Recharge and reboot at Mahabalipuram

Krishna’s Butterball
Krishna’s Butterball

Savour a delicious slice of raw mango coated with red chili and salt as your eyes feast on the huge monoliths and monuments at Mahabalipuram, the venue of the 2021 Zone Institute. Located 60 km from Chennai, the beach town on the shores of the Bay of Bengal is known for its rock-cut monoliths, monuments, myths, culture, a pristine beach, fresh seafood, and boisterous monkeys. Any number of warnings or gestures won’t scare them away until you throw your snack at them out of fear!

Pancha Rathas, a monolithic Pallava architecture.
Pancha Rathas, a monolithic Pallava architecture.

Buzzing with foreign and domestic tourists, this scenic seaside town is dotted with cottage shops that sell a range of heritage artifacts and memorabilia. An excited group of youth pushing the 250-tonne boulder called Krishna’s Butterball down a slope makes a first-time visitor wonder at this spectacle. Legend has it that Lord Krishna dropped a huge blob of butter that turned into a giant stone. The 20-ft tall, 16.5 feet-wide rock has remained in its gravity-defying position for nearly 1,200 years. It remains unclear how this iconic rock sustains its balance on a small base. It is said that the 2004 tsunami has uncovered several monuments and rock edifices that were hidden under the sea for centuries! ­Mahabalipuram is a ­UNESCO World Heritage site as the rock sculptures, temples and monuments were built by the Pallavas during the 7–8th centuries. A walk through the cave temples will take you to a magnificent 100 ft-long monolith called Arjuna’s Penance. No good picture can do justice to what you see with your own eyes here. The canvas on the rock relief includes gods and humans, snakes and elephants, and mythical figurines depicting both the real and celestial worlds. Even as you internalise the beauty of the carvings, the open-air museum of the Pallava architecture will throw open to you the Pancha Rathas. The structures will make you ponder as to how, at an age and time when technology was non-existent, they engineered such exquisite architecture.

The last remaining Shore Temple.
The last remaining Shore Temple.

The Shore Temple right on the water’s edge is a 10-minute walk from Krishna’s Butter Ball. The five-storied rock-cut temple was built during the reign of King Narasimha Varma II and is one of the oldest stone-built structures in southern India. This complex of three separate shrines stands entirely on a naturally occurring granite rock and is dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu. Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the temple is said to be part of a seven-temple complex, six of which have gone under the sea. Here your tour guide will inform you that “Marco Polo in his travel book has mentioned this temple as part of the Seven Pagodas.”

The lighthouse, a round masonry tower made from natural stone, is also an interesting place to explore and the view of the Bay of Bengal from atop is mind-blowing.

A section of Arjuna’s Penance, one of the largest rock reliefs in Asia.
A section of Arjuna’s Penance, one of the largest rock reliefs in Asia.

The walk back through the bustling marketplace is both exciting and alarming with narikuruvas (gypsy families) in groups pestering you to buy handmade beads and other accessories made of shells. The shops along the way will entice you with various charms, antique jewellery, stone idols, and souvenirs carved from granite. “The Buddha and elephant are fast-moving pieces. If you are looking for Vaastu Tortoise you may consider this one, it costs ₹150. The showroom price is ₹700,” says Rajendran, a sculptor, putting to rest a piece he was diligently carving. The shopping emporiums around the monuments are ridiculously expensive. It is best to buy from the smaller shops and hawkers who are open to bargain. As he wraps my order of four small elephant statuettes, I ask him where he learned sculpting.

A narikurava girl.
A narikurava girl.

“Sculpting in Mamallapuram (as the locals call it) is a family vocation. My father used to carve and so did my grandfather. My 12-year-old son can easily sculpt a Shiva lingam,” he says. So, does he want his son to be a sculptor too? “No, he goes to school and I want him to become a doctor,” he replies.

Recharge and reboot at the beach resorts in Mahabalipuram. Tucked away between casuarina groves some resorts are complete wellness retreats. Indulge in the vast range of therapies that include spa treatments, yoga, meditation, and holistic sessions on request at your resort, or simply sit at the beach sipping some exotic wine. Whatever you do at Mahabs, as it is fondly called, you will leave here feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.

Pictures by Kiran Zehra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shares
Message Us