Sunday, March 19, 2023
HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekIndia isn’t China’s economic or military equal but Mamallapuram lets Modi stand...

India isn’t China’s economic or military equal but Mamallapuram lets Modi stand as tall as Xi

Wearing a crisp white Tamil veshti and a cream angavastram, Modi played the storyteller to the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Text Size:

Mamallapuram and its seaside sculptures have been in the headlines for the last 24 hours. Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been. Wearing a crisp white Tamil veshti and a cream angavastram, Modi played the storyteller to the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It is a setting dripping with heavy symbolism. Modern leaders of two ancient civilisations meet to discuss trade pacts and border issues. India is not an economic or a military equal to China today. But when it comes to history, India and China are equals. Modi and Xi can sip coconut water as the two contemporary custodians of ancient cultures. And this is the stage Modi has set for Xi Jinping. This is why Mamallapuram is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of The Week.

A date with history

Situated on the outskirts of Chennai, this Unesco World Heritage site along the Bay of Bengal is also known as Mahabalipuram.

The town Mamallapuram derives its name from the word ‘mamallan’ (or great warrior), a title conferred on Pallava king Narasimhavarman I. Famous for its rock-cut caves and art, Mamallapuram was an ancient port city in the Pallava dynasty, which lasted from third century to ninth century AD. Sea trade flourished at Mamallapuram.

It is also said that Mamallapuram, now protected by the Archeological Survey of India, finds a place in the works of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. Some even say that the Pallava kingdom had trade relationships with China.

Most of the architecture in Mamallapuram was built during the reigns of Narasimhavarman I and Narasimhavarman II.

The town is best known for the caves and the five monolithic rathas, drawing on the pandavas. The Shore Temple and Arjuna’s Penance, a rock carving, are the other attractions. People in Mamallapuram believe that six other similar shore temples are now submerged in the sea. Arjuna’s Penance is, in fact, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world.

Also read: Increasing trade and combating terrorism the main takeaways from Day 1 of Modi-Xi summit

Playing host to another Chinese leader

Xi Jinping is not the first Chinese leader to visit Mamallapuram. In 1956, then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai visited the town and even inaugurated a maternity centre at Kuzhipanthandalam village, which is now a full-fledged primary health centre. Kancheepuram collector had received the Chinese delegation at that time.

The Chinese premier during his Tamil Nadu visit toured the Nehru Stadium, the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) and the famous Gemini studio. This was during the heady ‘Hindi Chini bhai-bhai’ years.

After Independence, Mamallapuram became a mandatory tourist destination for foreign nationals and a popular honeymoon getaway for couples in the state. With better connectivity and rapid urbanisation of Chennai, Mamallapuram turned into an easy weekend escape for the city’s youngsters.

While Mamallapuram comes under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), that hasn’t stopped the tourism industry from setting up fancy resorts and hotels in the area. Taj Fisherman’s Cove is one such resort where Xi Jinping is meeting Modi. 

Conquering Tamil Nadu 

People are cheering as Modi is reviving the bilateral trade relations from the very place where the Pallava rulers had once established ties with the Chinese centuries ago. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Modi chose this seaside resort as opposed to his constituency Varanasi to hold the second informal summit with Xi Jinping.

Mamallapuram does not see the tourism footfall that Varanasi does. But Varanasi doesn’t have the required logistical amenities that Mamallapuram has – the aircraft carrying Xi and team needed a larger runway, which Chennai provided.

And, Tamil Nadu is a state that Modi’s charm offensive hasn’t conquered yet.

Also read: Xi Jinping sees himself as architect of China’s third revolution after Mao


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Glad to see a summit taking place in an off-shoot location. The fact that we are being surprised about the choice of the location should have us pause and reflect. Why have we (national media and the central government) been neglecting such locations that do not lie in the center or north of India?
    Political agendas where only parts of history are highlighted have led to this situation where Indians recall facts about successive Mughal emperors but hardly anyone knows about one of the tallest temples in India (Thanjavur) built by Raja Raja Chola.
    Most Indian states have culture and history that parallels European nations. Kerala and Rajasthan showed us the way. Rest of India is finally waking up to its potential as a tourism hub.

  2. Quite right to highlight the Tamil culture
    But one must not forget that most of INDIA and Pakistan Is rich Mughal and Islamic culture.
    It’s so deeply embedded in us in our films, monuments, languages and customs

    • It’s only in north where Muslims invaders destroyed old Indian cultures, South is still different. And there is no problem in accepting the Islamic culture in India and Pakistan, but stop glorifying it. Older Indian culture was bigger than the Islamic culture even comparing today…

      • The Vedic culture destroyed the culture of the South.
        The Aryans were from Afghanistan, they destroyed the Southern culture
        Brought the evil caste system.
        The evil caste system brought by these invaders, destroyed India, it’s effects can be felt to this day.
        Let’s get history right.
        India had highest GDP amongst all countries six times more than Europe under Mughal rule , communal feelings are a recent RSS invention

  3. It is great feeling to know the history of Mamallapuram which we were not taught in our school. Probably Romilla Thapar also does not know. It required Mr. Modi and Mr. Dakshinmurthy to bring to the notice of ” North indians”

    • It is a beautiful place. Been there 3-4 times when old Mahabalipuram road was in use. A place of extraordinary historical importance.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular