Friday, March 7, 2014

Mahabalipuram and Doctors

Ravi and I were up and headed to Mahabalipuram by 6:15 or so Tuesday morning.  We stopped on the way for breakfast and arrived in Mahabalipuram, guidebook in hand, before the crowds and the heat of the day arrived. Mahabalipuram is about a 45 minutes drive south of here, right on the Bay of Bengal.  We drove down the East Coast Road to get there, and saw some nice scenery on the way.  We stopped off at Kovalam to enjoy the migrating birds.

Standing next to the open-air relief carving called the penance panel.  These carvings were done in mid-seventh century AD.  The size and detail of the carvings is very impressive.  (I didn't intentionally dress to blend in.)

Mahabalipuram is full of monuments, rock temples and sculptures created during the 6th to 8th centuries AD.  Each of the monuments tells a story.  Our first stop was at what is called the Penance Panel. There are various versions of the story this panel is supposed to tell,  all quite complex.  The one we liked best is the story of the descent of the river Ganga from the heavens to the earth.  The river first fell on the god Shiva's head so that the waters wouldn't wash away the whole earth.  There is incredible detail and many delightful characters on this panel.  I think my favorite one is the hypocritical cat, who is pretending to do penance.  He is even surrounded by mice, one of whom is worshipping him.  All you who know cats know how sneaky they can be!

There is a cave temple right next to the penance panel.  The Varaha-II temple is cut right into the side of the mountain.  The rooms were not cut very deep.  Still amazing, given that the rock is granite, which is why the details of the carvings have survived for all these centuries.

Next we went to see the five Rathas.  The beauty and detail of these is amazing.  I've included a few pictures below, but they are just a small sampling of the elegant carvings there.  All of the rathas were carved in situ from one large granite hillside.  They are all unfinished.

Our next stop was to see the Mahishamardinin temple and the Olakkannesvara temple.  The story is best told through pictures, which I've included below.  The same is true for the shore temples, which was our final stop.  The guidebook we had with us was really helpful, and definitely increased our enjoyment of the experience.  "Mamallapuram: A Guide to the Monuments" by Michael Lockwood.  Mamallapuram is another name for Mahabalipuram.

So what about doctors, you ask?  Well, I've had a bit of a problem with my balance, and I decided it was time to see a doctor.  Ravi knew an ENT specialist who he took me to see.  I just walked in, no appointment, and didn't even have to wait very long.  He asked me some questions and examined the problem ear, gave me some meds for the balance issues and ordered a hearing test.  The consultation with the doctor cost less than $7, and the meds and the hearing test each cost less than $10.  (My hearing is normal, by the way.)  I go back next week, after 10 days.  In the meantime, the balance issue is improving.  The reason that I'm even mentioning this here is for those of you who might be reluctant to come here for fear of having a medical issue while here.  I was able to get immediate attention, felt well cared for, and didn't have to spend a bundle of money.  I do have travelers insurance in case there is a big problem.  But for little things, the healthcare system here seems to work a lot better than it does back home.

Migrating birds at Kovalam, with Chennai in the background.

The Varaha-II cave temple and the penance panel.

On the porch of the Varaha-II cave temple.

The hypocritical cat, pretending to do penance, surrounded by mice.

I love the detail of the baby elephants crouched under their mama.

The five rathas were all carved out of a single piece of granite.  A ratha is a processional temple-car.

Durga, the goddess of power and strength, is one of my favorites!   The first of the Rathas is actually a small temple of Durga.  This carving is on the back wall of the temple.

The lion is Durga's mount.  This sculpture is right outside Durga's temple.

There were bus loads of school kids visiting.  Very polite, very interested in practicing English.  What is your name, ma'm they asked.  How are you Harlene auntie, they said.

Surrounded by beautiful young women!  What a treat!

One of the many interesting characters in the pantheon of Hindu deities is Ardhanarisvara, "The Lord who is half Woman".  One side is Shiva, the other is his consort, Uma.  

This is another composite, called Harihara.  One side is Shiva and the other side is Vishnu.  Traditionally, I believe, Hindus worship one or the other of these gods, not both.  So it is very interesting to see a composite of the two.

Murugan standing on Ravi's head!  Murugan is one of the sons of Shiva and Uma.  His brother is the ever popular Ganesha, the elephant god.  Murugan is a very popular god in Tamil Nadu.

One of the panels in the Mahishamardinin cave temple.  Here Vishnu is reclining on the coils of the snake Ananta, who provides Vishnu's bed floating on the ocean of universal consciousness.

This panel is on the wall facing Vishnu.  It depicts Durga doing battle against the Buffalo Demon.  As the story goes, she easily defeats his army and then kills him. Don't mess with Durga!

Here Shiva is doing the dance of the victorious warrior.  This panel is on the outside of the Olakkannesvara temple, which sits on top of a high rock just above the Mahishamardinin temple.

The view from just outside the Olakkannesvara temple.

One of the shore temples.

The royal family: Shiva, his consort Uma and their son Skanda, aka Murugan, all seated on the royal throne.  This panel is in one of the Shiva shore temples.

A view from inside one of the temples.  The ocean is just on the other side of those trees, which have been planted as a weather break to try to diminish the effects of erosion.

I'm always amazed to see women doing hard physical labor in their brightly colored saris, even more so now that I've tried one on myself.  This was dirty, backbreaking, hot work.  Right at the entrance to the shore temple grounds.


  1. You were right, I love the cat! Love the mythology, too. Beautiful pictures. You look great!

  2. EXHILARATING PHOTOGRAPHY!!! Interesting assessment of the health care system there. Hope your balance issue is improving!!!