Elephanta Caves

Maheshamurti

10 km north east of Apollo Bunder, lies the island of Elephanta, the glorious abode of Lord Shiva. The island is famous for its great cave shrine, excavated in the sixth century, dating back to the period, when the island was known as Gharapuri, the Fortress City. With the arrival of the Portuguese, the island was renamed Elephanta, after the huge carved elephant, they found at the place where they landed.

The cave temple, which is the pride of Elephanta, sprawled over an area of approximately 5000 square metres, is reached by climbing a flight of more than 100 steps, to the top of a hill. Inside the temple, is a large pillared hall with rows of columns, that appear to hold up the roof of the cave. Cross beams complete the illusion of a ceiling. One's attention is immediately drawn to the series of marvellous sculptured panels, nine in all, which are set like tableaux on the walls. Little is known about the architects and sculptors, who worked on this gem of ancient architecture. What is almost tangible is their intense faith, which seems to create an energy field in the cave premises. Each of the panel captures the volatility of Shiva's essentially paradoxic nature, and the magical interplay of light and shade, only intensifies the overall effect. The plan of the temple is symmetrical, with the important focal points worked out in a geometrical mandala - the mystic design that represents an energy field.

At the western end of the cave is the very centre of Elephanta, the resting-place of the 'linga', the simplest form, encompassing the essence of creative power, in which Shiva is worshipped as the Lord of fertility and procreation. The four entrances to the shrine are flanked by large guardian figures, 'dwarpalas.' As one enters the cave, on the right, is the panel depicting Nataraja, Shiva as the cosmic dancer. Though a little disfigured by the Portugeuse, the panel is still remarkable in its vivid portrayal of the Destroyer. Nataraja, Shiva Tandava, the embodiment of cosmic energy accompanied by thundering drums and the wrathful fire. Ravana anugraha, Shiva crushing Ravana with his toe, as the latter in an attempt to demonstrate his might, vainly tries to lift Mount Kailasa. Shiva, destroyer of enemies triumphs eternally over the forces of evil.

Another panel shows Shiva as Andhakasuravadha, impaling the demon of darkness, Andhaka, with his trident, while the panel on the rear wall of the shrine captures the divine union of Shiva and Parvati in marriage. Kalyanasundara is Shiva the gentle loving god, with his beautiful consort by his side. Yet another panel portrays Gangadharan, Shiva receiving the descending river Ganga, and holding her fast in his matted locks, thus, preventing the flooding of the world. To the west, a sculpture shows the god as Ardhanarishwara, Shiva and Shakti, male and female, " the simultaneous experience of longing and union", desire and satisfaction.

The famous Maheshamurti lies deep, in the inner recesses of the cave. Mysterious, impassive, the eternal Shiva emerging out of the mountain - Maheshwara, Mahadeva, Sadashiva - Shiva in whom all paradoxes reside, conflicts are resolved; the supreme Lord, the eternal.

Despite the wanton desecration of these fine sculptures by the Portugeuse, the nuances of emotions captured in the panels still possess the power to mesmerise the observer.

Festival

The Elephanta Festival comes in the month of February, when the island bursts in a colourful explosion of dance and music. Eminent artistes perform outside the caves, under the open sky.

When To Visit

November to March is the ideal time to visit the island.

How To Get There

Regular launch services from the Gateway of India take tourists to the Caves throughout the year, except during the monsoon season.

Contact

Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation
Express Towers, 9th Floor, Nariman Point
Mumbai - 400021
Tel : 2026713, 2027762, 2027784

Maharashtra