How Mamallapuram regained old name as Mahabalipuram

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October 11, 2019 5:11 PM

The media advisory of the Ministry of External Affairs mentions the Tamil Nadu town as 'Mahabalipuram'. Also, the officials have been using the same name in informal communication.

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The historically significant and architecturally ardent, coastal temple town of Tamil Nadu has been referred to as Mahabalipuram until it got a new name. The town is located at a distance of around 60 kilometres from the capital city of Chennai, is officially called Mamallapuram in the State. The 2-day meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be held at this historical town on Friday and Saturday. The media advisory from the Ministry of External Affairs mentions the Tamil Nadu town as ‘Mahabalipuram’. Also, the officials have been using the same name in informal communication.

Here is all that you need to know about the two names that the town is referred with:

The Pallava ‘Mamallan’

What has turned into a seaside resort at present, was a bustling port during the 7th century and 8th Century Pallava kingdom. The town derives its name from its 7th Century ruler Narasimhavarman I. Being one of the greatest wrestlers and fighters in his realm, the King was also called ‘Mamallan’ meaning Great Wrestler. Referring to his name ‘Mamallan’ the town was named as Mamallapuram. The Pallava monarch, Narasimhavarman I ruled the region from 630 AD to 668 AD, and during this period he commissioned most of the architecture that Mamallapuram is famous for.

Birth of ‘Mahabalipuram’

A report published in the India Express [Correction: IE] citing S Swaminathan, the author of Mamallapuram, a book on the architectural and sculptural achievements of the Pallavas, suggested that even though the town is also known as Mahabalipuram, the original name of the city was Mamallapuram. He told IE that the name ‘Mahabalipuram’ emerged much later in the Vijayanagara period (14th-17th centuries). There is no direct connection between the Asura King Mahabali and Mamallapuram, the report suggested citing S Swaminathan.

READ | Mahabalipuram’s Shore temple: History carved in stones

The report citing the author informed that it is just the legend of Trivikrama carved in stone of the famous Varaha Mandapam (Varaha Cave Temple) at Mamallapuram which shares an indirect link with the name Mahabalipuram. S Swaminathan told IE that the demon king Mahabali was killed by the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu, the giant form of Vamana called Trivikrama.

Back to ‘Mamallapuram’

The prevalent Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu after independence made it certain that that the original name of Mamallapuram was retained. It was in 1957 that ‘Mamallapuram’ was notified in a government gazette. And in 1964 when the ancient port town was declared a village panchayat the name Mamallapuram was reiterated. S Swaminathan told the IE that the Tamil Nadu government rather than associating the town’s name with a mythological king ‘Mahabali’, has made sure, respecting the ancient historic and cultural aspects that the original name of the town as Mamallapuram is restored.

The town has some of the most prominent and historic sites. The beautiful monolithic stone structures are just awe-inspiring. Some historic structures at Mamallapuram were declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city has structures which have remarkable artistic and architectural works like stone carvings and tells us a lot about the richness of our culture and heritage.

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