No trip to Mumbai, no journey across the myriad spectacles of India’s glorious heritage is complete without a visit to the Elephanta Caves – a destination exuding beauty, exhaling history.
The Elephanta caves have an aura that is unmatched by any other place in Mumbai. Perhaps the fact that they are isolated on an island – away from the madding bustle of Mumbai – accessible only by ferry, that a visit here transports you to a bygone world and completely mesmerizes you And what makes the Elephanta caves a confluence of diverse inspirations is its many-splendored, varied geometry of styles, myths, legends and religious influences.
There are five main caves dedicated to Shiva and two caves representative of Buddhism. The carvings and sculptures in these caves are believed to have been done around the seventh century. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, was recently declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trivia Tale: The Portuguese found a broken rock statue of an elephant on the island and named it Elephanta. This elephant statue is now in the Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai.
The Ferry Ride Experience
A boat or ferry ride from the Gateway of India is the beginning of this unforgettable experience. You hop onto the boats – the first starts at 9 AM with 5 PM being the last call for your return from the caves. (Do note that the caves are closed on Mondays.)
As you travel to the island, you begin to soak in the sights and sounds around – a flock of seagulls, a gamut of boats and ships sailing past and the wide blue sky all around – truly the beginning of a unique journey. The Island
The Quaint Toy Train Ride
On reaching the island, first head to the small toy train that takes you on a merry ride to the foot of the hills. As you are about to enter the caves, you could grab a few mementoes, from shops selling knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, on both sides, leading to the caves.
The Fascinating Elephanta Caves
There are seven rock cut caves. After a short climb, you reach the Shiva Cave, where a breath-taking set of statues depicting Lord Shiva in various postures, and sculptures telling many tales and legends, awaits you. The sculpture of Lord Shiva in an imposing posture (potent in all its magnificence) that greets you at the entrance and is certain to be as overwhelming as it is awe-inspiring.
Quick Fact: The caves date back to the sixth century during the reign of the Konkan Mauryas, who were vassals of the Chalukyas.
As you progress further into the cave, you see a gallery of stories carved out in stone in front of you – Ravana lifting Kailash, Shiva and Parvati playing a game of dice, an intricately designed portrayal of Shiva as Ardhanareeshwara or half man, half woman – clearly in here, the wonders never cease.
Awe-inspiring Trimurti: And then, you reach the zenith – Shiva’s manifestation as Trimurti – representing three different moods – a piece of art, that has weathered the ravages of time, survived the invading Portuguese and continues to stand tall, in all its astounding glory.
Fun Fact: It is believed that the Portuguese did not destroy the Trimurti since the peaceful demeanour reminded them of their ancient God of Love!
You move on to the Gangadhara Shiva, (where the story of Ganga being brought down to earth by Bhageeratha and Shiva aiding her descent is beautifully portrayed).
The following panel depicts the marriage of Shiva and Parvati and is accompanied by Shiva’s slaying of the demon, Andhakasura. The final panel is dedicated to Shiva as Nataraja.
Additionally, a huge temple is located near the centre of the courtyard and is a spectacular sight for tourists and visitors.
As the sun begins to set on your day, and you return to civilization, you are enveloped by what you have witnessed – almost as if, you took a flight back in time, to a primeval world still intact, sentient and as intoxicating. Indeed, Elephanta is art unlike any other.