For over 1,300 years, this large rock has been confounding the locals of Mahabalipuram, a beach town near Chennai, in Southern India. The mysterious landmark is perched on hill at a 45-degree angle, balancing off an extremely small surface area without slipping or even budging an inch. Men and even elephants have tried moving it from its precarious position , but every attempt so far has failed.
The locals call it ‘Vaanirai Kal’ (Stone of the Sky God), but the rock is more popularly known as ‘Krishna’s Butter Ball’, referencing Lord Krishna’s favorite food, butter, fallen from the heavens. The gravity-defying rock, measuring 20 ft high and five meters in diameter, is estimated to weigh over 250 tons, which makes it heavier than the monolithic stones of Machu Picchu, or Ollantaytambo. Despite its massive size and weight, Krishna’s Butter Ball is firmly anchored on a four-foot base along the slope of a small hill located on the outskirts of Mahabalipuram. It looks like it might slip any moment and come crashing down the hill, but it has stayed that way for several centuries now.
Photo: Nicholas Mirguet
While the real reason behind the rock’s existence remains a mystery, several theories – ranging from scientific to plain bizarre – have been formulated. One explanation is that the rock is a natural formation, but geologists think that’s improbable because natural corrosion couldn’t produce such an unusual shape – one face of the rock is entirely sheared off, making it look like a rough hemisphere of sorts. There are outlandish theories too, suggesting that the rock might have been placed there by Gods from heaven who wanted to prove their might, or extra terrestrial beings who visited Earth thousands of years ago.
One of the earliest known attempts to shift the rock was made by Narasimhavarman, a Pallava king who ruled southern India from 630 to 668 C.E. He apparently wanted to keep it away from the hands of sculptors, but despite his best attempts, the strongest of his men could not dislocate it. More recently, in 1908, Governor of Madras Arthur Lawley decided that he wanted to get rid of the rock, fearing that it would slide down the hill and wreak havoc on the town. He employed seven elephants to complete the task, but much to his shock and surprise, it did not budge.
Photo: Patrick M. Loeff
The rock is said to have inspired Raja Raja Chola, a renowned king of south India from 985 to 1014 C.E., leading to the creation of the ‘Tanjavur Bommai’. This is a type of traditional Indian roly poly toy, made of terracotta. Much like the rock, it never falls down, even when tilted or disturbed, always returning to its original upright position.
Photo: Andy Hay
Krishna’s Butter Ball is now a popular tourist spot, attracting thousands each year. Visitors make their own attempt to move the rock – they fail, of course, but always come away with amazing photographs!