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Mahabalipuram or the city of Bali is a small sea-side village on the Bay of Bengal. Globally renown for its shore temples, miles of unspoiled beaches and rock-cut art, the sculpture in Mahabalipuram is particularly interesting as it shows scenes of day-to-day life, in contrast to the carvings which generally depict gods and goddesses.

MahabalipuramMahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram in ancient times, is one of history's intriguing enigmas. Once used to be the flourishing port town of the Pallava rulers of South India, who built an open-air museum of sculpture, chiseled in stone, under the vault of a burning sky, this city is also a very famous South India Pilgrimage site. According to experts, there also used to be seven pagodas or temples on the shores of Mahabalipuram, most of which were plundered by the rapacious sea. Most of the temples and rock carvings in Mahabalipuram were built during 630-728 A.D.

Mahabalipuram has a lot of tourist attractions as well. The city is famous for being the centre of Pallava arts and culture. Mahabalipuram art can be categorized into four parts – structured temples, man-made caves, open air bas-relief and rathas. While the Varaha Cave, a small rock-cut mandapam dedicated to the two incarnations of Lord Vishnu as Varaha the boar and Vamana the dwarf, is a faceted and finished gem with four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers, the Somaskanda sculpture radiates peace, power and wisdom.

There are other mandapas too like the Mahishasuramardini mandapa which has the in bas-relief of goddess Durga as she was slaying a buffalo headed demon. The Vishnu Sayana mandapa depicts Lord Vishnu lying under the protective hood of the seven-headed serpent Adishesha. Arjuna's Penance, arguably the world's largest bas-relief, is the universe itself in stone.

Of the eight rathas that are monolithic temples fashioned as chariots, five have been named after the Pandava brothers and their common wife Draupadi. The largest is the Dharmaraja ratha whereas the Draupadi ratha is the smallest one. These shrines, though, are things of undiminished beauty. A three-in-one abode of gods, it is however the Shore Temple that evokes the spell of Mahabalipuram. A Vishnu temple sandwiched between two Shiva temples is a visual delight.

Pongal is the most important festival celebrated in Mahabalipuram. The Mahabalipuram Dance Festival is another famous festival of Mahabalipuram. With the Shore Temple as its backdrop, it is an occasion for the dance lovers to enjoy the performances of the artists from all over the country.

The city of Mahabalipuram, situated at a distance of 58 km from Chennai, is spread over an area of 8 sq. km. and has a population of 12,049. Tamil and English are the languages spoken in the city. Mahabalipuram has a tropical climate. The climate remains hot and sultry throughout the year with a maximum temperature of 35ºC and a minimum of 19ºC. The best time to visit Mahabalipuram is from October to March. Mahabalipuram is well connected by road to Chennai and Pondicherry. One can also reach the city by train as the nearest train station, Chengalpattu, is just 30 km away. Mahabalipuram in India is one of the most important and famous Hindu pilgrimage sites and a must visit.

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