Elephanta Caves: Glorious adobe of Shiva, Mumbai Harbour, Maharashtra

Elephanta caves are cluster of seven ancient sculpted caves and an epitome of complex rock cut architecture were built in the year 5th  and 8th centuries. The Elephanta Caves are located in elephanta islands locally known as Gharapuri or city of caves ,a group of islands in the heart of Arabian sea and 10 km away from the city of Mumbai, which can be reached by ferry from the Gateway of India within 20-30 minutes. The rock cut elephant caves featuring with two groups of caves, one is Hindu caves which has been dedicated to lord Shiva as it has several sculptures of Shiva and another one is Buddhist caves. The main cave or cave 1 which once had been a place for Hindu worship had suffered several damages during Portuguese era and in the year 1987 it was inducted into UNESCO World Heritage Site in an attempt to preserve the aesthetic work of the cave.

The exact date of inscription hasn’t been recorded by anyone so far but most of the Art historian believes that the origins of the mystified caves thought to date from 5th to 8th centuries and so often it has been cited as “of unknown date and attribution”. According to some prominent historians who claimed that the construction of the seven caves had been made during Kalacuris era in between 5th and 6th AD because the main cave of Elephanta was dedicated to Pashupata Shaivism sect. a sect to which Kalacuris belonged. The name Elehanta has been conferred by Portuguese when they found a colossal rock cut stone statue of an elephant during their expedition in the Island. In the year 1534, the island was subjugated by Portuguese and during the Portuguese regime in the Islands and the caves endured major damages, lots of priceless sculptures and statues were deliberately destroyed by Portuguese. In 1970 UNESCO declared the intricate caves as world heritage site and revamped it from various further damage.

The main and the most notable piece of attraction in the island is its rock-cut seven caves especially the main caves or the Cave 1. It bears the  pinnacle of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture and its supremacy. The main cave has an enormous entrance comprises four doors and three open porticos is dominated by a massive 20 feet sculpture of Sadashiva. The shape of the main cave had been carved into a 27 metres square hall and which is held by six pillars in each rows.The inside of hall is a wonder adobe of shiva and all sculptures were built to recount the legend about lord shiva. The wall of the hall had been engraved with colossal sculpture of lord shiva with central shiva Trimurty an ultimate piece of art work by Gupta-Chalukyan etched  three headed shiva which conveying the three essential  aspects of lord shiva: the creation, the preservation and the destruction had been sculpted on the south wall is accompanied by Ardhanarisvara , a half man and woman sculpture of lord shiva and goddess Parvati on the left and Gangadharamurti was built to the right of the wall and narrating the story about River Ganga plummeting down from the matted locks of shiva. Other sculptures in the main cave including Aghora, Nataraja- a 13 feet long and 11 feet wide statue  representing shiva performing dance with arms stretched and supports the fact about Shiva’s consummate skill on dance, Andhakasura-where Shiva slaying demon Andhakasura and Kalyanasundaramurti depicting shiva’s marrage with goddess Parvati  all are engraved majestically.

Due to some major damages which is propelled by various threats including growing population near it, the Whole Island and its monuments came under the authorization of Archaeological Survey of India(ASI) and UNESCO declared it as World heritage site in an attempting to renovate and revamp the priceless sculptures so couple of prohibitions has been imposed on various areas of the Island and prosecutable if anyone tries to trespass it. So visitors have to be a little careful about the preserved area and can take the help of local guide.

The island is closed every Monday for the year and in  between  9am to 5pm in a day the tourists can visit the island and its caves. The island can be accessible through motor boat from the Gateway of India.