Not many Presidents and Prime Ministers are fortunate enough to have another country’s Prime Minister to have as a tourist guide!
But Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was fortunate as he had Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his guide, explaining in great detail about the architecture and significance of the three important rock-cut monuments in the famed sculpture town Mahabalipuram, about 60 km from Chennai.
Donning the traditional Tamil attire of ‘veshti’ (white dhoti), half-sleeve white shirt and angavastram over his shoulder, Modi welcomed Xi at Mamallapuram, also known Mahabalipuram, for the second informal India-China Summit.
Xi, who arrived earlier from Beijing, was equally casually attired in a white shirt and black trousers.
Modi received Xi near Arjuna’s Penance and took him inside the rock-cut temple and was seen explaining the features to the Chinese leader.
Then the two leaders walked over to Arjuna’s Penance sculpture. Modi, like a professional guide, was seen explaining to Xi the various images carved on the huge rock.
Xi was seen listening to Modi keenly.
One of the magnificent monuments of Mahabalipuram, Arjuna’s Penance, chiselled out on a large boulder, shows several rows of Hindu gods facing towards a sage/person who is on a penance standing on his left leg. Apart from the gods, images of hunters, sages, animals and others have been carved out.
The image of Lord Shiva is also carved on the right side of the person on penance. It is said Mahabharat hero Arjuna was standing in penance to seek the divine Pasupathastra (weapon) from Lord Shiva.
Modi and Xi then walked over to Krishna’s Butter Ball – a gigantic boulder weighing about 250 tons seated on a short incline. Though it may seem that the boulder would roll down anytime, it has been there like that for aeons.
From there, the two leaders travelled a short distance in the same car to reach the Five Rathas.
The Five Monoliths or Five Rathas is a group of solid rocks. These are five free standing monolithic temples, which are said to be linked to the five Pandava brothers – Yudhishthira, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva and their wife Draupadi – of the Mahabharat.
In the midst of the Five Rathas, there is also a huge elephant sculpture and also that of a lion.
Then the leaders of the two most populace nations decided to sit down for a small chat, each sipping tender coconut water. Modi was seen handing over the paper napkin to Xi like a close family member or friend.
From the Five Rathas, the two leaders drove to Shore Temple located close to the sea built during 700-728 AD. It is a three shrine configuration – two dedicated to Lord Shiva and one for Lord Vishnu.
According to the local populace, during the 2004 December tsunami, several rock sculptures were exposed. According to legend, the shore temple is part of the seven temples or seven pagodas and six of them were submerged under the sea.
Modi and Xi then enjoyed the dance programme by students of Kalakshetra Foundation near the Shore Temple.
After the cultural programme, Modi hosted a dinner for his Chinese guest, with Tamil delicacies with rasam, spice ground kozhambu, halwa and other items on the menu, said an official.
He also presented Xi with Tanjore painting of a dancing Saraswati and a traditional Annam lamp.
Located on the Coromandel coast, Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, sporting the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag, is famous for its stone carvings and rock cut temples of the Pallava dynasty period.
A majority of the monuments at this town were built during the period of Narasimhavarman-I during the period 630-670 AD.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) says the monuments in Mahabalipuram could be divided into monoliths – free standing temples cut out of solid rocks, caves – excavated out of hills and used as temples, temples – built up masonry temples, sculptured scenes – carved on hill edges, and miscellaneous edifices.