Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Places to visit in Mumbai: Elephanta Caves - a World Heritage Site

Elephanta Caves, located on the Elephanta Island can be reached by a ferry from the Gateway of India, Bombay. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Trimurti, Elephanta Caves

Distance from Bombay: 10 km
Duration of Ferry: one hour, first ferry at 9 a.m.
Price: Rs 160 to-and-fro (as of October 2015)
Monday closed
Ticket: Rs 10 for the village and Rs 10 for the caves. Foreigners have to pay Rs 250.

Elephanta hills and the Arabian Sea

Then there is a toy train for a km or less and then a steep ascent of about 120 steps. October is not the best month for this excursion. You need stamina and lots of water intake. Those with knee problems should stay away. There are lots of shops selling all kinds of stuff but the most sought ones are food stalls selling raw mangoes, starfruit (amrack) and lemon water. Many of them are run by women.

The entrance to the Elephanta cave 1

These rock-cut temple caves dated between 5 and 7 Century CE comprise of five Hindu caves dedicated to Lord Shiva and two Buddhist caves at a distance of about 2 km. 

Grand pillars at Elephanta cave 1

The latter are closed to public and amongst the five Hindu caves only the first cave is worth the trouble. The other caves are almost empty except for the presence of a shivling. In that sense there is a slight sense of disappointment. 

Gangadhara Shiva & Parvati

However Cave 1 is a magnificent structure. It is a grand cave with huge pillars and huge sculptures, many of them fragments. The fragments speak for the glorious art in ancient India. Most of the panels depict Lord Shiva and Parvati. Then there is a huge Trimurti (first photo in this post) sculpture depicting the three faces of Shiva: the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. It is said that the Portuguese colonisers destroyed many of these grand narratives, including the elephant structure that gave the island its name.

Shiva as Yogisvara

Visitors who came 10-15 years ago say the caves were dirty and stinking. The last time I visited the caves was in 1985 of which I have only some hazy memories. But now that they are managed by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), they are clean and there are guards to prevent vandalising. There are toilet facilities. Monkeys are however a nuisance.

Also read:
Karla Buddhist Caves near Pune
Places to visit in Mumbai: The Haji Ali Dargah