A great king was once performing a yajna (calling upon supernatural powers through a fire ceremony) on the outskirts of his capital by the sea. Thousands of priests had come from all over the country to participate in the ceremony. The convener of the yajna, the king, had grown famous, not only throughout the earth, but also beyond it, in the regions of the heavens. Men were never tired of praising him, for he was extremely generous and kind; but the gods in heaven were afraid of him, for he defied them.
According to tradition, a king performing a yajna was required to satisfy his guests, priests and Brahmins, by granting them anything they wanted. This particular king, Vali or Mahavali, was extremely proud of his wealth and power. He had declared that there was nothing he could not grant when asked.
At sunset, when the king's alms-giving was ending for the day, a dwarf-like Brahmin appeared before him. "What can I do for you?" asked the king.
"0 mighty king! I want nothing but enough space to keep my feet comfortably," said the Brahmin.
Those around the king laughed at the little stranger's funny request. How much space would the Brahmin need to keep his tiny feet? Anyone could have given him what he wanted! It was a pity he had approached such a great king on such as auspicious day with such a poor request!
"Well, choose any place, on earth or in heaven, and place your feet as comfortably as you can! Upon my honour, the place is yours!" said the king with a benign smile.
No one could have imagined in his wildest dreams what the dwarf was going to do. For, the stranger's feet went on enlarging. Soon, the entire earth was barely sufficient to accommodate his one foot! He put his other foot on heaven, and heaven was full with it ! To the amazement of the king, the Brahmin said, "My feet have covered both earth and heaven fully. Yet I have a third foot. Where can I keep it ?" As he said this, a third foot emerged from his navel.
Without a moment's hesitation, the king bowed down and pointed to his own head. The Brahmin placed his third foot on the king's head. The king went down - down till he reached Patala, the nether world. In a moment, a mighty and proud king, had been tamed by a dwarf. The dwarf of course, was none other than the fifth incarnation of Vishnu - Vamana.
King Mahavali was the grandson of Prahlad, the illustrious devotee of Vishnu, whose non-believing father, Hiranya Kashyipu, had been killed by Narasimha, the fourth incarnadon of Vishnu.
Mahavali too, was a true devotee of Vishnu. But he had one defect - pride - a vice which God always dislikes. It was out of his love for Mahavali that Vishnu came down to earth to teach humility to his proud devotee. It was also necessary to isolate Mahavali from earth and heaven.
Many people think the place Mahavalipuram was the city of King Mahavali in ancient times.
About 64 kilometers from Madras, Mahavalipuram,
on the sea, is a charming place with its famous pagodas. These pagodas are carved in the form of rathas, or chariots, out of hillocks. All construction normally begins with the foundations. But these chariot-shaped temples were carved from their peaks downward, or from the surface inward.
Thus, out of rocks, these wonders of art and sculpture were born. The pagodas are dedicated to Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna and Draupadi. The eleven metre-high temple of Yudhishthira is the biggest of all.
These rock-cut monuments speak of a very advanced school of sculpture which developed in South India before the 6th century. Time destroyed all the achievements of this school, except those seen at Mahavalipuram, built under the patronage of the famous Pallava king, Narasimha Varman. The king's title was Mamalla; the place was known as Mamallapuram, after the regal tide. The present name of the place owes its origin to this.
Narasimha Varman's son, Rajasimha Varman, is believed to have built the Shore Temple with the deities, Shiva and Vishnu, in it. High waves besiege this lonely and majestic temple making it a magnificent sight.
On a gigantic rock-face near the temple are carved some significant scenes from our epics, which appear elegant and lively even after so many centuries. The finest of these scenes is Arjuna's Penance; it covers an area of more than 300 metres and is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
A renowned son of India, C.V.Raman, writes: "Sitting on its gate-stone and gazing out at the never-ending turmoil of waters, one may meditate on India's great past and her present state. Dotting the country around, and defying the ravages of time, stand the magnificient monolithic temples and inimitable rock-carvings of Mahavalipuram. The dullest mind cannot fail to be stirred by the sight of such ancient architectural and artistic remains."