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Mahishasura Mardini Cave

Mahishasura Mardini Cave temple with Olakneswara Temple above, Tamil Nadu
Mahishasura Mardini Cave temple with Olakneswara Temple above / Aashim Tyagi, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

Mahabalipuram contains 14 cave temples and several of these unique structures contain significant works of ancient art. One of them – Mahishasura Mardini Cave – contains several beautiful reliefs well demonstrating the artistic abilities of sculptors in Pallava times.

3.2 out of 10 stars 32.3%

GPS coordinates
12.615051 N 80.191481 E
Location, address
Asia, India, Tamil Nadu, south of Chennai, Kanchipuram district, Mahabalipuram town, "hillock" near the centre
Hindu shrines, Rock cut temples and monasteries
Alternate names
Mahishasura Mandapa, Mahishasura Mardini Mantapa
UNESCO World Heritage status
Part of "Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram", 1984, No. 249

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

This temple is not finished and does not contain any inscriptions. It is located at the base of diorite hillock, with another ancient structure – Olakkannesvara Temple on top of this hill.

The front part of the cave temple is adorned with four columns and two pilasters, the floor, and ceiling are not completed. Columns have different designs – the two central columns are different. Most likely this is explained by the attempt of Vaisnavites to remove them. One was really removed and was recently replaced by a low-quality replica.

Anantasayana sculpted panel in Mahishasura Mardini Cave, Tamil Nadu
Anantasayana sculpted panel in Mahishasura Mardini Cave / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Both beautifully sculpted panels are placed at opposite sidewalls of the shrine. One relief depicts eight-armed Goddess Durga defeating the demon-king Mahishasura – it is possible that the temple got its name from this demon. Goddess is accompanied by eight ganas, Mahishasura with his army of seven demons is retreating.

Another panel depicts Anantasayana – e.g. Vishnu reclining on snake-like king of nagas – Ananta Shesha. This serpent has a thousand heads – relief shows five. Below Vishnu, there is Bhu-devi, Mother Earth. Above the God and below him there are shown four flying ayudh-purushas – divine weapons of Vishnu. This panel is considered to be one of the highest achievement in Indian ancient art.

Mahishasura Mardini panel in Mahishasura Mardini Cave, Tamil Nadu
Mahishasura Mardini panel in Mahishasura Mardini Cave / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Rear wall contains three shrines. The central shrine is larger and is adorned with a porch. The porch, in turn, has a pair of beautiful pillars with horned lions – vyalas – at the base. All shrines are symbolically guarded by dvarapalas. Side shrines are not adorned but the central shrine is adorned with a large Somaskanda panel showing Shiva himself, his consort, Uma, divine child Skanda and Nandi at their feet and other gods in the background.

The choice of two unrelated religious motives on sidewalls is not clear today. It is also not completely clear why there were developed two shrines for Shiva and one for Vishnu.


  1. Mahishasura Mardini Mandapam, Tamil Heritage. Accessed on April 16, 2010.

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Tamil Nadu: The Heart of Dravidian India

The huge temples of Tamil Nadu are justifiably famous. Through history and forty-four original photographs, this book explains how the temples came to be and what their statuary symbolizes. The book also paints a picture of what life was like in the civilizations that built them.

Mahabalipuram (Monumental Legacy)

Built in 700 CE by the famous Pallava king Rajasimha, Mahabalipuram is a unique monument where art form combines with religion and legends. Also known as Mamallapuram, it showcases the best of Tamil art and architecture. The beauty of the monument is further enhanced by its location on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, the latter significantly influencing the creations. Part of the prestigious Monumental Legacy series, this book presents a graphic account of the site and its monuments-mandapas (cave temples), rathas (chariots), open-air bas-reliefs, and structural temples.

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