The Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram is one of the oldest structural temples of South India and was a pioneer of this style of architecture which eventually replaced the other forms prevalent then. Today the Shore Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Mahabalipuram group of temples, and visited by thousands of travellers every year.
Well, to understand this better, we need to do a quick overview of evolution of the temple architecture styles over the ages.
The oldest such temples were the cave temples where simple temples were built by excavating the rock and were more or less like the Buddhist cave temples common during that era. An evolution of this style was a rock cut temple in a cave, but chiseled into a free standing structure. The Panch Ratha at Mahabalipuram is a good example of this.
However, this was an expensive and a time intensive activity and to make temples of even larger scale fast, a new style developed - Structural Temples. These temples were built with precisely cut stones, often interlocked for structural strength. Using this method, much taller temples could be built and this was the beginning of the typical South Indian temples as we know of now.
Well, Shore Temple is called so simply because it faces the east which happens to be the direction of the shore, Bay of Bengal.
Well my visit to Mahabalipuram was completely unplanned and happened as a result of sudden change of plans as I was on my way to Pondicherry in a bus from Chennai.
I took a guest house right next to the beach and started my explorations at the beach at five thirty in the morning. I wanted to see the sunrise at the temple and was pleasantly surprised that the temple opens to visitors at 6am! This allowed me to start my day early and also to capture some lovely moments there. I didn’t have my DSLR on this trip but the iPhone X was an excellent companion and never disappointed me.
The temple is fairly simple, and if you don’t know about the history of this place you might even come back a little disappointed. But if you do know more about it, you will only marvel at its beauty and ingenuity.
The temple is actually built right at the coast and originally the sea waves could actually be felt when one stood at its entrance. However, this also led to the slow demise of the beautiful temple and today most of it is ruined by the extremely salted sea water. However, as part of efforts to slow down the decay process, a part of the sea in front of the temple was reclaimed and trees planted to prevent the harsh winds from direct contact with the temple. The setting of the temple today is certainly not as dramatic, but it will thankfully live longer with this.
The best time for a visit would I absolutely be morning when the sun rises and the front of the temple glows in the golden light. You can easily spend a few hours at the temple, especially if you love old temples as much as I do. Otherwise, you will be able to see and admire most of it within an hour.
I would suggest going to try backside of the temple (there is lane on the right of the entrance) for some nice chai/ breakfast as well as a stroll on the beach. The beach isn’t exceptionally clean, but the morning breeze is good.
In terms of the season, the best time for a visit would be November to February.