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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram

This painting is inspired by the legends behind the shore temple of Mahabalipuram. Englishman D R Fyson, a long time resident of Chennai, wrote a book on the town called ‘Mahabalipuram or Seven Pagodas’. The city and its myth was made popular in Europe by Southey through his poem, The Curse of Kehama in 1810. The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British in 1827.

Mahabalipuram, now called Mamallapuram, has various historic monuments built between the 7th and 9th Centuries and has now been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Megalithic burial urns, cairn circles and jars with burials dating to the very dawn of the Christian era have been discovered near Mamallapuram. Chinese coins and Roman coins of Theodosius I in the 4th century CE have been found at Mamallapuram revealing the port as an active hub of global trade in the late classical period.

Another name by which Mahabalipuram has been known to mariners, at least since Marco Polo’s time is "Seven Pagodas" alluding to the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram that stood on the shore, of which one, the Shore Temple, survives.

The legend I mentioned earlier was also recounted by Fyson in his book. He tells of a local myth (which I recall hearing as a child in India) regarding the Pagodas. The myth claims that the city of Mahabalipuram was so beautiful that the God Indra sank it during a great storm in a fit of jealousy, leaving only the Shore Temple standing. He tells of local fishermen, who claim that at least some of the other temples can be seen glittering under the waves from boats.

A renowned archaeologist in India, Ramaswami wrote explicitly that “There is no sunk city in the waves off Mamallapuram. The European name, ‘The Seven Pagodas,’ is irrational and cannot be accounted for”. However, the missing temples continue to fascinate locals, archaeologists and lovers of myth, especially so, since the recent Tsunami of December 2004.

Anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be ignored and the breakthrough happened in December 2004 when a Tsunami struck the shores of Southern India. The waters off the coast of Mahabalipuram pulled back about 500metres and tourists and locals alike saw a long straight row of large rocks emerge from the water. Though this was soon reclaimed by the ocean, centuries worth of sediment was lifted off these stones and left a few previously hidden statues and small structures uncovered on the shore. Since then the Archeology department and the Indian Navy have uncovered more statues and cave temples off the shore of Mahabalipuram, thereby validating the legends....


  1. Excellent info! sharing..

    1. Reading about the Seven Pagodas really did make me wonder about Atlantis and other mythical sunken cities of the world...

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  3. inspired!. that info was too good.