Elephanta Caves are one of the most sort after tourist destination in the city of Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a group of cave temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and also a few Buddhist stupas. These caves are located on Elephanta Island. This island is housed in the Arabian Sea, two kilometers away from Jawaharlal Nehru Port.
More about Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves belong to the second century. The temples housed in here celebrate the Shaivite culture. The main temple houses a huge Shiva Linga. The beauty of the linga is that one can spot it from any corner of the main temple. Such is the architectural beauty of the Elephanta Caves. Puja rituals are not allowed in the temples here. In addition to this there also exists a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh. This temple has colourful paintings which is still in existence. Most of the idols in the caves are dilapidated. They were attacked by the Portuguese and then further damage was done by British India Officials.
Architecture of Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves were hewn from solid basalt rock. The main temple as well as other temples housed in these caves is placed in the mandala pattern. The carvings in here narrate Hindu mythologies. The Trimurti Sadashiva or three faced Shiva is 20 feet high and is the most celebrated structure. The fact that these are rock cut structures i.e. they are carved out directly makes the visitors go awestruck. There are five rock cut cave sin the western hill and a brick stupa on the eastern hill which has two Buddhist moulds and is called the Stupa Hill. Elephanta Caves exhibit an amalgamation of Hindu as well as Buddhist iconologies. The beautifully carved pillars supporting this structure gives it an air of strength.
There also exists a rock cut water tank adjacent to the caves. Water is stored throughout the year in this tank and when on a visit to this place one the sight of this makes one appreciate the insight of the people belonging to that era. There is some controversy about the date of construction of Elephanta Caves. But historian have come to believe that it was constructed between 5th and 7th centuries.
One has to climb a series of steps in order to reach the caves. The sight of these majestic caves is an endearing experience.
History associated with the Elephants Caves
Elephanta Caves had a rich cultural past with evidence of human settlement in the 2nd century BC. It was first occupied by the Hinayana Buddhists followed by the arrival of Brahman. The Hinayana Buddhists had raised a large stupa to the Buddha with seven smaller stupas around it. There have been several speculations so as to the date of construction of this structure. Coins belonging to the 4th century CE have been found here. Regional history is first recorded in the Gupta Empire Era. Colonial era historians suggested that the caves were built by the Rashtrakutas and this very theory was discredited later on.
After the completion of the cave sin the 6th century it became popular as the Gharapuri or village of caves. Then in the year 1534 these caves were annexed by the Portuguese. They named this island as ‘Elephanta Island’ because of the huge rock cut stone statue of an elephant housed in here.
A Tourist’s Guide
Elephanta Caves are housed on the Elephanta Island and one is supposed to take a ferry to cross the ocean and reach this island. When on the island there is a toy train facility which takes one to the base of the caves. From here the tourist has to climb steps in order to reach the very caves. The steps up the caves are lined with shops which make the climb a merry experience. There also exists food stalls for the visitors to grab a snack.
The nearest railway station from Elephanta Caves is Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal and Churchgate Railway Station which is a 25 to 30 minute walk from here. The nearest airport from here is Mumbai Airport which is at a distance of 15 km from the caves. Elephanta Caves are open on all days of the week except Monday from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry is ticketed here at Rs.10 per person for Indians and at Rs.250 per person for foreigners.
Elephanta Caves are a prime tourist location for people who love history and exploring historical structures. The route for reaching the caves via ferry and the toy train is an enthralling experience in all. When in here one can taste the local delicacies of this small island. Ripe mangoes coated with salt and chilly is a treat to the soul. The island is home to monkeys. So, when in here beware of them and make sure you don’t carry a polybag as they pry on them. The very beauty and majesticity of the five caves that make up the Elephanta Caves is mesmerizing. One can find hordes of tourists here throughout the year. A majority of foreign tourists visit this place. The ruined idols housed in the caves though dilapidated exhibit beauty. Every idol has a story to tell and most of them are idols of Shiva in different situations. One can even hire a guide and understand the length and breadth of this place in an elaborate way. A visit to Mumbai will be incomplete without a visit to the beautiful Elephanta Caves.