Mahabalipuram, situated about 60 km south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, is an ancient port town known for its stone carvings and stone temples. Built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, the port city of Pallavas has been classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Avoid visiting Mahabalipuram beach during the rains. The sea, though safe, can get rough.
- Carry suntan lotion if you want to indulge in sunbathing.
Known by several names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram, the town was known to ancient mariners as "Seven Pagodas" alluding to the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram literally means ‘city of the Great Bali’. Derived from Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram is a modern name of the town.
The town got its name after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I took on the epithet Maha-malla (great wrestler) and Mamallapuram was ‘the city of great wrestler’. Pallava kings ruled Mamallapuram from their capital Kanchipuram and used the port to launch diplomatic missions to Ceylon and Southeast Asia.
Chinese and Roman coins have been found at Mamallapuram revealing the port as an active hub of global trade. The city of Mahabalipuram was largely developed by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I in the 7th century AD. The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British in 1827.
Mamallapuram is also the venue of a vibrant dance festival organized during the months of January and February. Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Kathakali and other exponents of Indian dance forms perform against the magnificent backdrop of the ancient stone temples.
Visit Dakshina Chitra to get a better understanding of the art, craft and architecture of India. Also visit the traditional homes featuring the distinctive architectural and cultural styles of the southern states of India. Craftsmanship from the southern states is represented via weavers, potters and other artisan workshops.
To understand the rich and varied culture of India, there is no other place than Kalakshetra. Performing artists teach Indian classical dance, music, painting, drama and other fine arts at the internationally acclaimed institution.
Don’t forget to visit the Cholamandalam Artists Village to learn more about Indian art. Established in 1966, the Village is the largest artists' commune in India. Artists from the Cholamandalam Artists Village are credited for the Madras Movement of Art which brought modernism to art in the South India.
Stone sculptures made by local artisans can be picked up at Mahabalipuram. Avoid the big shops on the main road and look for shops in the small side roads for a bargain. Conch shells and other trinkets made of shells can also be purchased in Mahabalipuram.
Where to stay
There are a number of quality hotels in Mahabalipuram. Most of the hotels and resorts are located close to the shore and offer an unmatched panoramic view of the spectacular beach. It is advisable to make hotel reservations in advance, especially during peak season. Being a beach town, one can find more resorts. However, budget hotels are also available. Summers can be especially hot and it would be advisable to book AC rooms.
Where to eat
Mahabalipuram is a seafood lover’s paradise. Restaurants offering fresh fish, prawns, lobsters and crabs abound. However, finding vegetarian eateries is not a difficult proposition. Pure veg restaurants offering simple and hygienic meals can be found all across Mahabalipuram. Most of the restaurants clustered around Othavadai Street and Othavadai Cross cater primarily to tourists. Food is cheap and one can get breakfast for Rs 25-45 and lunch or dinner for Rs 65--145.
Best time to visit
Mahabalipuram remains hot throughout the year. Summers are hot with the maximum temperature of 36 degree Celsius. Even in the winter, the temperature does not fall much. The maximum temperature in winters is 30 degree Celsius. Best time to visit Mahabalipuram is from October to March.