THE WORLD AROUND US
 
Mamallapuram, India – A Dream World of Tamil Arts in Stone (In Tamil)      
Today’s The World Around Us will be presented in Tamil, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Thai.

Welcome, exploring viewers, to The World Around Us. Today, we’ll visit a very special ancient place in Tamil Nadu in South India: Mamallapuram, formerly known as Mahabalipuram, is situated 60 kilometers south of Chennai and is famous for its dream world of Tamil arts carved in stone.

The word “puram” means “village” or “town,” and “Mamalla” means “great wrestler,” which was an epithet for King Narasimhavarman I, who ruled in South India during the 7th century.

King Narasimhavarman I lived from 630 – 668 and belonged to the Pallava dynasty, the same Tamil royal lineage in which the enlightened Master Bodhidharma is said to have been born in the 5th or 6th century.

During the reign of King Narasimhavarman’s father King Mahendravarman I, the carving of the first temples at Mamallapuram was started. King Mahendravarman I was a great patron of the arts and literature. Inspired by the poet-saint Appar whose hymns to God were later included in the holy book, “Tirumai,” “Thirumurai” Mahendravarman I devoted his life to Lord Shiva. Kalki Krishnamurthy's famous historical novel, “Sivagamiyin Sabadham,” is based on King Narasimhavarman I's early years, and his work, “Parthiban Kanavu,” is based on the later years of his reign.

King Narasimhavarman I shared his father’s love of art. He continued the work of his father and finished the construction of the Rathas in Mamallapuram. These “Ratha” temples have the forms of chariots and were cut out of single pieces of rocks. There are presently nine Ratha temples, of which five are named after the heroes of the great epic, “Mahabaratha”: Draupadi’s Ratha, Arjuna’s Ratha, Sahadev’s Ratha, Bhima Ratha, and Dharmaraja Yudhistar’s Ratha.

Another Ratha is named after the elephant god Ganesh. Near the Ganesh Ratha is a huge boulder situated on a hill slope, known as Krishna’s Butter Ball. The Pallava kings tried to move the boulder with elephants but were not able to do so. Children like to slide down the slope at Krishna’s Butter Ball, and if one puts one’s hand under the boulder while taking a photograph, it will appear as one is carrying the rock!

In contrast to normal construction which starts at the basement and finishes at the top, for the construction of the Ratha temples it is assumed that the stonemason started sitting on top of the rock and then worked his way downwards.

Amidst the Rathas also stands a large elephant which is also carved out of a single piece of rock. Another rock carving which was completed during the reign of King Narasimhavarman I is the bas-relief “The Descent of the Ganga,” also called “Arjuna’s Penance.” It belongs to a group of monuments which were designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1984. It measures 29 meters long and 13 meters high and is carved out of a single piece of rock.

There are two interpretations as to the meaning of the depictions of the relief. One is that the person who stands on one leg and performs austerities is the sage Bhagirathi, who prayed for the goddess Ganga to descend and bless the Earth with Her waters. According to the second interpretation, the one who is seen performing penance is Arjuna, the friend and disciple of Lord Krishna.

Next to the bas-relief “Descent of the Ganga” is the Varaha Mandapam which is carved in a large rock. Varaha is the name of the boar-faced incarnation of Lord Vishnu. On the sides of the entrance to the hall are two pillars which have been carved in the shape of lions towards the base.

On the outer walls and inside the hall, there are several bas-reliefs. The relief on the northern wall shows Lord Vishnu’s third incarnation as the Avatar Varaha (the mighty boar) as he stands on top of Naga the Snake King and rescues Prithvi the Earth goddess.

The relief on the southern wall shows an episode of Lord Vishnu’s fifth incarnation as Avatar Vamana, the dwarf Brahmin. Vamana approached the benevolent Asura King Bali who had conquered the whole Earth, heavens and underworld, and requested him to grant him as much land as he can cover with three steps. Bali agreed, and Vamana grew into a giant form. He traversed the whole Earth with his first step, and the heavens with his second step. Bali was unable to fulfill his promise to give such a large amount of land to Vamana, and offered to Him to step on his head for the third step.

Lord Vishnu was pleased with Bali’s humility, granted him immortality, and named him “Mahabali” (Great Bali). On the bas-relief, Lord Vishnu is depicted in his cosmic form with eight arms. At the side of Lord Vishnu stand Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, the Sun, and the Moon.

During the reign of King Narasimhavarman I, the Chinese monk Xuanzang visited the Pallava Kingdom and its capital Kanchipuram, which lies 60 kilometers east of Mamallapuram. Xuanzang is also said to have passed through Mamallapuram, which was a seaport during this time. Xuanzang’s journey became the inspiration for the famous novel, “The Journey to the West.”

During the time of Xuanzang’s visit, there were many Buddhist monasteries in the Pallava Kingdom. He wrote that there were about 100 monasteries with 10,000 monks who all studied Mahayana Buddhism. During this time, Mamallapuram was a flourishing port city and was visited by travelers from many countries overseas. Ancient Chinese, Persian, and Roman coins have been found there.

Another king who constructed many of the buildings at Mamallapuram was Narashimhavarman II, who was also called Rajasimha. He was the great-grandson of King Narasimhavarman I, and his reign was known for its peace and prosperity. Rajasimha ruled for nearly three decades and was succeeded by his son Paravesvaravarman II in 728. Rajasimha was a gifted poet and dramatist and wrote many literary works in Sanskrit and Tamil, such as the “Kailasodharanam” which is still frequently played today.

Rajasimha constructed several temples at Mamallapuram, including two structures of the Shore Temple, which itself consists of three temples – two Shiva temples on the sides and one Vishnu temple in the middle. The Vishnu temple was built by Narasimhavarman I and the two Shiva temples were built by Rajasimha.

In contrast to the Ratha temples at Mamallapuram, the Shore Temple is not a monolithic construction but is one of the oldest south Indian temples built in the constructional Dravidian style. As the Shore Temple overlooks the Bay of Bengal and is directed towards the east, it catches the first rays of the rising sun in the morning. The inside of the Shore Temple is filled with sculptures. It has always been a legend that there were originally seven magnificent temples, known as the Seven Pagodas, and that only the Shore Temple remained.

The local people also reported that at least some of the other temples can be seen “glittering beneath the waves.” In the wake of the tragic tsunami that affected the region in 2004, a bas-relief was uncovered at Mamallapuram which seems to be part of a temple wall or a portion of the ancient port city. Also, an elaborately carved head of an elephant and a horse emerged. These findings showed that it is very well possible that the Seven Pagodas, which were long believed to be a legend, were actually a historical fact!

Apart from the constructions at Mamallapuram, Rajasimha built several other beautiful temples such as the Kailasanathar Temple in Kanchipuram and the Hridayaleeswarar Temple in Thirunindravur. He is remembered as a great devotee of Lord Shiva, and is also counted among the 63 Saivaite Nyanmar saints under the name Kazharsimha, meaning “One who is a lion among the crowd of evil kings.”

Another beautiful cave temple at Mamallapuram is the Trimurthy Mandapam. The shrine consists of three cells. The first is dedicated to Lord Brahma, the second to Lord Shiva, and the third to Lord Vishnu.

Towards the end of today’s journey, let’s visit another popular destination which is situated five kilometers north of Mamallapuram, near the coastal village of Salurankuppam: the Tiger Cave. During the Pallava dynasty, this place was an open-air theater where many programs were conducted. The shrine in the Tiger Cave is dedicated to the powerful goddess Durga.

Finally, let us conclude with a beautiful story in the life of Rajasimha the king which shows that the temple of our heart is the most precious. When Rajasimha had finished the construction of the Kailasanthar Temple and was going to consecrate it the next day, Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and asked him to postpone the inauguration, as He would first need to be present at the consecration of another temple which a man named Poosalaar had built.

The next day, Rajasimha went to search for Poosalaar and found that he was a poor man in terms of material possession but rich in his devotion to the Lord. He had a strong desire to build a temple for Lord Shiva but, lacking the finance to build it physically, he had built it in his heart instead. Rajsimha obtained a vision of the temple in Poosalaar’s heart and later built it physically.

Thank you, gracious viewers, for being with us on The World Around Us. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television for Words of Wisdom, after Noteworthy News. Blessed be the temple in your heart.

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