The Seven Pagodas, located in the Mahabalipuram sea shore, are monolithic temples built in the form of ‘rathas’ (chariots), named after the five Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi. Even though the name says seven, only five of them exist at present.
In the true sense of the term, they are not chariots really nor do they have anything related with the heroes of the
Mahabharata, but they are simply temples enshrining Shiva,
Durga and other deities. The various ‘rathas’ are the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha and Sahadeva Ratha.
i) Dharmaraja Ratha: It has a pyramidal design and measures 29’x 27’x 26’. The first three storeys have splendid divine and secular portraits besides an epigraph in bold letters. First floor has depictions of the Somaskanda group, which includes Shiva, Parvati and Subramanya. The image of Parvati is seen looking at Shiva, instead of being at the front, which is in contrast with what is found in other group of temples of the same type. Images of divinities, some unfinished while some other rendered beyond identification, are seen in the niches on the external face of the ratha.
ii) Bhima Ratha: It measures 48’x 25’x 26’ and is situated to the north of the Dharmaraja Ratha. The ratha is noted for its wagon shaped roof. Upper part of the edifice is complete while the lower portion is left unfinished. It has no sculptures on it.
iii) Arjuna Ratha: It is a smaller version of the Dharmaraja Ratha. Though damaged to some extent, some of the images on it showing Shiva with
Nandi and Indra with elephant had survived the ravages of time. Some secular structures are also found on this edifice.
iv) Draupadi Ratha: This hut shaped monolith measuring 14’x 11’x 14’ is the smallest of the lot. It is situated to the north of Arjuna Ratha. ‘Makara-toranas’ are found decorating the entrance and the niches on the walls. A relief of Goddess Durga with attendants and devotees is found in the back wall.
v) Sahadeva Ratha: It is situated to the south-west of Arjuna Ratha. Its unique horse shoe design demands a semi circular shaped roof, which is the case here. The front portion of the roof is wagon shaped as in the Bhima Ratha.
Though similar in style, the rathas differ in form. Five monolithic structures of animals are found grouped around the chariots. Another significant fact regarding the monuments is that none of them is quite complete.