Pancha Rathas Temple, Tamil Nadu, India

Huddled together at the southern end of Mamallapuram, the Five Rathas look like buildings, but they were, astonishingly, all carved from single large rocks. Each of these 7th-century temples was dedicated to a Hindu god and is now named after one or more of the Pandavas, the five hero-brothers of the epic Mahabharata, or their common wife, Draupadi. The rathas were hidden in the sand until excavated by the British 200 years ago.

Ratha is Sanskrit for chariot, and may refer to the temples’ form or to their function as vehicles for the gods. It’s thought they didn’t originally serve as actual places of worship, but were created as architectural models.

The first ratha on the left after you enter the gate is the Draupadi Ratha, in the form of a stylised South Indian hut. It’s dedicated to the demon-fighting goddess Durga, who looks out from inside, standing on a lotus. A huge sculpted lion, Durga’s mount, stands guard outside.

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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