The Varaha Cave Temple in Tamil Nadu


Located atop a hillside village close to the ancient city of Mahabalipuram is the exquisite Varaha Cave Temple. It is dedicated to one of the ten forms of Lord Vishnu and easily makes for being one of the finest examples of a rock-cut temple. In fact, it is the oldest standing monument in Mahabalipuram and believed to have been built around 630-668 AD. Carved from a low rock outcropping of granite of a mesmerizing pinkish hue, it is just a little higher than the temple itself.However, this ancient gem of South Indian architecture doesn’t see much tourist footfall due to its hidden location. Since it is just about 4km away from other interesting historically-significant sites of the ‘Pancha Rathas’ and the Shore Temple, it is defiantly worth visiting for those who have the chance. Keep a couple of days aside and visit all the three nearby locations.

It is part of a Group of Monuments of the UNESCO World Heritage site and is located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, in the tradition-rich state of Tamil Nadu. Though it is a comparatively small shrine, it is beautifully sculpted in the reigning Dravidian style – with surprising hints of Buddhist elements too. This Varaha cave temple, also known as Adivaraha cave temple, is one of the greatest displays of Pallava art and is a marvellous sight to behold for those opportune to see it.

The entrance to the ‘mandapa’ is guarded by four pillars and two pilasters; the pillars are built atop sitting lions guarding the temple. The inner walls of the temple are beautifully embellished with four large sculpted panels. The frescoes of different Gods in various postures here tell a story of their own. Here, Varaha is depicted as a wild boar, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, as he holds up his wife Bhumi (mother earth goddess) saving her from Naga, the snake king.

There is another fascinating sculpture depicting Vishnu Trivikrama as a dwarf with his one foot on the earth, another one on a cloud and a third one pushing the tyrant Bali, down into the underworld. Standing next to Vishnu are carvings of Brahma and Shiva along with the sun and moon.

Mahabalipuram, earlier known as Mamallapuram was a flourishing port city of the Pallava dynasty and experienced growth in the arts and architecture during the 7th century which can be seen in unique pieces of artworks still existing today.

Getting to Mangalapuram is easy as its well-connected by road, rail or by air – with nearby Trichy having the closest airport.