The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. It was built on a promontory sticking out into the Bay of Bengal at Mahabalipuram, a village south of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. At the time of its creation, the village was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. As one of the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. It is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India.
Sailors gave the name Seven Pagodas to the Shore Temple when they saw this tall structure on the seashore, as the temple probably acted as a landmark for navigation of their ships. As it appears like a Pagoda, the name became familiar to the seafarers.
This structural temple complex was the culmination of the architectural creations that were initiated by the King Narasimha Varma I (popularly called as Mammalla after whom the Mamallapuram town is named), in mid 7th century starting with the Cave temples and the monolithic Rathas. Even though the architectural creation of sculpturing cut-in and cut-out structures continued during subsequent periods, as seen in the Atiranachanda cave, the Pidari rathas and the Tiger cave, the main credit for the architectural elegance of the Shore Temple complex in the category of structural temples goes to the King Rajasimha (700–28 AD), also known as Narasimhavarman II, of the Pallava Dynasty. It is now inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that seemed to exist in the submerged coastline; this is supported by the appearance of an outline of its sister temples off the coast during the Tsunami of 2004 which struck this coastline. The architecture of the Shore Temple was continued by the Cholas (in the temples that they built) who ruled Tamil Nadu after defeating the Pallavas.
The Tsunami of December 2004 that struck the coastline of Coromandel exposed an old collapsed temple built entirely of granite blocks. This has renewed speculation that Mahablaipuram was a part of the Seven Pagodas described in the diaries of Europeans, of which six temples remain submerged in the sea. The Tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries.
Though the Tsunami of 26 December 2004 that occurred in the Indian Ocean struck the temple and the surrounding garden, the Shore Temple was not badly damaged, as the water level returned to its normal level within a few minutes. The damage was to the foundation of the bali peetam (sacrificial altar) in front of the temple, the steps leading to the boat jetty, and the small shrine with the Varaha (Boar) sculpture at the basement of the Shore temple. As the temple foundation is on hard granite rock, it could sustain the waves created by the Tsunami; the groynes erected around the temple area on the coastline also aided its protection.
According to the two inscriptions found in the slab of smaller Shiva temple, the names of the three temples mentioned are as Kshatriyasimha Pallaveshvara-griham, Rajasimha Pallaveshvara-griham and Pllikondaruliya-devar. The entire temple complex is called as Jalashayana (lying in water). This confirms that the Vishnu shrine was the first shrine to be excavated here. The inscription on the lintel of the Vishnu shrine also mentions this as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha where Narapatisimha is a title of Rajasimha.