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Panch Pandav Raths at Mahabalipuram

Panch Pandav Raths at Mahabalipuram

A few years back, I had gone to visit cousins in Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. On their suggestion, I headed out to coastal town of Mammalapuram or Mahbalipuram which lies midway between Chennai and Pondy a mere 90 kms. The reason I jumped to it was the drive on the ECR (east coast road) which runs parallel to the sea mostly and the ancient temples in Mahabalipuram which date back to the Mahabharat as per legend.

The road was amazing as it was smooth and free from pot holes all the way through. The sea was visible in bits and pieces and was farther than I thought it would be. One drawback of this road stretch at that time was no good food joints apart from a government run Midway which was pretty average.

Two hours of riding a bike and we were there. It was quite balmy for February and I was surprised by the fierceness of the morning sun. It grew worse as the day progressed. Everywhere around I could spot lots of road side sellers, all selling beautifully carved granite stone items. I did pick up a pestle and mortar though had no idea how I would cart it back on the bike – it was damn heavy!

First stop was the Rathas – these are monolith temples built out of a single rock by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman-I (AD 630-660) and are called so as they resemble wooden chariots. These are called PanchPandava raths (Five Pandavas Chariots) but apparently have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mahabharata. Ok by now I was bamboozled by this fact and sought for more information on this.

But the stone temples made me stop in my tracks as they were just amazing in their construction. It’s said that a huge rock sloping north to south was used to cut out each temples, few animals and figures that are found in this compound. I was amazed to see that the texture of the stone is still quite visible and it’s not smoothened over the years or affected by the salty sea winds.

All the rathas are named after the five pandavas and their wife Draupadi but carry inscriptions from the Pallava empire and are in fact one of the finest specimen of Pallava plastic art form. These are said to have no precedent in Indian architecture and were declared a protected site by UNESCO in 1984 and are maintained by the ASI now.
Insert pic5 Draupadi Ratha

All the five rathas are in one straight line starting from Dharamraj Ratha (Yudhishtra Ratha) to Bhima Ratha to Arjuna Ratha to Nakul-Sahadeva Ratha and finally the Draupadi Ratha which was the smallest of them all.

I couldn’t figure out why they were named after these characters from the Mahabhartha but did hear that these were never desecrated and stand intact since the day they were built. An amazing accomplishment given that our country was raided and plundered by outsiders numerous times.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Mahabalipuram, do stop by these incredible structures and marvel at the thought behind their conception. Oh and do note the sound of chisel and hammers all around as this town seemed to have some of the most gifted sculptors as evident from the wares being hawked from every street stand.
About Shalzmojo

An interior designer by profession, writing is a passion which coupled with travel love blossomed into this blog where I love to just “do my thing”! Be it recipes, food events, travel jaunts, fiction dreaming or even meditative musings; all of it’s taken up quite passionately on my blog. I am a serious wine guzzler and love to chase butterflies in my free time.
Read about my visit to the monolithic temple in Masroor, Kangra in Himachal Pradesh Here
This post is written for the December bloghop #mymojo with Shalzmojo
Linking up for #wordsante with Namysaysso for every post deserves some love 


  1. I like the history of the Rathas, that they are built from a stone and named after the Pandavas. The pics look wow as always :)
    Need to go to Mahabalipuram for sure

    1. Thanks Z ; isnt our history so curious? Its filled with so many fun filled facts. Imagine this has no relation what so ever with the Mahabharta and yet they are named so!!

  2. I've visited Mahabalipuram many times as kids when we were posted in Chennai, and once with the husband not so long back. I am intrigued why the panch panda raths were named so.

    1. I am intrigued too Aditi and tried finding out but google had no answers for me ....yet! Still hunting!!

  3. Lovely post....I just recently visited this place in Mahabalipuram

    1. Oh thats good to hear Rupa; what were your impressions of the place?