Mahabalipuram, excavated temples • Tamil Nadu, India

Embark on a captivating journey through time and space with our less than 14 minute video that explores the ancient history and spellbinding charm of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India. Immerse yourself in the centuries-old history of monolithic temples, uncover the mystery of the Pancha Rathas, and marvel at the unique architecture of the Ganesha Ratha. Take a journey along the majestic Descent of the Ganges, while learning about the rich and exciting history of these sacred sites. This immersive video takes you through the wonders of ancient India, from daily life on the beach to age-old fishing traditions, all in less than 14 minutes. Don't miss this opportunity to learn and discover - your journey back in time is waiting for you. Mahabalipuram, the echo of the past, the breath of the present.

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip India • South India 2018 • Tamil Nadu and Kerala (EN)

vimeo chapterA click on this icon above displays the list of chapters of this film about Tamil Nadu • southern state of India in India. A click on a dot goes directly to a chapter.

Reading the text below will help you better understand the historical context of the sites shown in this video.

01:01 • on the beach

05:09 • the shore temple

06:24 • Monolytic temples

07:21 • the Descent of the Ganges 

08:21 • Krishna's butter ball

08:49 • Thirumoorthy cave

09:42 • Ganesha Ratha

10:44 • Pancha Rathas



The city of Mahabalipuram was already an important port for world trade at the beginning of our era. The heyday of the city seems to be in the 7th and 8th century, when the kings Narasimhavarman and his successor Rajasimhavarman ordered the construction of monolithic monuments carved in the rock. These monuments are rathas (temples in the shape of chariots), mandapas (sanctuaries carved out of a cave), or giant rocky reliefs in the open air.

the beach

If Mahabalipuram is a city very rich in history, the daily life of its inhabitants is also interesting. Thus, the return of fishing causes gatherings on the beach, where fishermen sell the product of their work to merchants. That day, the fishing seems to have been miraculous.

A little further on, on this same beach stands the "shore temple".

the shore temple

The Shore Temple is a complex of temples and shrines built with 8th century datnat granite blocks. It is one of the oldest temples in India using this construction technique. This temple on the beach would be part of a set of 7 temples built of carved granite blocks. The other 6 would have been swallowed up in the ocean. One of these temples was revealed during the 2004 tsunami.

Located on the seafront, the temple has suffered greatly from weather conditions and the salinity of the water during its long existence. Modern techniques are used to protect what remains from water infiltration which could be fatal for the monument.

One of the peculiarities of the temples of Mahabalipuram is the fact that most of them are monolithic temples, temples carved into the rock, in fact, cave temples.

The descent of the Ganges

The descent of the Ganges, also called the Penance of Arjuna is a giant open-air bas-relief. It is probably the largest monument of its kind in India and even in the world. The set of sculptures tells the story of the creation of the Ganges river, born from Shiva's mats. These sculptures represent humans, animals and mythological creatures. They are carved on two huge sections of rock, separated by a crack. This crack was used by architects and sculptors to symbolize the river. In the past, during ceremonies, water flowed from a basin upstream into this crack, to make the symbolic presence of the Ganges more realistic.

Krishna's butter ball.

Not far from this immense bas-relief, there is a granite rock posed in an equilibrium which seems unstable on a sloping ground. However, many attempts to move this rock have been unsuccessful in the past.

Another peculiarity of some temples of Mahabalipuram is the fact that they are carved in the shape of a chariot. These particular monuments bear the name of "ratha".

Ganesha Ratha

Ganesha Ratha, or Ganesh's ratha, appears to be the oldest ratha in the area. The monument measures 6 x 3.5 meters and has a height of 8.5 meters. Originally built in honor of Shiva, the inhabitants of Mahabalipuram changed its assignment towards the end of the 19th century by placing a statue of Ganesh there and moving the original linga under a tree a little further.

The Pancha Rathas

The Pancha Rathas (which means five rathas) is certainly the most iconic and well-known monument of Maahbalipuram. These are 5 monolithic monuments excavated from a single block of rock. Strictly speaking, it is not a ratha (meaning chariot), because no wheel is carved on these monuments. These monuments, using the new technique at the time of excavation to build temples, are in fact a replica of pre-existing monuments, made of less resistant materials, such as wood, brick or stones assembled with mortar.

about the place, Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram, a small town of less than 15,000 inhabitants in Tamil Nadu in South India, was one of the major ports of the Palava kingdom from the 7th century. The city is named after King Pallava Narasimhavarman also known as Mahabali.

The city is registered with the world heritage of Unesco for its remarkable monuments, among others "the descent of the Ganges", the Pancha Rathas (5 carts, monolithic structures), temples excavated in caves.

Spoken comments in the film: 

The Shore Temple was built between 700 and 728 and it is likely that it was never in operation. Built in local granite, it suffered greatly from its proximity to the sea, due to the winds and sea salt. This explains why the statues of cows are eroded at this point. 

This temple predates the nearby Pancha Rathas, the latter being monolithic unlike the Shore Temple. The Indian government took measures to protect it from the winds and the sea. It was these measures that enabled the whole to resist the 2004 tsunami. 

This temple is dedicated to Shiva.


A set of monolithic monuments was carved out of the granite rock around the middle of the 7th century. 

These 5 monuments are not temples because they have never been consecrated, nor even completed. 

The monuments actually represent carts pulled by elephants.


What's the weather like in Mahabalipuram?


 - YouTube video library - Anamalie, (© Anamalie by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.



 - YouTube video library - Argonne - Zachariah Hickman

 - YouTube video library - Lurking

 - YouTube video library - March to Victory

 - YouTube video library - The Great Unknown, (© The Great Unknown by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Disclaimer: Despite its appropriateness, copyright issues prevent the use of indian traditional music in "Mahabalipuram, excavated temples • Tamil Nadu, India", hence the use of royalty-free music. Despite our careful selection, some might regret this decision, which is necessary to avoid potential lawsuits. Although difficult, this decision is the only viable solution.

fish on Mahabalipuram beach, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu • India
after fishing, Mahabalipuram • India • Tamil Nadu

after fishing

Krishna Mandapa, Mahabalipuram • India • Tamil Nadu

Krishna Mandapa

the descent of the Ganges, Mahabalipuram • India • Tamil Nadu

the descent of the Ganges

Pancha Rathas, Mahabalipuram • India • Tamil Nadu

Pancha Rathas

Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, Inde

© 2020 - 2024 • Jean-Marie Putz, PutzProductions