Elephanta Island locally known as Gharapuri or city of caves is a cluster of islands located in the heart of Arabian Sea and 10 km away from the bustling Mumbai city, which can be accessed by ferry from the Gateway of India within 20-30 minutes. The Island carries mystifying Elephanta Caves a group of seven ancient caves that were built in between 5th and 8thcentury. An epitome of complex rock cut architecture the elephant caves comprise Hindu caves which have been dedicated to lord Shiva as it has several sculptures of Shiva and another one is Buddhist caves. The main cave also known as Cave1 was a place for Hindu worship and suffered several damages during Portuguese era. A testimony of stone work the Island was inducted into UNESCO World Heritage Site in an attempt to preserve the aesthetic work of the cave in the year 1987.
Due to the lack of exact date of inscription it’s impossible to know when the Cave was built and often the caves quoted as “of unknown date and attribution”. A few prominent Art historians presume that the origins of the enigmatic caves were started building in Fifth century. The name Elehanta has been bestowed by Portuguese when they found a colossal rock cut stone statue of an elephant during their expedition in the Island. The island was subjugated by Portuguese and during the Portuguese regime and during the time cave was endured major damages. Lots of priceless sculptures and statues were deliberately destroyed by Portuguese. Later the cave was revamped and rediscovered by UNESCO.
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. Often cited as the glorious adobe of lord Shiva the cave 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 some major damages propelled by various threats including growing population near the location, the Whole Island and its monuments are supervised by the authorization of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). UNESCO declared it as World heritage site in an attempt to renovate and revamp the priceless sculptures. 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 the tourists can visit the island and its caves from 9am to 5pm in day. The island can be reached by motor boat or ferry from the Gateway of India. Some food outlets especially local vendors often congregate in the Island. In addition, Maharashtra Tourism Department Hotel (MTDH) provides day time accommodation along with food and drinks for the tourists.