Elroy Christenson



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Mahabalipuram, India


"Shevadeva Rath, Elephant and Arjuna Rath at Mahabalipuram",
© 2000 Elroy Christenson

Mahabalipuram is the small coastal village formerly named Mamallapuram (meaning the village of the Great Wrestler). Narasimha Varman I (c.630) started the carving of twenty odd caves, reliefs and free standing sculptures and temples. They were completed over the next couple of generations of rulers finally ended about the eighth century. They remain as ghostly memories of the greatness of the Pallava empire of south India. Mahabalipuram, the present name of this pilgrimage and tourist town, is a corruption of the original name and means "Town of the Great Demon King Bali".

The group of temple chariots or rathaswere each cut from several natural monolith stones. The Shevadeva (or Sahadeva) Rath to the left of the elephant and Arjuna Rath to the right are only part of a larger complex of five rathas and a couple of reclining Nadi bulls. The other raths here include the Dharmaraja Rath, Draupadi Rath and Bhima Rath. Each rath includes and carved out sactuary where tourists and worshipers can still lay an offering of flowers, coconuts, and rice.

The other major site to see here is "Arjuna's Penance", which is the largest carved relief in India.

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updated by Elroy Christenson 12/15/09