Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to God Shiva. They are located on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour. It consists of Shaivite caves and a few Buddhist stupa mounds.
The Elephanta Caves contain rock cut stone sculptures cut from solid basalt rock. Except for a few exceptions, much of the artwork is defaced and damaged. The carvings narrate Hindu mythologies, with the large monolithic 20 feet Trimurti Sadashiva , Nataraja and Yogishvara being the most celebrated.
The origins and date of construction of the caves are assumed between 5th and 7th century.
They were named Elefante – which morphed to Elephanta – by the colonial Portuguese when they found elephant statues on it. They established a base on the island and the soldiers damaged the sculpture and caves. The main cave (Cave 1, or the Great Cave) was a Hindu place of worship until the Portuguese arrived, whereupon the island ceased to be an active place of worship. The earliest attempts to prevent further damage to the Caves were started by British India officials in 1909. The monuments were restored in the 1970s. In 1987, the Elephanta Caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
No matter how much fancy introduction I give about the Elephanta caves, it just cannot overcome the fact the place is in dire need of preservation and restoration work !
What could easily have been a history buff’s love, a photographer’s delight or a place of religious/spiritual importance has turned out to be an utterly damaged and deteriorated line of caves with the sculptures falling off from everywhere.
The place as a whole lacks much of the amenities for the tourists.
Also, the name Elephanta Caves itself holds no meaning anymore. Because the elephant sculpture which was supposedly found there is no where to be seen.
The stone elephant that gave the name Elephanta used to be on south shore of the island. The British attempted to move it to England in 186, It broke and the reassembled pieces are now at the Jijamata Udyaan.
No proper signboards, non availabilty of booklets, no signboards about the sculptures leaves one only with the option of hiring guides!
However anyone with knowledge about Hindu mythology can decipher the sculptures.
WAY TO ELEPHANTA ISLANDS
Reaching the Elephanta Island is the most fun part! One needs to board a ferry from the Gateway of India.
The journey usually takes about 45 minutes or 1 hour to reach the island.
A ticket for the Deluxe boat is Rs.150/180 for Adult, Rs. 90 for Child which includes a return journey. If you want to see the view from the upper deck, you have to pay Rs.10/-extra to the launch (boat) operator. A boat leaves for Elephanta Island every 10 minutes.
Its best advisable to climb upto the upper deck as it provides an unmatched view of the Arabian Sea. The sea birds flocking through, the Gateway of India and the Magnificent Taj Hotel diminishing from the view as the little hillock of the Elephanta island creeps into the sight.
The cool sea breeze makes one forget the scorching sun but one must carry sunglasses.
As soon as one places his foot on the island, vendors selling fresh fruits and other eatables welcomes.
There is a small train to take the tourists from the dockside to the entrance for a mere fee Rs 10(one time). This is a fun ride and advisable to take as one needs to walk up to the cave via 120 steps which is quite an exercise in itself. Brace yourself!
You can check out how it feels like here though !!
However, the old ones or ones with knee problems need not step back. There are palanquins carried by coolies which can be hired for a two way journey.
Also, there are numerous shops selling artifacts and handicrafts on either side of those steps making it a colorful journey to the top.
The main cave, also called Cave 1, Grand Cave or the Great Cave has several entrance. Main entrance is unassumingly small and hides the grand hall inside. Two side entrances face east and west while the main entrance faces north.
CAVES 2 TO 7
Caves 2 to 7 are relatively smaller. The artworks are damaged and in worse conditions. However, the artwork remains suggest that the caves were once Shiva temples like the main cave.
One can climb up to the canon hill where there are two canons and a lovely view of the Arabian Sea with the cool breeze soothing the face.
- Beware of monkeys
- Don’t carry any eatables in hand or without cover as the monkeys will readily snatch them, scaring the hell out of you.
- Eat the berries and other freshly cut fruits.
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