Mahabalipuram temples – loaded with ancient history and mystery

Mahabalipuram Underwater Temple

One of the UNESCO recognised world heritage sites is the Mahabalipuram temples. The Mahabalipuram temples are in Mahabalipuram on the coast Tamil Nadu state in India. Also, the Mahabalipuram temple is famous as ‘Shore temple’. The remains of the Mahabalipuram underwater temple are still submerged.

The Mahabalipuram temples are among the underwater temple findings in recent years. In 1984, UNESCO announced this location as a world heritage site. Monuments, rock art, architecture, caves, sculptures are the main attractions of Mahabalipuram underwater temple.

In the ancient period of the Pallava dynasty, the area was a busy port and was famous for its rich architecture. King Narasimhavarma II started building the Mahabalipuram temples in the mid of 7th century and the Chola dynasty finished in the 8th century.

What’s the story of the Mahabalipuram underwater temple?

According to the ancient scriptures, the king of Daityas, Hiranyakashyap ruled Mahabalipuram as a part of his kingdom. His son Prahlada was a faithful devotee of Lord Vishnu. The king hated Prahlada’s dedication to Lord Vishnu and banished him from home. However, after a change of heart Hiranyakashyap welcomed his son back home. But, the king was still not happy about Prahlada’s devotional attitude for Lord Vishnu.

One day, Father and son argued about Lord Vishnu. Prahlada stated that Lord Vishnu was present everywhere including the walls of their home. Enraged Hiranyakashyap kicked a wall to prove his son wrong. But to his surprise Lord Vishnu in Avatar of God Narasimha (A man’s body with a lion’s face) came out of the pillar and killed Hiranyakashyap.

Later on, Prahlada became the king and his grandson Mahabali discovered the Mahabalipuram temples and city. There were original ‘7 Pagodas’ at Mahabalipuram temples. 6 pagodas out of 7 are submerged of the Mahabalipuram temples.

Why did the site turn into the Mahabalipuram underwater temple?

According to the mythological story, Gods were jealous of the beauty and elegant architecture of the Mahabalipuram temples and the city. Thus, the Gods created floods that submerged most parts of the city and the Mahabalipuram temples. Hence, it became the Mahabalipuram underwater temple and the city. Today, only some parts of Mahabalipuram underwater temple are visible.

Who discovered the Mahabalipuram underwater temple?

During the tsunami of 2004, people witnessed a large stone and reported it to the local government. Later on, as the ocean level went down and exposed the Mahabalipuram underwater temples. The tsunami also exposed ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants and peacocks used as a wall decoration in Mahabalipuram temples.

Mahabalipuram underwater temple’s discovery attracted many archaeologists’ attention and soon became popular. Even today, the Mahabalipuram underwater temple is an archaeologist investigation site.
What’s inside the Mahabalipuram temples?
There is much evidence in the water of the Mahabalipuram underwater temples. Some parts of the Mahabalipuram underwater temples are on land.

Cave temples in Mahabalipuram temples: There are few caves in the Mahabalipuram temple’s complex devoted to many deities’ small temples.

  • The Trimurti cave: This cave of the Mahabalipuram temples is dedicated to the main trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva), and represents the process of creation, sustenance and destruction. Many pillars and sculptures in the cave are carved with devotees in different postures.
  • The Varaha cave: This cave of the Mahabalipuram temples was one of the first constructions in the Mahabalipuram temples. The cave is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and tells his mythological tale. The cave also contains ‘Vaishnava text’.
  • The Krishna cave: This cave of Mahabalipuram temples narrates the mythical story of God Krishna.
  • The Kotikal & Mahishasuramardini cave: Both the caves are dedicated to Goddess Durga, a symbol of Shakti (power). After Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasur, she was named Mahishasuramardini.
  • The Yali or Tiger cave: This cave of the Mahabalipuram temples is damaged over time. There are many pillars and sculptures designed with mythical creatures like lions and tigers. There is a sculpture of the king Narasimhavarma II here.

Pancha Ratha in Mahabalipuram temples: Pancha Ratha (5 Chariots) are a representation of Pandava brothers from the epic ‘Mahabharata’ in the Mahabalipuram temples. Each ratha is unique and carved out of single large stones. Approximately 3 storeys tall Pancha Ratha are each different in shape. There are sculptures of ‘Airavata’ (an elephant) and ‘Nandi’ (A bull) near Pancha Ratha. It’s believed in ancient time, Pancha Ratha were used actively.

Descent of the Ganges in Mahabalipuram temples: This is a large sculpture carved out from one large pink granite stone in the area of the Mahabalipuram temples. ‘Arjuna’s penance’ is the name of this gigantic rock that narrates tales from ‘Mahabharata’

Mandapas in Mahabalipuram temples: There are many ‘Mandapa’ in Mahabalipuram temples. They tell the tales of mythological stories of many gods.

The Shore temples in Mahabalipuram temples: Only a single Mahabalipuram temple stands on ground today. Unfortunately, there’s no discovery yet about the rest of the Mahabalipuram underwater temples. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has ‘Shiva Lingam’. The architecture of the temple is designed and constructed in such a way that the first rays of the rising sun enters the temple and falls on Shiva Lingam. The roof of the temple is in Dravidian architecture. Also, there is Lord Vishnu’s idol facing outside and the idol of Goddess Durga sitting on a lion.

What about the remaining Mahabalipuram underwater temples?

Due to the mythological belief and narration, the archaeologists investigated more for the Mahabalipuram underwater temples. Thus, after years of research and evidence concluded that there were many Mahabalipuram underwater temples. The Mahabalipuram underwater temples’ parts seem to have scattered in the ocean. The Mahabalipuram underwater temples remain a mystery inside the ocean. The search for Mahabalipuram underwater temples is still going on.

How to reach the Mahabalipuram underwater temples?

The Mahabalipuram underwater temples are a curious site for archaeologists and travelers bringing many visitors. The Mahabalipuram underwater temples are situated in the Bay of Bengal.

Chennai airport is the nearest airport to Mahabalipuram underwater temples.
Chengalpattu railway station is the nearest railway station to the Mahabalipuram temples.
The roads of Mahabalipuram are also well connected to other places.


The Mahabalipuram underwater temples are one of the great examples of advanced ancient engineering. Hopefully, there will be more discoveries like The Mahabalipuram temples in the future.
To know more about temples like the Mahabalipuram underwater temples and religions check Secret Temples.

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