This UNESCO World Heritage site (also known as Mamallapuram) has over 40 monuments and Hindu temples from the 7th-8th century sited on the shore of Bay of Bengal. Mahabalipuram was the capital of the powerful Pallava Dynasty in the 7th century AD. Early travellers like Marco Polo and Ptolemy wrote glowing accounts of the wealth and sophistication here.
For modern tourists, the highlight is the magnificent Shore Temple, considered by experts to be among the oldest extant stone buildings in India. It combines shrines to Shiva and Vishnu. Of special note are the five 7th-century monolithic shrines, also known as the five chariots, showing the early stages of temple architecture evolving from wooden structures to stone.
Don’t miss the cave temples including the extraordinarily energetic Mahishasuramardini (Durga slaying the buffalo demon) and the great Arjuna’s penance relief (‘Descent of the Ganges’).
Over the centuries, many structures have been washed away by the sea, and some are greatly eroded, yet there are enough vestiges of the Pallavas’ golden era to captivate.
Sculpture workshops using traditional tools and techniques, and the seaside shacks selling delicious seafood add to the charm of Mahabalipuram.