A long time ago, seven granite temples stood on the beach of Mamallapuram near Chennai, a port at that time. Myth has it that lord Indra, the god of thunderstorm became so jealous of the town’s beauty that in his anger, he brought out a great storm from the Bay of Bengal, gobbling six of the temples. And so only one remained, the Shore Temple, built on an outcrop of land on the beach, to guide the travellers coming from the sea.
Some 60 kilometers from sweltering Chennai on the East Coast Road, Mamallapuram is more of a popular weekend beach retreat now than a port. Cheap homestays, larger-than-life resorts, backpacker hostels, restaurants and cafes pepper its lanes, each of which weaves down to the sandy beaches. Built by the Pallavas during the seventh century, it used to be a famous trading port on the east coast. Traders and merchants travelled all the way from countries in South East Asia and even the Mediterranean to reach its shores. Legend has it that Marco Polo, the famous Venetian merchant traveller, found his way to this port, marking it on his Catalan Map in 1275. It was during the Pallavas that Sangam literature and Bhakti movement flourished here.