41. Storms at the Shore Temple ,Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India


A UNESCO World Heritage site of 7th- and 8th-century Hindu temples built by the Pallavas, stand on the sandy shores facing out to the Bay of Bengal. Mahabalipuram was a busy port dating from at least the first century BCE with archaeological and literary evidence of active trade with Rome, the Far East Coastal cities of the Middle East and Chinese mainland.

The temples of Mahabalipuram have been referred to from antiquity as the “Seven Pagodas”  in  Europe, and other parts of the world for over eleven centuries. This is a strange anomaly as there is only one ‘pagoda’ seen, that of the Shore temple of my painting.

Local Tamil fishermen have long asserted that when the seas are not rough, at least some of the other temples can be seen “glittering beneath the waves” from fishing boats. An exploration in 2002 had found remains of walls at a depth of 5- 8 meters of water, about 500 – 700 meters offshore, the layout suggested that they belonged to several temples. Archaeologists dated them to the Pallava era 7th CE

Immediately before the 2004 tsunami struck the Indian Ocean, including the Bay of Bengal, the ocean waters off Mahabalipuram’s coast pulled back approximately 500 meters. Some Swedish tourists, local fisherman and residents who witnessed this event from the beach recalled seeing a long, straight row of large conical tower-like structures emerge from the sea as the waters receded. As the tsunami rushed to shore, these structures were covered once again by water.

In April 2005, further exploration found several submerged structures, the layout of which closely matched a contemporaneous Pallava-era painting of the Seven Pagodas complex.

I had hoped that someday I would be able to dive in this site, but this was unfortunately not possible as there is no SCUBA diving resource at Mahabalipuram to date. Ten years ago, I journeyed to Mahabalipuram where after much persuasion and bribery, I cajoled two local fishermen to take me out to sea much against their advice. If caught we would all have got into serious trouble with the authorities!

I made two “free dives” with a thick yellow plastic rope tied around one ankle and diving goggles to briefly glimpse what lay under about 3-4 mts. This prove virtually impossible as visibility was so poor and turbulence too great, I however could just make out saw the tops of two deeper dark shadows, appearing as ‘gopuras’ or “pagodas” covered with marine flora.  Luckily there were no accidents and we had not been spotted.

Current scientific opinion is that a previous tsunami in the 13th CE for which there is ample geo-marine physical evidence found along nearly the entire length of India’s East Coast, swallowed 6 of the 7 Pallava temples.


Original:  Oil on canvas ; 12 x 12″  (305 x 305 mm) ; framed

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