I love history and archaeology, so the moment I learned about the Elephanta Caves (a World Heritage Site), I knew they were first on my list. Although it’s unknown who built these caves or when, art historians have placed these caves at the 5th to 8th century A.D. Some say these caves are not man made.
The Elephanta Caves on are Elephanta Island, which is east of Mumbai (old?) and west of Navi (new) Mumbai. The island is 1.5 miles in length, and the journey there by ferry will take about an hour. Mango, tamarind, and karanj trees cover the island.
Below is a map of my new stomping grounds: (click to enlarge)
||9 a.m. — First boat leaves Apollo Bandar
2 p.m. — Last boat leaves Apollar Bandar
12 Noon — First boat departs island
5:30 p.m. — Last boat departs island
||It takes one hour to get to the caves.
Boats leave every 30 minutes.
Elephanta Island and Caves
Please imagine that the images below fit together properly. Travel has no place for perfectionism. 😉
- Historical Shiv Mandir (Northeast on Island)
- Historical Shivja Temple (Northwest on Island)
- Elephanta Caves (Central)
- Elephanta Lake Garden (South Central)
- Cannon Point (West)
- Shree Datta Mandir, Gharapuri (South)
- Gaondevi Temple (South)
- Someshwar Mandir (South)
New Word Alert!
Mandir — a Hindu Temple
Bandar — Port
Hillock — small hill or mound
Stupa —dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine
Here is what the inscription at the island says about the Elephanta Caves (take from a tourist video on YouTube):
The island of Elephanta, originally known as Gharapuri, derives its name from a massive stone image of Elephant now displayed in the “Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Garden” (Victoria Garden) in Mumbai. The cave complex of Elephanta comprises a total of 7 caves. Of them, 5 are in the lower western side, while 2 are at the eastern top of the hillock. Out of 5 caves at the lower side, the Cave No.1 is exclusively carved with various manifestation of Lord Shiva. It consists of a pillared hall with a small shrine and four entrance doors flanked by the guardians. While the massive but graceful figures of divinities, guardians, and certain architectural features, such as the square pillar with cushion capitals suggest Chalukyan influence, the depiction of mountains and clouds and the hairstyles of woman are reminiscent of Gupta art.
Facing north this main cave consists of a sanctum and massive hall divided into 5 bays. The excellent carved panels on the walls of this cave include the Yogeshvara (Lord of Yoga), Nataraja Shiva (Cosmic Dancer), Shivaparvati, Ardhanarishvara Shiva, Kalyansunder Murti, and Maheshmurti. The ceiling of the main cave is believed to have been originally painted with different colours. The Maheshamurti of Shiva is depicted on the south wall with three aspects of creation, protection, and destruction, revealing a masterpiece of Chalykyan Gupta art.
The circular pedastal in the open courtyard marks the seat of Nandi (Bull), the vehicle of Shiva. The side cave has a small shrine and a Pradakshinapatha (circumambulatory passage) with an interesting panel of Ashtamatrikas (eight mother goddesses) flanked by Kartikeya and Ganesha.
The other caves are plain and lesser embellished. The other antiquarian remains found in Elephanta Caves are stupa (3rd Century B.C.) at the top of the hillock Kshatrapa coins of the 4th century AD and some sculptures including Mahishasurmardini, four headed image, Brahma, Vishnu and Garuda.
This site was declared by the Archaeological Survey of India as a monument of national importance vides no. 2704-A, dated 26.5.1909 and thereafter inscribed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
According to a Wikipedia article about the caves, the Portuguese, who took power in 1534, did considerable damage to the caves. “Portuguese soldiers used the reliefs of Shiva in the main cave for target practice, sparing only the Trimurti sculpture. They also removed an inscription related to the creation of the caves.”