Fierce rivals of the Cholas, the Pallavas were another South Indian dynasty that ruled a significant portion of southern India. Modern day Kanchipuram, located near Chennai, was at the center of the tussle between the two great empires. Recognised back then as Kanchi, the city was adjudged the capital of the Pallava.
Just like the Cholas, the Pallavas built an array of temples across the land they seized. Laying the groundwork for medieval South Indian architecture, the once rulers of South India influenced several other major kingdoms across Southeast Asia.
Originally a pastoral tribe for 500 years, the Pallavas established their dynasty on the ruins of the kingdom of the Satvahanas. Witnessing a prominent rise in the Cult of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, Kanchipuram served as a major pilgrimage site for the Hindu devotees at the time. The temples built in their tribute became not only a place of worship but also became significant administrative and cultural centers.
Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Overlooking the shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Shore Temple complex was the site of a busy port during the early years of empire. Built using blocks of granite, there are three temples that are spread across the vast area. The main temple, a tribute to Lord Shiva, faces the east so that sun rays shine upon the Shiva Linga, located in the garbhagriha. Of the other two shrines leftover, one is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and another to Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu's complex sits in between both Shiva complexes as a symbol of balance. The temple walls are elaborately embellished with large sculptures of Nandi and a series of rearing lions.
Legends say that Marco Polo and other European merchants called the site, Seven Pagodas. Acting as a landmarks for ships, the name became widespread among merchants. It is believed that Shore Temple along with six other pagoda shaped monuments once stood across the shore of the Bay of Bengal.
Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple
A prominent representation of Dravidian architecture, the compound of the Kachi Kailasanathar Temple is adorned by carvings of half-animal deities which were popular at the time. A place of unwavering faith, the complex served also as a safe sanctuary for the Pallava rulers during times of war. A secret tunnel used for escape was built by the emperors.
Multi-directional mythical lions, in abundance, are engraved upon the pillars of the subshrines. Sculptures of Lord Shiva holding the musical instrument Veena are also decorated on the walls. One can observe the tangible differences in the modern version of the classical instrument to its past. The main shrine has a 16 sided Shiva linga with a exquisitely carved sculpture of Nandi in some distance to serve as a guard to the deity.
Nalanda Gedige Temple
The influence of the Pallavas, at its peak, was far and wide reaching to areas of the Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The Naland Gedige Temple, a Vishnu sanctum, is one such evidence of the far reaching reputation and power of the once dominant South Indian kingdom. Standing in the Natale district of Sri Lanka which was once considered the center of the country, a limited number of Hindu deities grace the walls of the holy place. However, a statue of Lord Kubera does find itself a commemorative place - something that is only visible across temples in the island nation.
A flamboyant mix of Hindu and Buddhist architecture compose the temple complex. Several sections which are eroded highlight the strong Madras influence in the area while one can also discover Tantric Buddhist carvings famous in Khajuraho.
Mandagapattu Cave Temple
The rock-cut cave temple is another Pallavan wonder and one of the oldest temple from their rule. An inscription in the Pallava Grandha script at the entrance of the temple dedicates the holy sanctum to the trinity of Lord Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Two gatekeepers, marked with their fierce expressions, are carved into the wall of the complex.
Interestingly, the temple is built without the use of wood, metal, timber or even brick. The king who built this sanctuary, Mahendravarman I, boasts doing the same in one of the inscriptions on the temple walls.