March 06, 2007

Mamallapuram | A journey towards history

If you are annoyed with the behavior pattern of the Bangalore autorickshaw drivers, then I must say, there is nothing to be worried about Bangaloreans, once you have experienced them at Chennai. No auto drivers can go worser than Chennai auto drivers. My Tamil friends warned me before, but I had not faced them earlier !

27 feb, almost 5:30 Am in the morning : just reached at Chennai Koyambedu bus stand; next destination was at Mamallapuram. I have read somewhere that this small city was called Mahabalipuram earlier. It is one of the recent name-change-event in India that took place and the place has been renamed as Mamallapuram after the name of king Mamalla.

At 5:30 AM, Koyambedu bus stand was really sleeping; people were sleeping on the platform, no one was there on 'May I help U' booth, nothing is written in english even. I asked one on-duty Police person about the platform number from where I could get a bus for Mamallapuram. The correct platform number was 6 and the bus numbers were 118,119 etc. My friend Anand told me that most of the buses for Pondicherry going via East Coast Road (ECR ) would touch Mamallapuram. And I know ECR is one of the few toll roads in India which has an excellent scenic beach way. I thought I should catch the bus which goes via ECR. I asked the bus conductor whether the bus was going to Mamallapuram or not. On a confirmation, I got into it heading towards Mamallapuram. Bus was running early in the morning, the weather was fantastic, little chilly, a gentle breeze passing all over us, somebody had just started looking into the local tamil newspaper; the mood was just perfect. We passed 2 KM from the bus stand and suddenly this mood turned into a heart-broken reality. When I offered the bus fare to the conductor, he gently refused it by saying that the bus was not heading towards Mamallapuram but towards Villpuram.
The day started with something really bad, we got into a wrong bus ! I decided to come back to Koyambedu bus stand again to catch another bus and then I met that horrendous auto driver. I was totally pissed off.

And this time I made sure that I caught the right bus. They still call the city as Mahabalipuram ( Ma-gaa-bali-poo-ram as Tamil people pronounce it).

ECR is supposed to be a scenic beachway , they told. Recent boom in the real estate industry has spoiled this natural beauty almost to death. You wil get the real beach sight only after you cross Covalang. Still some debris of the aftermath of Tsunami 2004, some relief villages, and the hoarding of the sponsors like World Vision can be seen on the beach way. It gave me a mixed feeling while going through the ECR , I must admit. My expectations were more, I imagined the road something and it turned out something else.

Jaykumar, our guesthouse Manager was a humble and real helping person. He came to the bus stand for picking me up. Mamallapuram is such a small place that you actually could cover all the historical place except five Rathas by walking. There is no need of taking any autorickshaw or taxi, Jaykumar suggested. The beach is next to the Shore Temple, and the straight road towards Shore temple heads to it from the bus stand. Next to the bus stand is the Perumal temple and behind the temple is Arjuna's Penance. A big and great bas-relief of ancient India can be seen here.
After we boarded at the guest house, we decided to go to the beach and take bath first. But I was hungry too. So before going to the beach, I had to search a tiffin centre for something to eat. Masala Dosa would have been the right choice, but as it was already 10 o'clock we had only plain dosa to eat.

I read about this bas relief earlier. It is hard to believe that this magnificent relief was carved in the mid-seventh century, probably the oldest one , I had ever seen. A story of obtaining Lord Shiva's weapon by Arjuna from Mahabharata or the descent of Gangas or probably the both depicted in itself. Furthermore, both stories were interpreted in a manner flattering to the Pallavas; the heroic Arjuna as a symbol of the rulers, and the Ganges as a symbol of their purifying power. I forgot to mention that , Pallava dynasty was the ruler of that time of Ancient southern India. And most of these sculpture works were done by them.


We headed to the beach next. It was only 10 AM in the morning and the sunlight was too harsh! Not a good light condition for any kind of photo shoot. The horse owners were waiting for the tourists to hire his horse for a ride. For the obvious reason they did not like me and when I asked for a photo he asked me money in return ! what the heck ! I avoided them though.

Rather I was interested in bathing in the beach. The beach is not so deeper, we can walk far towards the sea. People were enjoying their bath too. And if you are a fish lover, then you could check some sea fish food stall on the way to beach to satisfy your taste buds. The fishes are available to choose from and once you are done with the selection, immediately they will fry it with red color spices ( I don't know whats that, but I am sure that can not be red chillis ). Meals were also available at those small stalls, if you wish to have. Fish fry and Dal-Rice would be an excellent choice for a lunch.

So we had our lunch at Mamalla Bhavan,with a typical South Indian Thali while so many foreigners were trying to eat with fingers and having a Coke bottle next to their lunch plate! And we started for the site seeing after that. As I told earlier, Mamallapuram is such a small place that one can actually travel by walking; we decided to walk too. Those ancient monuments, Rathas, Caves and Relief were standing out as a bare evidence of the history. You should be proud to see such a rich and cultured heritage of India. People were here humble and co operative too. After crossing the gate next to Arjuna's Penance you will see a comprehensive tourist map of Mamallapuram, I thought of having a look there. One of the guides was explaining about it to a french couple. I was stunned by seeing the guide speaking fluently in french and later on I found something more interesting too. Most of the foreigners were french at Mamallapuram. The street buskers were talking in french, the hawkers were talking in french, the guides were talking in french, souvenir sellers were talking in french; it looked like, you may not get a response in hindi but you will definitely get response if you speak in french.

Krishna's butter ball is a huge single granite round shaped stone hanging for years just next to Ganesh Rath near Arjuna's penance. It is more of a tourist attraction. The stone is so huge that people can even take rest sitting/lying on the shadow of this stone. I found school children were playing nearby. Before going back to home after the last school bell , they used to come here for a play. I was enjoying their presence around me. They were so vibrant and full of energy, it reminded me of my school days.

I met Marimutthu and Aayaappa on the way to five Rathas. Marimutthu is a sculpture worker. He carves and makes fantastic sculptures out of those granite stones. I saw while working with the grinding machine, it generates lots of dust out of stones, which may in turn cause eye irritation and permanent eye problem. People need to take precautions for this kind of work ; at least they should wear a glass. It was very difficult for me to get close to them as it was too dusty but somehow I could manage it.
Marimutthu told me, it would take 7 days to make a finished medium size sculpture and the cost of that in a market would come around Rs 5000/-. I don't know the exact figure, but I assume there are more than 250 stalls in Mamallapuram who earns money from this art work. They make the idols within the shops, sell them out from there. There is a chance for you to get in touch directly with the sculpture artists.

Read next part here ...
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23 Comments:

Prashanth M said...

Beautiful write-up... Have been to Mahabalipuram some 10-15 times during my long stint at Chennai.

And yes, you won't get a response if you speak in any language other than Tamil. Yo can see some french speaking guys beacuase of the french colonies in Pondy...

Prashanth M said...

and about photos - can not comment on them as I can't see them - flickr is blocked in office :'(

Sriram said...

well written and nice shots!

Suchitra said...

Niceone :)Photos are also nice.

Praveen Prasanth said...

Bon travail !!!The 2 picture are really good(rated 5 out of 5 the girl`s Portrait and the bicycle man)

The Mahabalipuram is a places of mystery’s and myth right place for an archaeological photography.

lots of interesting stories to say...

Local lore has long held that the area once boasted seven magnificent temples,but that six of these were swallowed by the sea.the seventh, and only remaining temple, still stands on the shore .The legends say the ancient metropolis was destroyed by the gods who were jealous of its beauty, and sent a flood to bury it beneath the waves.

sandeep you always choose the right place ..great job!!keep it up!!

Jojo said...

Really nice one...

Mayur Channagere said...

Sandip.... as always... beautiful both the artical and pictures .... way to go dada... always liked your work and will always coem back for more..

As rightly said you will not find any one talking any other language other then Tamil, it is a nightmare if you dont know the language. Mamallapuram is a bealutful place and not many are aware of its history which is rich and well blended in your story.

Arnab Chatterjee said...

good one indeed. keep doing these with the travelogue flavor. cheers

Ganesh said...

This is one more nice work dude :) Looks like you are heading into professional travel journalist and as usual the photos are fantastic.

Make some more trip like this. i guess i would take you south down with me to make some more photos and travel writings like this :)

Keep it up the good work :)

Amoolya said...

A very nice photo gallery depicting the story\blog....keep up the good work.

shiva said...

I have been there once.. planning to come again maybe by end of the year.. you have an impressive write up! Excellent dedication.. I am sure, the next time i come around, i can expect quite many photographic opportunities. Thanks for visiting Sandip!

Prabhu said...

Excellent ...Very good one.

Keep it up sandip

Zing said...

Really nice shots. Excellent!

raghuram said...

lovely trip you have had.A nice set photographs too. loved the cycle shot.

PS:- u have got to know tamil in TN.. otherwise survival wud become a doubt! heheheh

Claude Renault said...

A very nice essay Sandip.. I really don't know what happpened with my other mail..
It's really well written and very nice to see the illustrations going with it. Nice work

badala said...

I love your work. Excellent.

Partha said...

I had been to Mahabalipuram during early eighties but came to know about the new name from your piece. Thanks for updating. I do remember the beautiful road from Chennai to this Shore Temple township. I repent for having lost the photos I took of the artisans, the rathas and also the big butter ball. For more information you may please read "Ramyani Bikhya (Tamil Parba)" by Rahul Sankrityan in Bengali. A beautiful travelogue.

Anirban De said...

Good Snaps and good taste. Seems like Sandip, you are heading towards a wonderful life of professional photgraphy as your second occupation!

Agn! Sharman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Martin said...

Mahabalipuram is a treasure house of ancient Tamil art, culture, civilization, & history. A coastal city, Mahabalipuram has an immense place of importance in Tamil history and mythology. This beautiful coastal city of Tamil Nadu is ordained with a number of temples and places of archeological importance. It is not surprising therefore, that because of the overabundance of these places Mahabalipuram is often referred to as a legacy in stone. The unique instances of art, culture and architecture that has been preserved by the kings of the then Pallava dynasty proves to be a delight to the eye even today and it is not for nothing that Mahabalipuram is known as an “open air museum”. The richness of Mahabalipuram has made it one of the most favorite tourist places of South India. Hotels in Mahabalipuram are for tourists from different walks of life. As the place is more of a tourist destination rather than a business one, there are many leisure hotels and budget hotels in Mahabalipuram.

pixelshots said...

cute photos of the ancient monuments. have been into mahabalipuram one time and love the place for its majesty and cultural beauty.


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Steffi said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
Hotels in Koyambedu

Debasri Chakrabarti said...

Ramyani Bikkhya is not written by Rahul Sankrittayan. It is written by Subodh Chakraborty.