Mahabalipuram is rich in ancient history. It is very popular for the group of monuments which include various cave temples and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) sites. Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) is one of the most interesting sites in Mahabaliuram. It is situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal and hence enjoys easy reachability. Pancha Rathas existence goes back to the 7th Century and has close attribution to the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman. This monument complex comes under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It also boasts the coveted title of UNESCO World Heritage site. So many reasons not to miss this architectural delight.
Pancha Rathas consists of five monuments and all of them resemble a chariot in some or the other way. Pancha Rathas is an incredible example of monolithic rock cut architecture as each of the monuments are craved over a single granite stone. They were carved during the ruling of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman, but the craving work was stopped after the death of Narasimhavarman. Hence these monuments are treated as incomplete as the construction never got completed. The five monuments are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi. The names of the Rathas are Dharmaraja Yudhistar’s Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha.
Draupadi Ratha is the first ratha that you will see as soon as you enter the Pancha Rathas premises. Every ratha is has associations with some Hindu diety. This one is dedicated to Goddess Durga. This is the smallest ratha and is built in a cottage style model.
Arjuna Ratha is the next in line and it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Behind this ratha there is a huge statue of Nandi (bull) which is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. This ratha is made in a typical South Indian style. It has a small portico and carvings on the pillar stones. Lord Shiva is the most important deity of Pallavas.
Bhima Ratha is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is the second largest ratha amongst all. Like rest of the rathas this one is also incomplete. If you look carefully you will see Lion carvings on the pillars. The architecture is Buddhist inspired which was around because of various trading business at that time.
Yudhistar Ratha is the biggest of all the rathas. As per our guide this ratha is dedicated to Sun God. The architecture has high influence of Dravadian era. If you look closely you will find many interesting carvings of Goddesses Sita and Parvati.
Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha is located to the west of Yudhistar Ratha. This ratha is dedicated to Lord Indira (God of rains). There is huge Elephant statue near this ratha. When you enter the Pancha Ratha premises you will see the back of this elephant and hence it is also called as Gajaprishthakara (Elephant’s backside).
Pancha Rathas exhibits close association with the Hindu mythology and epic Mahabharata, however there is no concrete proof of the same. The stories around various rathas are intriguing. The architecture and carvings will make you spend hours gazing at them.
Pointers for Pancha Rathas Visit:
- Tickets for Pancha Rasthas cost Rs 30 per head but you can club it with other temples of Mahabalipuram to make it even cheaper.
- The temperature is mostly hot and humid so carry a cap, a pair of sunglasses and water.
- If photography interests you then visit on a weekday well before the sunset.
- Open for public visit from 6:30 am to 6:00 pm daily.
- Highly recommend hiring a guide. Go for a ASI approved guide and you can find them nearby the ticket counter very easily.
Have you been to Pancha Rathas? If yes then share your experience, I am all ears.