Mumbai is generally considered as one of the most modern cities in India.
However, it is surprising to know that an island full of ancient structures is lying
just close to the center of the city. Located in Mumbai Harbor, Elephanta Island
is famous for ancient caves and rock cut stone sculptures.
Historians have no idea about the antiquity of these structures. They seem to
have always existed. It is also a matter of debate as to who built the monuments
that still stand majestically and create a feeling of awe and wonder.
The most important among the caves is the great Cave 1, which measures 39
metres from the front entrance to the back. In plan, this cave in the western hill
closely resembles Dumar Lena cave at Ellora, in India. The main body of the cave,
excluding the porticos on the three open sides and the back aisle, is 27 metres
square and is supported by rows of six columns each.
The 7-metre-high masterpiece “Sadashiva” dominates the entrance to Cave 1.
The sculpture represents three aspects of Shiva: the Creator, the Preserver, and
the Destroyer; identified respectively with Aghora or Bhairava (left half),
Taptapurusha or Mahadeva (central full face), and Vamadeva or Uma (right
half). Representations of Nataraja, Yogishvara, Andhakasuravadha,
Ardhanarishwara, Kalyanasundaramurti, Gangadharamurti, and Ravanaanugr
ahamurti are also noteworthy for their forms, dimensions,
themes, representations, content, alignment and execution.
The layout of the caves, including the pillar components, the placement and
division of the caves into different parts, and the provision of a sanctum
or Garbhagriha of sarvatobhadra plan, are important developments in rock-cut
architecture. The Elephanta Caves emerged from a long artistic tradition, but
demonstrate refreshing innovation. The combination of aesthetic beauty and
sculptural art, replete with respondent Rasas, reached an apogee at the
Elephanta Caves. Hindu spiritualistic beliefs and symbology are finely utilized in
the overall planning of the caves.
The island is easily accessible by ferry from Mumbai, being about 10 kilometres
(6.2 mi) from the south east coast of the island city. Boats leave daily from
the Gateway of India, taking about an hour each way.