Elephanta Caves - A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai
History of Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves is an extremely popular tourist location in Mumbai. It is famous for the hand made temple carved out of one stone which is the abode of Lord Shiva. To reach the temple one has to travel by sea, climb the mountain and walk through the caves. Elephanta Cave Temple embraces the perfect expression of Indian art in the outline of striking sculptures and carvings. Elephanta Caves is situated in Elephanta Island which is around eleven kilometers away from the Gateway of India and Hotel Taj at Mumbai in Maharashtra. Elephanta Caves was given a world heritage site status by the UNESCO in 1987.
The Elephanta Island was originally called Gharapuri or the Fort Town which was the capital of the Konkan Mauryas. The cave temple, dedicated to Shiva, was excavated sometime in the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta kings who ruled the area between AD 757-973. Gharapuri was named Elephanta by the Portuguese, who captured it from the Sultan of Gujarat in AD 1535. It is said that they found a massive stone statue of an elephant near Rajghat where they landed and also named this a ilha do elephanta which means island of the elephant. Though most of the sculptures in Elephana were defaced by the Portuguese, who used the sculptures for target practice the beauty of the caves still remains integral.
How to go to Elephanta Caves?
To reach Elephanta one can catch the deluxe boats available at the Gateway of India at Rs 120. It takes almost an hour to reach elephanta. Elephanta Caves remain open for tourists from 9 AM to 5 PM except on Monday. The boat service may be suspended during the monsoon. Along the way one gets to see the beauty of the sea and mountains, fishing boats, migrating birds, cruise liners and naval ships. After reaching the island a mini train is available for Rs 10 both ways to take you to the base of the caves from where you have to climb around 120 stairs. With souvenir shops and food stalls around you the climb is not much difficult and for those who can’t climb you would get men to carry you up to the entrance of the caves in a wooden chair for a price. Entry ticket to the Caves is available at the top, near the entrance to the caves for Rs 10 per person for Indians and at $5 for others. Entry is free for children below 14 years. Before the cave is the Elephanta Cave Museum which is a must see as it gives you a glimpse of what you get to see inside the caves. There is no restriction for taking photographs in the island so one gets to capture some good pictures in Elephanta.
Elephanta Caves - A Masterpiece of Art
The Elephanta Caves are characterized by rock temples carved out of two hills that emerge from the center of the island. This cave is not only of spiritual importance, it is also a masterpiece of art. The Elephanta caves are a conglomeration of seven caves. The entire cave temple complex covers an area of about 60000 square feet and it consists a main chamber and two lateral ones ,courtyards and several subsidiary shrines. Above the temple is the mass of natural rock. The temple has three doorways for entry and exit from the north, east and the west. The main cave comprises of a shrine housing a meter-high linga with four entrance doors flanked by giant Dwaarapals .The main hall has 36 ornamental pillars and 9 panels, each depicting Lord Shiva in different forms. The magic of these sculptures lies in their symbolic depth and spiritual meaning. The main chamber embraces the mysterious image of Trimurthi Sadasiva (Lord Shiva) standing high at high at 5.45 meters depicting the three aspects of Shiva as creator, preserver and destroyer. The other panels depict Shiva in Natraja avatar (dancing Shiva), Yogeshwara (Shiva meditating on a lotus), Gangadhar (Shiva with Ganges flowing from his head), Andhaka Survadha Moorti (evil destroyer) Kalyan Sunder (depicting Shiva and Parvati’s marriage), Raavan Anugrah Moorti (Shiva is blessing Raavan), Ardha Nareshwara(Siva in half man form and Parvati in half woman form symbolizing the concept of a husband and wife being two bodies and one soul) and Shiva and Parvati playing dice on Kailash There is also an ancient water tank which was probably one of the first rain-harvesting projects which was built to collect water during the monsoon. To be used for temple activities throughout the year. There is another hall which also houses a shrine called the Pradakshina. It is believed that if you surround it three times, your wishes would be granted. This hall has a long, vertical panel called Ashtramatrika which means eight mothers. There are two other panels one of Shiva's elder son Kartikeya, and the other his younger son, Sri Ganesh.
Around the caves you can see a lot of monkeys playing around and the breathtaking view of the sea from the island. It is ideal to be in the island at around 10-30 in the morning after your breakfast and go back at around 5-30. As you go back you can buy some souvenirs or have some snacks before catching the mini train to take you to the ferry to go back to the Gateway of India. On the way back one can enjoy the beauty of the sea once again and wonderful view of sunset making the trip a memorable experience to cherish.
Gateway of India Mumbai
© 2008 Anamika S Jain