If you have a day to spare, you could go to Mamallapuram, a World Heritage site famous for its Shore Temple and carved bas relief works on stone. On the way, stop at Dakshin Chitra Craft Foundation , and Cholalmandal Artists Village.
Mamallapuram - Seaport of the Pallava Kings
Mamallapuram (also called Mahaballipuram) is about an hour's drive from Chennai on the East Coast Road. It was the second capital and seaport of the Pallava Kings who ruled in the 5th century. Local legend has it that there was once a beautiful city here with seven temples, which the Gods submerged under the sea in anger. It was dismissed as fishermen's tale, until in 2002, an Indo-British team of divers discovered a series of man-made structures under water, covering an area of several square miles.
Today at Mamallapuram, you can see the famous Shore Temple, the only surviving temple out of the original seven (the rest have sunk under the sea). The Shore Temple is among the oldest temples of South India and represents the final flowering of Pallava art. Mamallapuram is also famous for its awe-inspiring open-air granite sculptures. Arjuna's Penance, one of the world's biggest bas-reliefs depicts the story of the descent of the River Ganges from Heaven to Earth. Cave temples and massive monolithic sculptures (carved from a single large block of granite) make Mamallapuram a place to remember.
Visit to Stone Carvers
The traditions of stone sculpting continue unbroken even today. There is a school of sculpture, where students from families traditionally engaged in stone carving learn the art. You can visit a stone carver, or shop at some of the local stores for typical stone sculptures.
Dakshina Chitra – A unique glimpse of South India
On the way to Mamallapuram is Dakshin Chitra, a project of the Madras Craft Foundation. Here, traditional houses from various parts of South India have been transported and re-built, offering you an unforgettable and authentic insight into the lifestyles of the diverse people of South India. Craftspersons and folk artists work and perform in the reconstructed period settings of 19th century streets, homes and workshop-spaces. You can try your hand at pottery, or at various handicrafts. There are special shows and dance performances during all festivals. Highly recommended.
Cholamandal Artists Village
Cholamandal is a village of artists. Set up in 1965 as an experiment, it is now a successful co-operative. About 30 artists and sculptors live here in beautiful green surroundings. In the words of the co-operative, "Cholamandal stands for the rehabilitation of the creative artist as an equal participant in society, self employed and independent. Here the artist paints or sculpts through the major part of the day and applies himself to an art-craft during leisure hours to supplement his income". There is a permanent art gallery where art exhibitions are held (you can buy here, if interested). There is also an open-air theatre where artists from different walks of life perform.
Duration: Full day