a diving act into the ocean to rescue Bhudevi or mother earth. The symbolism of this act denotes the myth, only when the temple is submerged in water, as it is below the ground level. [5] The sculpture is seen broken and the base has an inscription referring to titles of the Pallava king Rajasimha. The wall that surrounds the shrine to prevent intrusion of sand from the sea also has an inscription on the topmost layer, in Pallava-Grantha script, which equates the king with Arjuna. [5] [25]

ASI has constructed break-water wall all around the sea shore to save the temple from further damage. [5] The temple structures, affected by rough Sea and winds with salt content are being conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India by building protective groynes, treatment with wall paper pulp, and by planting casuarina trees along the affected coast line. The pulp treatment absorbs the saline water. In addition, chemical treatment is also given the monument to prevent water seepage into the rock. This kind of treatment is also reported to take out water stored inside the rock thus allowing the stone to breathe and preserve its strength. The area around the Shore Temple, has been beautified. The horticulture wing of the ASI has created a green lawn of 11 acres (4.4 hectares) around the Shore Temple. Fixing of signages with information on the monuments and creating fountains was also part of the beautification programme planned by ASI. [9]

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