Elephanta Caves are situated on the Elephanta Island near Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. It is located just 10 km away to the east of the city of Mumbai. The island, amidst the Arabian Sea, comprises of two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves and the other one is a smaller group of two Buddhist caves.
These caves houses beautifully designed rock-cut temples that date back to the 5th century. The temples bear striking resemblance to the rich and unique civilization of the ancient times.
The maze of these cave temples are carved out of the basalt rocks found here. The artwork is highly magnificent and can be termed as one of the finest ever discovered in this part of the world. The cave has awe-inspiring carvings and it also has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Remnants of ancient Buddhist culture can also be seen here.
History of the Elephanta Caves
It is believed that, a legendary warrior and the king of Chalukyan Dynasty, Pulkesin II constructed this place. Some historians also say that these caves were built way back in the 6th century by King Krishna Raja of Kalchuri. The designs of the sculptures and temples at Elephanta caves have a striking similarity to the structural designs and sculptures of the Kailasa Temple at Ellora Caves. Historians also believe that the same artisans and craftsmen were employed to construct these caves at both the places. Some locals also has a belief that the caves were carved out by a divine hand as there are not even single inscriptions on any of the caves on this Island.
Formerly, the caves were called Gharapuri, means a “Place of Caves”. The Gujarat Sultanate who was reigning over this place handed over the caves to the Portuguese in 1534 AD. These Portuguese found out a gigantic black stone statue of an elephant cut out from a rock and mounted on a mound. So, they named the island as “Elephanta”. The statue had a charming presence which prompted the Portuguese to name the place in honor of the elephant. But, the statue came down in 1814 and was later shifted to the Jijamata Udyaan, formerly known as Victoria Gardens, at Byculla in Mumbai, by the British administration.
This cave was rehabilitated in the 1970s after many years of neglect, and was inducted as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is currently maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and is a protected monument.
The complex stretches over an area of 6,000 square feet and is made up of one main and two lateral chambers. There are many courtyards and supplementary shrines in very close vicinity of the main cave. A huge mass of naturally formed rock is located above the main temple.
Visitors are welcomed by three entrances to the temple. The entrances on the east and west mark the axis of the temple. A Shivalingam is kept in the western end of the cellar. The pillars are uniquely sculptured with columns supported on square bases and cushioned designs on the top.
The sculpture of Trimurthi Sadasiva which is mysterious representation of Lord Shiva is at the end of the north-south axis. This huge statue of the three-headed Shiva, which rises 20 feet high from the ground, offers a truly breathtaking view. This carving signifies the Pancha mukha Shiva or the three faces of the Lord, which are carved out of a massive stone in the wall.
The wall on the southern side depicts eye-catching sculptured figures of Uma Maheswara, Gangadhara, Ardhanariswara and Kalyanasundara. The west side wall has chiseled images of Nataraja or Lord Shiva in a dancing form.
The same wall also has a fascinating image of the Andhakaasuravada Moorthy. To the east, are the images of Yogeshwara and Ravana-anugraha. All the eight forms of the Lord Shiva represented here are extremely spellbinding and has a mesmerizing effect on the tourists.
Towards the end of the shrine, there are certain images of an unidentified dancing figure. There is also a fearful representation in stone of Kala and his consort, Kali. Apart from this, there are smaller groups of Buddhist caves. Out of 2 Buddhist caves, one cave is left incomplete, while the other one bears a Stupa made in brick, which stands in sharp contradiction to the other basalt stone carvings.