Absolution on Masi Magam Near UNESCO site in Mahabilapuram

What a treat! We witnessed another sacred holiday in India. This time, it was Masi Magam in Mahabilapuram (aka Mamallapuram) in Tamil Nadu state. Masi Magam is a time to honor ancestors, clear away sins, heal afflictions, and ask for the gift of salvation from God Shiva and Goddess Parvati.

Absolution on Masi Magam

Thousands of devotees came to the beach to await the statues’ arrival in a procession.

Then the idols are bathed in holy water and people follow suit, dunking and splashing themselves in the Bay of Bengal to signify a cleaning of sins for themselves and their forefathers. The holy dip is also a request for salvation. People believe it will liberate them from the cycle of death and rebirth central to the Hindu faith.

That’s the basic gist of the local Hinduism practice, which has been influenced by Tamil culture. Every Indian state practices the holiday a bit differently. Masi Magam, also written in English as Maasi Makam, falls in either February or March depending on the lunar cycle.

The night before is packed with music, food, socializing, general partying – and even weddings, as it’s considered a good time to make lifelong vows.

This is a joy of travel – to experience events like these and learn about the people in the places we visit.

UNESCO World Heritage site

Local people have celebrated Masi Magam for centuries. But Masi Magam is not the big tourism draw to Mahabilapuram (also called Mallalapuram or ‘Mahabs’). What puts this place on the map are several cave temples that date back to around the 7th century.

These monuments have such outstanding universal value that the area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The monuments and temples are spread out over three sites in the town. Modern India surrounds the sites: cows, goats, dogs, chickens and a sea of humanity. But inside the gates, each of the three sites are well designed for tourists and they are well preserved by the Archeological Survey of India.

Husband Tedly, his mom Diane, and I enjoyed a 4.5-hour adventure exploring these three sites.

We could not get the audio tour QR codes to work — until Tedly downloaded the special app. I highly recommend you do this, too, if you don’t hire a local guide. The guides only charge around $3.50 (300 rupees) if you go that route. We didn’t hire a guide because we wanted to go slow.

Entrance for foreigners: 600 rupees ($7.25); locals: 40 rupees (50 cents).

Read more about the significance of the monuments on the United Nations official site. There are currently 32 World Heritage treasures in India. We mention another UNESCO site near Mumbai – the Elephanta Caves in another post.

We also climbed to the top of the lighthouse for an additional small fee (25 rupees, or 30 cents), which is adjacent to the largest monument site.

Built in 1900, the lighthouse still serves the small fishing colony within sight of the famous Shore Temple. There’s also an air-conditioned museum if you a need a break from walking in the heat.

Morning jogs

If you’re a jogger headed to Mallalapuram, the best time of day to run is the early morning, of course! And the best place to run is the road that connects all three sacred Hindu monument sites.

I warm up near the two caves that face the road just outside the largest gated park, and run past the Five Rathas site out into the ‘country’ to the security blockade at the nuclear site, and back. One loop on my path is exactly a 5k.

I’m not asking gods and goddesses for absolution when I jog the quiet, but to jog by these amazing sites as the sun rises and the town comes alive is really a special experience. Don’t miss it! Just bring a stick in case of street dogs… because after all, it is India.

Thanks for reading, “Absolution on Masi Magam Near UNESCO site in Mahabilapuram.”

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