Shore Temple of Mamallapuram

Wandering through the streets of Mamallapuram we find shops selling clothing and lanterns. Mandalas, etched in colourful pastel chalks, greet customers at the doorstep of many of these stores but the salty breeze beckons us further to Mamallapuram’s sandy beach. Men are casually sprawled along the curb, playing slow rounds of cards in the mid-morning humidity.

At the end of the street, fishing boats are moored on the sand until their next fishing trip out to sea. The waves roll in, turbulent tunnels crashing onto the shore. The sky is hazy and clouds brood, contemplating a downpour that would dampen fishermen as they unravel their confused bundles of fishing nets. What is also brooding away, in the distance, is Shore Temple – one of the oldest temples in southern India.  

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Shore Temple, a Hindu monument dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, was built during Pallava King Rajasimha’s reign between 700 and 728AD. Now, it sits lonely on an outer rocky point overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Shore Temple’s granite walls, discoloured by erosion, whisper a sense of longing.

According to Hindu legend, Shore Temple is one of six more sibling temples, or Seven Pagodas. It was also said that the gods were so jealous of the Seven Pagodas’ elegance that they decided to flood the area. The rest of these temples apparently lay hidden beneath the waters. In 2004, evidence emerged to support the legend of the Seven Pagodas.

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A tsunami hit this coastline and devastated parts of Mamallapuram in 2004. Locals insist that the angry ocean barged into the restaurants and shops that hug the beach then receded two kilometres out from the shore. These businesses were never built for the strength of such a natural disaster and so they were reduced to splinters. Once the ocean receded, fish and crustaceans lay strewn across the ocean floor and it’s alleged that fishermen rushed out to collect this exposed bounty. What also lay exposed were remnants of ancient elephant and lion sculptures like the ones to be found standing near Shore Temple, suggesting that more submerged temples lay somewhere in the vicinity.

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Apparently, the tsunami reached the height of Shore Temple yet its granite foundations provided the stability necessary for this temple to survive this natural disaster. And it remains in situ on its own; a survivor that now guards the shore from impending danger. Shore Temple is also a stark reminder of what happened in 2004 and what could happen at any time.