Mahabalipuram – Part II of III – Mythological Connections

Series : Mahabalipuram

Part II : Mythological Connections

Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, is a town in Tamil Nadu, located on the coast of Bay of Bengal, at a distance of 56 Km from Chennai. Mahabalipuram, literally means the abode of the MahaBali or the great Bali, Bali being a mythological character from the Indian religious texts, Puranas. Well, before telling you our travel story, I am feeling tempted to share with you the story of Maha Bali as per the Puranas. So, here we go.

Bali, the grand-son of Prahlada(a great devotee of Lord Vishnu), had established a great empire by conquering the Heaven and the Earth. He himself was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Being a righteous Asura, Bali had set up a rule of justice, peace and prosperity. But, Indra, the ousted ruler of the Heavens and other Gods were frightful that after the death of Bali, his Asura successors will not be as good and will wreck havoc in the world. Vishnu, on being approached by the Gods, assured them that he will help them out in time.

Bali continued to rule the Heaven and the Earth for many years. Meanwhile, Vishnu took birth to Kashyapa(a sage) and his wife Aditi as Vamana(a dwarf) and grew up in their household. On the day Bali was performing 100th Aswamedha Yajna(a sacrificial ritual), which would have given him full supremacy over the World,  Vamana went to Bali. Bali was known for his generosity. And on the day of the Yajna, he had vowed to give anything that anybody might ask for. Vamana asked for only as much land that will come under his 3 steps. Bali agreed. He was a little amused and a little bemused by the Vamana and his strange request. To his amazement, Vamana grew in size to gigantic proportions.  He kept one foot on the Earth, one foot on the Heavens and there was no place to put the third step in Bali’s Empire on Heaven and Earth. Bali realized that Vishnu had come in the form of Vamana and felt overjoyed that the Lord himself had come to ask from him. He stood by his word and offered Vishnu to keep the third step on his own head. Vishnu keeping the third step on Bali’s head sent him to Sutala(the third subterranean realm) with the blessing that Bali will become the Indra(King of the Gods) in the next manvantara(age). Till such time, Bali continues to rule in Sutala.

A sulpture inside Varaha Cave Temple at Mahabalipuram – it depicts the Trivikrama form of Lord Vishnu where he puts one feet on Heaven, one on Earth before sending Maha Bali to Sutala.

Mahabalipuram, is named after the mythological benevolent and mighty Asura King Bali. It was arguably the capital of the great Bali’s Empire.

You probably cannot find answer to whether Bali actually existed or actually had his capital in Mahabalipuram. However, Mahabalipuram, was indeed one of the earliest known cities in India. It became the port city of India as far back as the 3rd century AD. The ancient port city had trade connections with the South East Asian kingdoms as well as the far off European kingdoms.

The European travellers visiting Mahabalipuram in ancient days have strangely referenced to it as the “Land of Seven Pagodas”. Today the Shore temple standing on the shore of Mahabalipuram is considered  as the last standing one of the seven ‘pagodas’.

The town became the flourishing center of trade, art, architecture and literature during the rule of the Pallavas between 3rd to 9th century AD. The town is also known as Mamallapuram after its mighty ruler King Mamalla Narasimhavarman who ruled from 630  AD to 668 AD.

Mamalla Narasimhavarman – the great Pallava ruler under whose patronage, most of the sculptures and temples that we see today at Mahabalipuram, were created.


In case you have missed out the first part of the series, you can check out the following link.

Mahabalipuram – Part I of III – Welcome to Mamallapuram! ‘The land of seven pagodas’

Our travel story continues in Mahabalipuram – Part III of III – A day at Mahabalipuram



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