History of the temple
As per one legend during the penance of Pandavas, Arjuna was in meditation to get the pashupathstra to defeat the Kauravas. Arjuna is carved as a cat with his arms raised in meditation and big and small rats are moving freely around the cat, which is an architecture supporting Pallavas after Narsimha Varman.
But as per the other legend, the King Bhagirath brought down the Ganges from Heaven to purify the souls of his ancestors. His plan went awry when he realized that floods would engulf the earth, so he had to undergo a penance to convince Shiva to intervene, who came down to earth and let the flood trickle through his hair, dispersing the waters safely into a number of streams all over the world.
On the coramandal coast of Tamil Nadu, 60 kms south of Chennai there is a small village called Mahabalipuram (mamallapuram), which was under the patronage of Pallava kingdom has numerous temples built around 7th to 9th century in Dravidian architecture. Place was named after the Pallava king Mamalla.
Art and Architecture
Rock-cut and monolithic temples are found here. Pancha Rathas (Monolithic chariots named after the pandavas), Varaha Cave Temple (an incarnation of Vishnu holding earth), Arjuna's penance, Shore Temple, structural temples, carved pillars and sculptures give an example of Pallavan art. All the monuments cut in the rocks remained unfinished.
The Trimurthi cave temple has three shrines Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. The Sankha and Chakra of Vishnu have been sculptured in such a way that they do not appear to face the visitor. They are, therefore, called the Prayoga Sankha and Chakra, i.e. weapons in. the act of being used. The ends of the cave are curved as the windows of the temples. The cave temple of Durga depict the Goddess as having a battle with a demon Mahishasura Mardini. Another cave temple with fine carvings tells the story of how Lord Krishna rescored the cow and cow-herds from the rain by lifting the Govardhana Giri.
Most of the temples and rock carvings of this place were built during the reigns of Narsinha Varman I and Narsinha Varman II.