Mahabalipuram: An Architectural Extravaganza

The second India-China informal summit took place at Mahabalipuram (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Tamil Nadu, near Chennai between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, owing to its historical link to China and President Xi’s interest in history and culture. Historical Connection between China and Mahabalipuram: During the rule of the Pallavas (600-900 AD), Mahabalipuram was one of the major ports in South India and the main connecting point for trade with China. Many articles including pottery have been found here and in the neighbouring areas showing close trade relationships with the Chinese.

● A Pallava prince, whom the Chinese call Bodhidharma, is said to have travelled to China from Kanchipuram via Mahabalipuram, as a messenger of Buddhism and reached Guangzhou in 527 AD.

● He went on to become the 28th patriarch of Buddhism succeeding Prajnatara.

● The form of Buddhism that Bodhidharma taught in China came to be known as Chan (corrupt form of Sanskrit word Dhyan) Buddhism.

● It reached Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of the Far East. As it spread, it came to be known as Zen Buddhism.

● He also is said to have taught a silent form of martial arts to the monks at the Shaolin temple. The choice of the second India-China informal summit venue is said to be also due to the current Chinese President who was earlier governor of Fujian, a province to the south-east of China’s mainland and a region that had intense cultural exchanges with Tamil Nadu.

Archaeological Importance:

● Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu is a temple of art, created by the Pallava rulers.

● It is a virtual treasure trove of sculpture and architecture. It is a shining example of Dravidian culture and of the ancient civilization of the Tamils.

● Temple architecture which is a unique feature of Tamil culture was born in this place.

● There are 4 types of sculptures in India: Cave temples, Carved monoliths, Sculptured scenes or Bas relief and Masonry temples. All these 4 types are found here. The Imperial Pallavas ruled from the 6th century AD for about 400 years. Their capital city was Kanchipuram and Mamallapuram was their seaport. The word ‘Pallava’ in Sanskrit means ‘sprout’. As per mythology, Ashvatthama, son of Drona and a character in the epic Mahabharatha, fathered a son through his liaison with a snake princess. The child was named Pallava after the lotus ‘sprouts’ upon which he was laid at birth. As per mythology, the dynasty which this Pallava founded became the Pallava dynasty.

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