Understanding the Connection Between Mahabharata and Mahabalipuram

Understanding the Connection Between Mahabharata and Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram, located along the Coromandel Coast facing the Bay of Bengal in Tamil Nadu, is an ancient port city known for its impressive stone carvings and cave temples. As per legends, Mahabalipuram was named after the Demon King Mahabali who was known for his generosity. He performed a ritual sacrifice which made him immensely powerful, so much so that even the Devas were threatened. Lord Vishnu had to take his fifth incarnation as Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin, to subdue Mahabali’s powers. It is believed Mahabali still comes to visit his city annually.

Connections with the Mahabharata
According to local folklore, the stunning rock-cut monuments that decorate the shore temples of Mahabalipuram today were built by the Pandava brothers with the help of Lord Krishna during their exile.

Arjuna’s Penance Bas Relief
The largest bas-relief in Mahabalipuram is known as ‘Arjuna’s Penance’. It depicts rows of divine beings, humans, animals in a state of reverence around a natural cleft in the rock meant to depict the River Ganga. The central figure is identified as Arjuna from the Mahabharata, standing on one leg, and apparently doing penance to obtain Lord Shiva’s weapon to fight the Kauravas.


Lord Krishna’s Butter Ball

A giant natural ball-shaped boulder rests delicately on a short slope, seemingly defying all laws of physics. Local legends state that this butter ball is a dollop of butter held aloft by Lord Krishna as a demonstration of his divine power.

The Descent of the Ganges

This enormous open-air rock relief depicts the story of the descent of the holy river Ganga from the heavens to purify the souls of ancestors on earth. The central figures are identified as Bhagiratha, an ancestor of Lord Rama, standing in penance after bringing Ganga down to Earth successfully with Lord Shiva receiving the powerful river goddess in his hairlocks.

Pancha Pandava Rathas
The Pancha Rathas is a collection of five exquisite monolithic stone chariots named after characters of the Mahabharata – Draupadi, Arjuna, Sahadeva, Nakula and Yudhishtira. Each Ratha was carved out of a single, long stone or monolith. It is conjectured that these rathas were never completed into temples.


The Shore Temple Complex

The beautiful twin towered Shore Temple overlooks the Bay of Bengal against a breathtaking sunset. Though much older, myths say its origins lie in the Mahabharata when Lord Krishna and the Pandavas stopped by at Mahabalipuram during their exile.


Krishna’s Durga

Near the shore temples stands a small rock carving known as Krishna’s Durga or Krishna’s fortress, barely a meter in width. According to local traditions, this tiny structure with a narrow opening was the site of a fierce battle between Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva.
As per the legend, once Lord Krishna mocked Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati while they were engrossed playing a game of dice. An enraged Goddess Parvati cursed Lord Krishna that he would soon die alone in a forest without any subjects by his side. To prove her wrong, Krishna summoned all his people and transformed them into stones and trees. Lord Shiva arrived to destroy Krishna’s creation, but a ferocious battle ensued. Finally, Lord Vishnu appeared to mediate peace between them.
This story reveals the deep respect and devotion that Lord Krishna commanded among his subjects that they were willing to stand by him and fight, even when transformed into stone. The legacy of Krishna – his wit, wisdom, and warmth – continues to capture hearts and imagination to this day. His connection to Mahabalipuram is deeply entrenched in myths that reveal profound meaning and messages for humanity.

Final Words
While it’s hard to confirm the role of the Pandavas in building these impressive monuments, the legends reveal how strongly rooted Hindu mythology is tied to the history of Mahabalipuram. Through these legends, the universal messages of duty, dharma and devotion in Indian culture are artfully depicted in stone.

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