India – Elephanta Island And The Mysterious Carved Caves


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.


Grottes d'Elephanta


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.