Monday, July 15, 2024

Tourism      Monuments      Rock - cut Caves      Maharashtra     Mumbai    

Elephanta Caves




Mumbai, Maharashtra



World Heritage Site by UNESCO



Open daily except Mondays between 9am and 5.30pm

Entry Fee


10 Rs for Indians above 15 years, 250 Rs or US $ 5 for others above 15 years

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Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in1987, Elephanta caves located at Elephanta Islands in Mumbai harbour contains some of the finest rock-cut sculpture in India. A great tourist attraction, this island is located 11 km east, across the Arabian sea from the Gateway of India at Mumbai. 

Elephanta caves, the focal point of the Elephanta Island is the glorious abode of Lord Shiva. There are altogether seven caves spread on two hills, five on the Western hill and two on the Eastern hill. The island originally  known as Gharapuri (city of forts) was the capital of Konkan Mauryas and was later re-named by the Portuguese. when they captured Bombay from the Sultan of Gujarat in the16th century. The island was named Elephanta after the colossal sculpted elephants found there.

The magnificent rock cut temple complex dedicated to Lord Shiva, was probably excavated during the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta Dynasty which ruled the area from 757 to 973 AD. Cut out of a basalt rock face, the cave complex covers an area of about 60,000 square feet and has a collection of several subsidiary shrines, courtyards, halls and porticos arranged in a splendid and precise mathematical symmetry filled with exquisite stone sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Stylistically, the carvings in these caves combine the graceful forms of South Indian Hindu sculpture with the exactness and poise of Buddhist Gupta Arts. Though extensive damage have been caused to the sculptures by the Portuguese, they are still remarkable.

The most important among the caves is Cave One on the Western Hill. The main sculpture area of this large multicolumned hall is on the southern wall at the back. Stairs lead to the main entrance on the north of the cave complex with three openings supported by 28 decorative pillars, each resting on a square base with fluted shafts. Eight of the pillars have been destroyed or has collapsed. Facing the north entrance there is a great manifestation of Lord Siva as Lord of the Universe ('Mahesvara murthy' or 'Trimurthy') on the south wall at the back of the cave. The 6 m high idol is a magnificent one, considered to be a masterpiece of Indian art. The three faces represent three aspects of Shiva: as the creator (on the right), the preserver (in the center), and the destroyer (on the left). The square linga shrine or the main shrine is at the western end of the main hall in precise axis with the east entrance. Dwarapalas (doorkeepers) guard each of its four doors originally accompanied by attendant dwarfs (gana) which are largely missing now. The dwarpalas can be traced back to the traditions of Buddhist Gupta arts. There is another shrine on the east with sculptures of dwarapalas and lions guarding it.

Large scale scenes are deeply recessed into the walls of the cave. The compositions depict different aspects of Shiva. There is a much damaged carving of Lord Shiva seated on a lotus in  yogic posture as Lakulisa and on its right is a vigorously dancing Nataraja. From the steps at the entrance, the yoni lingam, symbol of Shiva's creative power can be seen. Shiva and Parvati playing dice, Ravana shaking Kailasa (right) on which Shiva is seated, Panels spearing the Shiva killing the demon Andhaka (left) and the marriage of Shiva and Parvati (right) are positioned at the west end on the south wall. Behind Parvati stands her father Himalaya and to his left is Chandramas, the god of the moon, carrying a pot of soma (food of the gods). On Shiva's left is Vishnu and below is Brahma.

Elephanta Festival

Large number of visitors come to Elephanta Island in February for the Elephanta dance festival. This festival of Music and Dance is organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). Over the years, it has become a major tourist attraction for Mumbaites as well as for  incoming domestic and foreign tourists

Click here for more details of Elephanta Festival

Three panels are set into the rear wall. To the left, Shiva and Parvati are joined in a composite and androgynous figure; to the right, an enclosure contain a carving of Shiva as Ardhanarishwara - in which he combines the female and the male aspects in his own self. Then the image of the trimurthi, to its right is a detailed panel depicting Shiva assisting in the descent of the goddess Ganga.  A three headed female figure emerges from Shiva. Here Ganga is shown in the centre and her tributaries, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers on either side. 

These complex male-female, husband-wife relationships are embodied in the immense triple headed bust of Shiva in the middle. The god emerges only partly from the mountain, his fourth head turned unseen into the rock. The monument is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.