Mahabalipuram: A saga of glory to tribulations

Sundaresh, Kamlesh H. Vora
India, India

Mahabalipuram, a world heritage site, also famous as the sixth century centre of Pallava art and architecture in South India, was also a seaport right from the beginning of the Christian era. The epigraphical sources confirm Pallava kings’ active contacts with Ceylon, China and the Southeast Asian countries. A few Roman coins of Theodosius (4th century AD) found from the region suggest that Mahabalipuram also had trade contact with the Roman world around Christian era. It came to the glory only after the Pallava started building the structural and monolithic temple architecture in this area. Mahabalipuram was dotted with `Seven pagodas’ once up on a time as referred by the earlier mariners. Now all but one, ` Shore Temple’ is standing tall overlooking the Bay of Bengal, rest all believed to have been submerged in the sea as per the local traditions and the foreign accounts.

The recent (March 2003) underwater archaeological explorations carried out by National Institute of Oceanography, Goa has revealed many structural remains including a fallen wall, with three coarses, scattered dressed stone blocks, a few steps leading to a platform and remains of many more fallen wall sections. These apparently man-made structures are present in 5 - 8 m water depth, about 800 m from the present shoreline. The structures were badly damaged due to underwater strong currents and swells. The data indicates that a large area comprising of building complex has been submerged.

Based on the archaeological evidences around Mahabalipuram, the earliest possible date of these structures could be around1500 years BP.

The major and important factor affecting Mahabalipuram coast is erosion as a recent study has indicated the rate of coastal erosion in and around Mahabalipuram as 55 cm/yr. Tamilnadu has other evidence of such sever erosional regime prevailing which may be the reason for our loss of heritage sites like Mahabalipuram.