Heritage Elephanta, India

With a fascination of exploring heritage structures especially in India and revisiting history , it took me decades to visit an absolutely awesome place so close to Mumbai. We have toured around various parts of India and abroad visiting places with ancient history but like they say “Ghar ki murgi dal barabar’, inspite of being an Mumbaikar (a term we born and bought up in Mumbai love to call ourselves ) it never did occur to visit a place so close to our city brimming with history and heritage.

Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Located on Elephanta Island or also known as Gharapuri they are about 11 kms northwest from Gateway of India. The island has a coastline of 7 kms with two hillocks seperated by a narrow valley . The island has three small villages Raj Bunder,Shet Bunder & Mora Bunder which are still inhabited by people .

Travel : Elephanta Caves can be reached by the daily boat service operating from Gateway of India . The ferry service starts at 9 am and the last ferry from Elephanta is 5.30 pm. The travel lasting for 45 mins is quite smooth and comfortable and the sea gulls hovering around the boat waiting to be fed with tidbits make the journey enjoyable

Sea gulls encircling our boat enroute to Elephanta Islands

Our colony club had arranged for a one day picnic to this beautiful island . We had heard that it would be a 120 steps climb to reach the caves and would be tedious. I was very apprehensive on hearing this but the love for exploring heritage places won the battle raging in my mind and after seeing the magnificent caves , there was not a moment of regret. Though the steps leading upto the caves are built of stone, they are quite broad and not very steep . Both sides of the steps are lined with stalls selling clothes, costume jewelry, artifacts cold drinks, eatables so stopping at stalls admiring the items on display made the climb very easy

Our Colony excursion group

The Elephanta Caves are a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.The Main cave is an unusually large excavation supported by rows of massive pillars which rest on a square stone base.

On the left of the main entrance is the main sanctum enshrining an Linga and with four doors on either side having Dwarpalas or Doorkeepers . There is a big fair held every year during Mahashivratri . The island was captured by the Portuguese in 1534 AD. They have destroyed many sculptures and defaced them . Presently these Caves are a protected site under the Ancient Monuments preservation Act

The Shiva Linga in the main sanctum
A Dwarpala on one of the entrances of the main sanctum

The sculpture of Maheshmurti which is the most famous and iconic image associated with Elephanta Caves. The Central face depicts a calm Shiva or Mahadeva . The Destroyer image of Shiva or Bhairava image to the left depicts Shiva with a cruel mouth, moustache and hooked nose with skulls and serpents . The face on the right is a peaceful Shiva with feminine expressions holding a lotus.

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Maheshmurti

One side of the Maheshmurti sculpture is the Ardhanarishwar Shiva sculpture depicts Shiva, one half of body is female leaning against his Bull Nandi, the upper hands holding a snake & a mirror. The lower part of the sculpture is slightly damaged

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Ardhanarishwar Shiva

On the other side of the Maheshmurti is the Gangadhara Shiva Sculpture. The main sculptures are of Lord Shiva & his consort Parvati. According to mythology the mighty river Ganga was trapped in the matted locks of God Shiva. The Goddess Ganga has been depicted as the three headed Goddess above his hairlocks .

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Gangadhara Shiva

There is a sculpture of Natraj Shiva or the Lord in the Dancing Pose .However the lower portion of the sculpture is completely missing

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Natraj Shiva

A beautiful sculpture opposite the shrine is a scene showing Lord Shiva’s marriage to Goddess Parvati

Kalyanasundara Murti ( Marriage of Lord Shiva & Parvati)

On the north of the main entrance is a sculptured panel depicting a serene Shiva as a Mahayogi sitting in meditation on a lotus

Mahayogi Shiva

Many sculptures were damaged or defaced during the Portuguese invasion

Dwarpal sculptures which are damaged

Damaged structures of the Dwarpals ( Doorkeepers)in the background

There are other smaller caves also near the main caves ,but many of them do not have sculptures of great importance and are in a derelict condition

The trip to Elephanta is half a day trip. It is recommended to start the trip early in the morning to escape the heat and the milling crowds which start in the second half of the day

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