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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img-20190217-wa0048.jpg
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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img-20190217-wa0027.jpg
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 .

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img-20190217-wa0046.jpg
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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img-20190327-wa0094.jpg
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

Rani ni Vav -Patan-Gujarat,India

Patan is a small village in Gujarat ,a state in India. It can be reached from Ahmedabad which is the nearest airport . Patan is about 100 kms away from Ahmedabad and is accessible by road or rail. We travelled to Ahmedabad from Mumbai and keeping it as a base visited two places with ancient history namely Modhera & Patan .

After visiting Modhera ( do read my blog on Modhera) which we completed by 12.30 pm , we drove down to Patan which is approx a 45 minute drive and 34 kms from Modhera . After having lunch at a dhaba serving Junagadhi food , we drove down to see another architectural marvel Rani ki Vav ( Vav means a Well in Gujarati ) which is one of the finest step well in India and situated in Patan

Step wells were built during ancient times not only for storage of water ,but also for recreational purposes when the Rani or Queen used to come with her maids to escape the scathing sun and enjoy the cool breeze wafting at the base of the well .It also served as a social get together spot for the village ladies when they used to come to fill water in their pots and also for religious ceremonies . Stepwells also made the task of filling water easier since the villagers could climb down to the groundwater level to fill water

Rani Ni Vav

Rani ki Vav or the Queens step well is an intricately constructed stepwell situated in the town of Patan built in the 11th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site .Located on the banks of Saraswati River, Rani ki Vav was built in memory of King Bhimdev Solanki by his beloved wife queen Udayamati. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s. When it was excavated by the ASI , the carvings were found in a proper condition.

It is an architectural wonder and I really marvel as to how the craftsmen must have created such a well with perfect dimensions and carved such intricate carvings and steps in those days when scales or modern tools were not available .

Intricate Carvings on each level of the Vav
Note the footwear worn by the Apsara on the left of the image
Carvings on the sides of the steps

The steps of the Vav begin at ground level, leading you down through several pillared pavilions to reach the deep well below. We had hired a guide because it was just not possible to understand the carvings and the history behind the Vav just by observing it . There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures amongst the seven levels . The main theme is the Dashavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. There are many sculptures of apsaras painting their lips and adorning themselves at each level of the vav. Every level is different from the other and it is with awe and admiration that you appreciate the craftsmanship and the efforts taken by the craftsmen of yore .

However , unfortunately we were unable to go down to the last level which has been kept closed due to security reasons as mentioned by our guide

After completing Rani ni Vav we proceeded to a place next to it called the Sahastralinga
Talav which was a artificial water storage tank constructed by the Chalukya King Sidharaj Jai Singh in the late eleventh century. However it is completely dry now and in the ruins.

Sahastralinga Talav

It took about 2 hours for us to complete sightseeing the Vav after which we drove down to Ahmedabad which is about a 3 hour drive from Patan . There are many budget hotels to stay in Patan but except the Rani ni Vav not much of places to see. Ofcourse Patan is famous for its weavers who make the hand woven and intricate Patola saree. There is a Patola saree making unit in the main town and those interested can go to watch how an Patola saree is woven and also buy them .