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The Shore Temple stands its ground

By T.S. Subramanian

— Photo Courtesy: ASI, Chennai Circle.

The Shore Temple, behind a haze, photographed a few minutes after the tsunami struck. (Left) The dislocated foundation stones of the `bali peetam.' — Photo Courtesy: ASI, Chennai Circle.

CHENNAI, DEC. 29. Some structures and rocks, perhaps the components a of a complex of which the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram was originally a part, came into view when the sea initially receded from the shoreline before the waves hit back with brute force on December 26, according to accounts provided by eyewitnesses today. But these objects were promptly submerged when the waves came back. These could not be promptly photographed, although in the minutes that followed, staff members of the Archaeological Survey of India, under whose charge the monument remains, managed to capture a few misty and hazy images of the temple. This was caused by the onslaught of water.

Wall smashed

The giant waves smashed the groyne wall built in the 1970s and made of big blue metal boulders on the shore, tore down the fence, flooded the lawns and entered the Shore Temple. "The Shore Temple rises from a bedrock and that saved it. The groyne wall saved several visitors too," said T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle.

The waves dislocated the foundation of the bali peetam (sacrificial altar) in front of the Shore Temple. The boat jetty/flight of steps and the miniature shrine and the Varaha sculpture at the basement of the Shore Temple, which were discovered by the ASI between 1990 and 1993, were flooded.

An ASI employee who was at the Shore Temple when the tsunami struck, said: "A huge wave came in and then it looked as if the waters of a dam had burst. There was mist everywhere. When the waves receded about a few hundred metres from the normal shoreline, three rocks came into view. They had a broad basement and they tapered upwards like cones. They were not bald boulders."

According to Dr. Satyamurthy, what came into view could be "structural members and remains of the continuation of the Shore Temple on the east, running towards the south." He said it was clear that more architectural structures remained submerged beyond the Shore Temple. The ASI had undertaken an offshore exploration with the aid of the marine wing of the Geological Survey of India in 1998.

The marine wing of the ASI had undertaken another offshore exploration last year. "Some oblique structures which remained below the water level were found," Dr. Satyamurthy said.


The impressive group of monuments at Mamallapuram was sculpted by the Pallava kings during the 7th and 8th century A.D. Of these, the Shore Temple stands out in particular, owing to its extraordinary location abutting the sea and its majesty. It is actually a twin-temple dedicated both to Vishnu and Siva. It was built by Narasimhavarman II (circa 690-715). The Five Rathas, sculpted in granite and situated nearby, were created by Narasimhavarman I. Also known as Mamalla (A.D. 630-668), the great wrestler, it is after whom that Mamallapuram is named.

The Shore Temple, declared a World Heritage Monument, has a Somaskanda panel in one temple and a sculpture of the reclining Vishnu in the other. The twin-temple had around it a series of sculptures of bulls and Yalis and Varahas.

UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Monument. When the ASI feared a threat to it from sea erosion, it erected a groyne wall to stop the sea.

Today, even in the wake of the tsunami, the beautiful structure stands tall in all its timeless majesty.

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