All About Shore Temple, India's First Green Heritage Site

Known for its unique architecture, the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an ideal destination to explore during World Heritage Week
Shore Temple
Shore TempleShutterstock

The beach town of Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram), located about 60 kilometres south of Chennai, has long been a famous tourist destination, and its global appeal has grown since UNESCO designated the ancient complex of monuments found here as a World Heritage Site in 1984.

Mamallapuram was a thriving port city ruled by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries, according to legend. They were patrons of art and architecture, encouraging the creation of exquisitely carved rock-cut temples and other architectural monuments.

Recently, the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram has made history by becoming India's first Green Energy Archaeological Site. Behind this accomplishment is the Green Heritage Project's effective execution, a joint project managed by Hand in Hand India (HiH) and Renault Nissan Technology & Business Centre India (Renault Nissan Tech).

Shore Temple
Shore TempleShutterstock

Going Green

These are some of the ways the Shore Temple has gone green: Three solar plants, each with a 10 kilowatt capacity, will provide lighting for the Shore Temple using renewable energy. Any excess energy produced by these solar power plants will be fed back into the grid, ensuring that it helps meet present and future energy needs while having the least possible environmental impact.

By installing necessary facilities that utilise renewable energy sources, the initiative also aims to reduce the ecological impact of tourism in the area. For instance, a reverse osmosis (RO) plant powered by solar energy will provide tourists with safe drinking water. Three water kiosks will be present alongside this, giving guests quick access to potable water.

The project includes empowering the neighbourhood. In order to lessen the carbon impact associated with conventional modes of transportation, local women will drive electric buggies. To support the provision of environmentally friendly transportation, an exclusive parking structure outfitted with three charging stations has been built.

Structures at the Shore Temple
Structures at the Shore TempleWikiCommons

About The Shore Temple

The beautiful rock-cut temple lies on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. It is composed of charcolite and is one of seven that were here dating to about 600 CE. A diving expedition led by the National Institute of Oceanography in India and the Scientific Exploration Society in the United Kingdom in 2002 discovered evidence of this. Masonry and stone structures were discovered submerged 20 feet deep in the seas here by researchers.

The lone existing Shore Temple honours Shiva, his consort Parvati, and their sons Vinayaka and Karthikeya. Here, too, is the one-of-a-kind Sthala Shayana Perumal, India's sole temple where Vishnu reclines on the floor, serenaded by the sound of the waves. The temple's pillars display the dramatic Pallava symbol of roaring lions.

The five chariot-shaped temples in the Pancha Ratha complex are interesting not only as monolithic structures dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries but also for their style. The temples have been named after the five Pandava brothers and Draupadi. The very first structure, named after Draupadi, is shaped like a thatched roof hut from Bengal. The second, or the Arjuna's Rath, is shaped like a Buddhist Vihara. In between are large statues of a lion, an elephant, and a bull. The one named after Bhima has a vaulted roof.

Other Things To See

South-west of these structures are three cave temples. The cave temples, known locally as mandapas, are artistically distinct. The carved Varaha Cave temple, located on the outskirts of town, dates from the 7th century.

One of the must-see attractions is the Tiger Cave, located 5 kilometres from Mammallapuram on the East Coast Road. It is thought to have been a royal retreat and contains a cave of sculptures framed by a big boulder. This Goddess Durga shrine from the 7th century CE is now a popular picnic place. And relatively untouched.

A flight of steps takes you to the old lighthouse of Mammallapuram, not in use anymore. Great views from here too. Arjuna's Penance, said to be one of the world's largest bas-relief works, can be seen from the road. The 27m × 9m panel is claimed to include over a hundred sculptures. Two renowned moments from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, are represented here.

Visitors at the Shore Temple
Visitors at the Shore TempleVyacheslav Argenberg / WikiCommons

Around Mamallapuram

The peaceful beaches and adventure sports are major draws here. Covelong (also known as Kovalam), about 20 kilometres away, is a popular surfing destination for surfers from all over the world. If you have time, you can also go to the Cholamandalam Artists Village (35km) and Dakshin Chitra (25km). Dakshin Chitra features a collection of 18 authentic historical residences, each with a contextual exhibition.

Shopping And Stays

Along the roadside and the lanes that go towards the sea, you will find many sculptures in black stone, granite, soft and grey soapstone in shops that flank the road. You will find plenty of hotels and resorts in and around Mamallapuram. A luxury stay option is the Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay located on the shore.

Getting There

Mamallapuram is about 60 km by road from Chennai, the nearest airport and railhead.


The Archaeological Survey of India manages the heritage group of monuments here. They stay open from 6 am to 6 pm. Timings vary depending on the season and any special events.

When To Go

The best time to visit is winter.

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