Mahabalipuram also known as Mamallapuram is a town in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu. It is around 60 km south from the city of Chennai. Mahabalipuram is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus and Ptolemy . Ancient Indian traders who went to countries of South East Asia sailed from the seaport of Mahabalipuram.
By the 7th Century it was a Port city of South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas. It has a group of sanctuaries, which was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries : rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the Shore Temple, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva. All the group has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mahabalipuram has an average elevation of 12 metres. The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British Raj in 1827.
The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture where in Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples. The pillars are of the Dravidian order. The sculptures are excellent examples of Pallava art. They are located in the side of the cliffs near India's Bay of Bengal.
It is believed by some that this area served as a school for young sculptors. The different sculptures, some half finished, may have been examples of different styles of architecture, probably demonstrated by instructors and practiced on by young students. This can be seen in the Pancha Rathas where each Ratha is sculpted in a different style. These five Rathas were all carved out of a single piece of granite in situ. While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stonemason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture made out of sandstone, which is softer than granite, under 4 feet that took about 60 days to carve. The carving at Mahabalipuram must have required hundreds of highly skilled sculptors.