The Majestic Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Along the shores of the Bay of Bengal stands the majestic Shore Temple locally known as Alaivay-k-kovil. Constructed under the reigning of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II popularly known as Rajasimha Pallava (700 – 729 CE).

Shore Temple World heritage site: 1984

Built between: 700–728 AD

Location: Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram)

State: Tamil Nadu

Entry Fee: 40 for Indians & 600/- for foreigners(as per dec 2019 )

Shore Temple Opening Timings: 6 am

Shore Temple Closing Timings: 6 pm

Distance from Chennai ( koyambedu bus terminus ): 63kms

Distance from Pondicherry:

Chennai to shore temple via ECR Road

The city of Mamallapuram and the Pallavas

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) was one of the vital port towns at the time of India’s early history. And came into existence as one of the indispensable centers for artistic activity under the reigning of the Pallava rulers.

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), named after Narasimhavarman I, also known as Mahamalla (great wrestler).

He administrated for about 38 years starting in 630 C.E. He patronized many of rock-cut monuments at Mamallapuram. Which also includes monolithic temples, cave shrines, and gigantic sculptures chiseled out of boulders.

Although Pallava kings primarily worshipped Lord Shiva (Adiyogi). They also supported the establishment of many monuments dedicated to other Hindu goddesses and gods and other religious traditions such as Jainism.

The Pallava rulers were mostly inspired and impressed by the growing devotional movement, which is known as bhakti. Where worshippers approach the divine as a loved one or beloved child.

A Dravidian style temple with three shrines

Indian temple architecture can be broadly classified into five orders based on their typological details: Nagara, Dravida, ellipse, Vesara and rectangle. Although the inherent features of the Hindu temple remain the same, with the crucial element as an inner sanctum, the garbha griha which means womb-chamber. Where the primary Murti or idol of a deity is positioned. 

 In both Dravidian and nagara style temples. There is the main shrine (vimana) which boards the grabha griha, overspread by a pyramidal tower which is known as a shikhara.

The entire superstructure of the shore temple has an octagonal neck (griva). Crowned by a round stupi or finial. The two Shiva shrines have an identical double-storied pyramidal tower.

Dravidian style temples usually are confined within an outer wall (prakara) with a large gateway tower known as a gopura. It is both a rock-cut and a free-standing structural temple. And the placement of the entire temple is on a naturally occurring granite boulder, also called as Jalashayana (lying in water). And the other elements of the temple, which includes the gateways, walls, and superstructures were all constructed out of quarried stone and mortar.

A temple with three shrines

There are three separate shrines present in the temple complex. Of which two of them are dedicated to lord shiva and one to Lord Vishnu. Amongst the three shrines, the Vishnu shrine is the oldest and smallest. The names of the three temples according to the inscriptions found are as follows: Rajasimha Pallavesvara-gruham, Pllikondaruliya-devar and Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvara-gruham.


The entrance to the temple complex is facing the smaller shiva shrine through the western gateway. The guardians known as dvarapalas welcome devotees or visitors at the gateway stand door into the temple complex. Additionally marking the site as a sacred place. A row of seated bulls appears at the entrance wall (prakara). Bull (Nandi) is the vahana or vehicle of Lord Shiva. According to scriptures; many believe Nandi to be the guardian of Shiva’s abode in Mount Kailasha. Nevertheless, the sculpture of a seated Nandi is a crucial part of a Shiva temple. 

Lord Vishnu shrine

The smaller Vishnu temple sits in between and connects the two shiva shrines. The shrine has a rectangular plan with a flat roof. And encases a carved sculpture of the lord Vishnu reclining in Yoga Nidra, also known as Yogic Sleep. During which the artists who carved this image did not include a portrait of Shesha-Ananta (a cosmic serpent). Initially, there is a possibility that the placement of the rock is to depict the snake. The shrine walls have sculptures portraying the life stories of Vishnu and his other avatars mainly Krishna.

Lord Shiva Shrines

Similar to Vishnu shrine, the two Shiva shrines have vibrant carvings on both their interior and exterior walls. The large Shiva shrine faces toward the east. And has a square plan with a garbh griha and a mandapa (a small pillared porch). Aniconic representation of Shiva, also known as the lingam (which is in the shape of a phallus) sits at the centre of the shrine. Though the temple is not functional (a site of active worship) today. Glimpses of visitors worshipping and offering flowers to the lingam can be seen frequently.

A carved stone panel of Lord Shiva in an anthropomorphic form with his consort, the goddess Parvati, and their son Skanda can be seen on the back of the shrine. Which is also called the Somaskanda panel. One can also get to see the images of the gods Brahma and Vishnu on the inner walls of the mandapa. And more sculptures of Lord Shiva and a depiction of the goddess Durga is on the outer north wall of the sanctum. The small Shiva shrine has a square plan. And faces towards the west with a sanctum and two mandapas. The smaller shrine’s sanctum formerly housed a lingam, which is now missing.

A temple that has witnessed the history

One can get to see the vibrant sculptural depiction throughout the three shrines. Which continues to the outer walls of the Shore Temple. Natural calamities and Years of wind and water have worn away the intricate details of these carvings.

  • Although the tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 struck the temple. The Shore Temple was not poorly damaged. As the foundation of the temple is on hard granite rock which could withstand the tsunami. The groynes built by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) around the temple area on the coastline also aided its protection. The Shore Temple complex, including other Mamallapuram monuments and temples. As a result, were collectively identified by the UNESCO World Heritage in 1984.


On the contrary, the mythological story of King Hiranyakashipu and his son Prahalada is related to this temple. Many believe that Prahalada becomes the king after Lord Vishnu killed Hiranyakashipu. The legend says that Prahalada’s grandson Bali founded Mahabalipuram in this place.


We hope this article has provided enough information regarding the shore temple. If you have any further more doubts or queries, let us know in the comment section below.

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