Mahabalipuram, places to visit in Chennai

Mahabalipuram is a must among places to see in Chennai. Located 60 KMs from Chennai, Mahabalipuram is an architectural wonder and ancient sea port making it a good weekend getaway from Chennai. Arjuna's Penance is a 100 feet long bas relief structure and probably India's greatest art work. Grand temples dating back to the 7th century AD, a lovely sea shore, a 7D theatre and a unique sea shells museum are some of the other reasons to visit Mahabalipuram

Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram 

 Chennai to Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is located 60 KMs from Chennai. It is best reached via the East Coast Road which connects Chennai to Pondicherry. The time to travel usually hovers around an hour, depending on the traffic conditions. 

A great place to have lunch would be The Farm on Old Mahabalipuram Road. Although its a detour from ECR, the place is worth visiting if you are traveling with kids. There are plenty of farm animals and horses are also available for riding.

 Horses, on way to Mahabalipuram

For bike enthusiasts, there is a collection of very well maintained vintage scooters and motorcyles in the foyer area. 

 Vespa, classic scooter

For a novel way to experience Mahabalipuram as a day tour from Chennai on a Royal Enfield motorcycle or private car, visit  5 Senses Tours.  

Mahabalipuram Hotels

There are hotels for every budget range at Mahabalipuram. If you are looking for a functional hotel close to the places of interest, then Hotel Mamalla Heritage is fine. Located on East Raja Street, the contact number is 044-27442060. We stayed at Confluence Banquet which is a good option if you are traveling as a large family or a couple of families. The Villas are well furnished and there is a swimming pool as well. It is located on the ECR-OMR junction and is 15 minutes away from the city centre. The contact number is 044-30723071.

For home-stay options across India, visit India Homestays


Mahabalipuram is an ancient town and was known to be a trading post during Roman Times. It rose to prominence as a bustling sea port during the rule of the Pallava Dynasty headquartered in Kanchipuram during the 7th century AD. Ships sailing from South India to South East Asia used to depart from the Mahabalipuram port. The legendary Marco Polo referred to Mahabalipuram as the city of 7 pagodas. The Shore temple is the only 1 of those magnificent 7 temples which have survived the ravages of time. 


Arjuna's Penance

The 100 feet x 45 feet bas relief is undoubtedly the magnum opus at Mahabalipuram. There are 2 giant boulders on which an entire masterpiece from the Mahabharata epic has been carved. There is Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata epic, doing penance surrounded by many creatures from the wild. Another school of though says that the person is not Arjuna, but Sage Bhagiratha requesting Lord Shiva to allow the River Gange to come to Earth. The carvings of the elephants is really magnificent.

 Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram

What i liked the most was the cat which mimics Arjuna's penance to an audience of mice! 

Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram 

Krishna' Butterball

The most curious structure at Mahabalipuram is a 5 meters diameter ball shaped boulder which is perched precariously on a slope and seems to defy Newton and the laws of gravity. Legend says the boulder is a ball of butter which Lord Krishna stole as a boy from the kitchen of one his unsuspecting neighbors. 

 Krishna's Butterball


The Pancharathas or 5 chariots are rock cut monolith temples structures built by the Pallavas. Each of the 5 rathas or chariots are dedicated to the lead cast of the Mahabharat epic- Draupadi, Arjuna, Nakul-Sahadeva, Bhima and Yudhister. There is also a sculpture of an elephant next to the ratha of Nakul-Sahadeva. Once you stand towards the rear of the elephant you will notice that there is an uncanny resemblance between the rear of the ratha and the elephant. 

Pancha Rathas, Mahabalipuram

Pancha Rathas, Mahabalipuram

Although these chariots were meant to serve as temples, due to the death of King Narasimhavarman, they never got consecrated and remain today as architectural structures without any religious significance. 

Shore Temple

The Shore Temple is located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Legend says that this was a part of a complex of 7 temples dotted along the Sea. Infact the legendary traveller Marco Polo also mentioned Mahabalipuram in his memoirs and called it the city of 7 pagodas. Sea farers of those times also often used to refer to the 7 Pagodas as a landmark. The tsumali of 2004 did little damage to the temple and in fact revealed another temple buried in the sea. This further led credence to the theory that there was a complex of 7 temples near the present day Shore Temple. 

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram 

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram

The Shore temple serves as a backdrop for the now popular Mahabalipuram Dance Festival that is held in Jan and Feb every year. 

7D Theater

Quite unexpectedly we found a 7D theatre at Mahabalipuram. The state of art theatre shows 2 films, one on the Pallava history and the other is a children's animation film. It is an incredible experience as the 3D show is augmented with smell, motion of the seats and touch. There are generous sprinkles of water as well! The ticket cost is Rs 300 for adults and 200 for kids. There are shows in English and Tamil. The shows run between 10 am and 9pm. It is located on East Raja street and the contact number is 044-27443979. 

Sculpture Souvenirs

There are many souvenir shops near the city centre where local sculptors create masterpieces for tourists! I loved this owl.

Sea Shells museum

Located near the parking for Pancharatha is a unique museum to showcase the private collection of sea shells. On display at this museum are more than 40000 sea shells from all over the world. Fossils, shark teeth and whale fins are the other items of interest. The most spectacular exhibits are a car, ship and train made our of oyster shells. There is a fascinating story told here about the formation of pearls in oysters. For more on this unique museum visit Sea Shells Museum

For a novel way to experience India, take a guided motorcycle tours from Bangalore to Hampi, Mysore, Thekkady, Coonoor and Belur. Visit 5 Senses Tours.  

For other great holiday ideas around architecture and heritage visit Great Holiday Ideas.