Salt wind and stone

I first visited the temples of Mahabalipuram almost thirty years ago. A local bus dropped me at a seemingly empty spot on the beach. I walked towards the shore, spotted the temples in the distance and trudged up to it in the summer’s heat. I was too young to worry about dehydration. I remember very little detail; what remains now is the impression of great antiquity and eroded stone.

Years later, in 2006, The Family and I visited the temples. The small village where I had something to eat decades earlier had grown. There were resorts, workshops of stone carvers, newly trained by the government, and many tourists. There is a certain charm in walking across level sands to find a thirteen centuries old temple. But it is clear that the more interest there is in such places the more likely it is that conservation efforts improve. The salt breeze and the tides of over a thousand years have eroded the sculpted stone, but windbreaks are being built now to protect them.

We walked slowly through the temples and caves and paused to admire the enormous relief sculpture called either “The Descent of Ganga” or “The Penance of Arjuna”. The featured photo of deer and the relief of a cat dancing in front of mice (photo below) are parts of this panel. These sculptures are on shaped faces of two enormous boulders, each almost 10 meters high and 25 meters long. I wished we’d brought ladders to stand on to look closely at different parts of this relief, there was so much detail to admire just in the parts close to us.

We spent a long time walking about the complex of caves, temples and the shore temple. The increased influx of tourists meant that there were many hotels to stay in. We’d found one earlier in the day and deposited our bags there. When we went back it turned out that we could sit out on the beach and watch the sunset with some beer and fish. There are so many advantages to increased tourism.