Shore temple in true grandeur!
Shore temple, Mamallapuram - Tamil Nadu
By day its a simple temple. two roofed and gorgeous to an unsuspecting onlooker who visits this site for the first time. Innocent nandi bulls guard the entrance of this two shrine temple as it speaks of erosion and lost past glory. Yes very obviously its an ancient Shiva temple and flaunts the iconography of Lord Shiva all through. But is that it?
Look close, for this temple holds more secrets than what the normal eye can see. For one, to the trained eye, it speaks of a plinth (platform on which temple stands) that is more chalukyan than pallavan in nature. Two, it sandwiches a reclining vishnu in the center, and three, it holds two shiva lingas opposite to each other one facing west and one facing east. Does all this look normal to you?
Lets move back a little. This temple displays a congregation of many cults, or lets say all the Hindu cults known at that point in time. This would exclude the buddhists and jains. What this temple displays is the presence of an ancient vaishnavite cult that was over powered by the shaivite cults(supported by royal patronage) because of which there are two towering vimanas over Lord Shiva's shrines. It shows tolerance towards vaishnavite cult since lord Vishnu has been allowed to continue reclining and has not been uprooted from his chamber, interestingly he stayed carved well into the bedrock on which the shore temple stands. That apart it shows the strong presence of the devi cult more in the form of Parvati and Mahishasuramardhini - the two forms of the goddess that have been profusely carved across Mahabalipuram. Vishnu is either depicted as Himself or as Varaha.
But stranger cults exist among the shadows of this temple. The naga cult dominates the walls of this temple with five hooded serpent deities around its four walls transforming the whole look of the temple. This really takes ones imagination to wonder what could be called regular sacrifice at this temple.
As the sun sets in the evening, the temple priest lights up the oil lamps within their triangular niches into the temple walls. The darkness now wiped out by shimering lights that dot the temple allow for much larger ritual fires at the main temple platform. Fire, the path to heaven, the path to immortality, rises into the air as incense is lit right around the area of ritual. Drum beats pierce the air as the smoke and fire rise up to call on the dieties to come down into the forum of men. Rhythmic beats of the ancient drums with a slow constant rumble of the waves along the beaches completes the ambience of this small temple. Vedic chants rise into the air and the ritual takes full force. The heat generated calls on the very Gods to come and take a seat. The prayers roll out in rhythmic breath to the Mother and the ever present Lord Shiva as they are brought to life, into divine visibility. The Lord decends with the crecent moon dancing among His locks. Mystical diagrams paint the floor of the temple as oil lamps light up the temple bringing alive celestial beings who fly down showering flowers over the potent couple. Gandharvas play music as they fly around as tiny lights. The chanting creates rhythmic motion making the worshipers sway with the beat. The fire rages on and brings around the very beauty of the creator, as He comes alive with the Goddess to reunite and once again bring to earth the miracle of creation.
The fire dies down, the chanting continues to ring away within the mind. The sun rises again shimering among clear waters of the sea as it dances in its lap. The temple awakens again to another unassuming tourist passing by...
How then can one assume this temple is a mere collection of stone, that speak nothing but a tradition long gone? Its alive, very much alive well within my heart.