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Elephanta Caves*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Elephenta caves
State Party  India
Type Cultural
Criteria (i)(iii)
Reference 244 rev
Region** South Asia
Inscription history
Inscription 1987  (11th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Coordinates: 18°57′30″N 72°55′50″E / 18.95833°N 72.93056°E / 18.95833; 72.93056 The Elephanta Caves (Marathi: घारापुरीच्या लेण्या, Gharapuri Lenya) are located on Elephanta Island or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") in Mumbai Harbour, some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the east of the city of Mumbai (Bombay) itself, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The island, located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, has two groups of caves, a large group of five Hindu caves and a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The former caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god Shiva.[1][2]

The rock cut architecture of the caves has been identified as belonging to the period between 5th and 8th centuries, although the identity of the original builders is a subject of debate. The main cave, Cave 1 or the Great Cave, was a Hindu place of worship until Portuguese rule (1534–1661), when the caves also suffered severe damage. After years of neglect, the main cave was renovated in 1970s. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork. It is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).[1][2]



Elephanta is located in Mumbai
Elephanta (Mumbai)
The hills of the Elephanta Islands

Elephanta Island or Gharapuri is about 7 miles (11 km) east of the Apollo Bunder (Bunder in Marathi means a "pier for embarkation and disembarkation of passengers and goods") on the Mumbai Harbour and 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Pir Pal in Trombay. The island encompasses an area of about 4 square miles (10 km2) at high tide and about 6 square miles (16 km2) at low tide. Gharapuri is small village on the south side of the island.[3]

The island is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in length with two hills that rise to a height of about 500 feet (150 m). A deep ravine cuts through the heart of the island from north to south. On the west, the hill rises gently from the sea and stretches east across the ravine and rises gradually to the extreme east to a height of 568 feet (173 m). This hill is known as the Stupa hill. Forest growth with clusters of mango, tamarind, and karanj trees cover the hills with scattered palm trees. Rice fields are seen in the valley. The fore shore is made up of sand and mud with mangrove bushes on the fringe. Landing quays are near three small hamlets known as Set Bunder in the north-west, Mora Bunder in the northeast, and Gharapuri or Raj Bunder in the south.[3]

The two hills of the island, the western and the eastern, have five rock-cut caves in the western part and a brick stupa on the eastern hill on its top composed of two caves with few rock-cut cisterns; one of the caves on the eastern hill is unfinished. It is a protected island with a buffer zone according to a Notification issued in 1985, which also includes “a prohibited area” in 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) stretch from the shore line.[4][5]


The ancient history of the island is one of conjectures based on legends since there are no inscriptions on any of the caves discovered on the island. Pandavas – the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata or Banasura – the demon devotee of Shiva – or Alexander the Great are credited with building temples or cut caves to live. A local tradition holds that the caves are not man-made.[3][6]

The Elephanta caves are "of unknown date and attribution". Art historians have dated the caves in the range of late 5th to late 8th century AD.[6] Archaeological excavations have unearthed a few Kshatrapa coins dated to 4th century AD. The known history is traced only to the defeat of Mauryan rulers of Konkan by the Badami Chalukyan emperor Pulakesi II (609–642) in a naval battle, in 635 AD. Elephanta was then called Puri or Purika, and served as the capital of the Konkan Mauryas. Some historians attribute the caves including the main cave to the Konkan Mauryas, dating them to the mid 6th century, though others refute this claim saying a relatively small kingdom like the Konkan Mauryas could not undertake "an almost superhuman excavation effort", which was needed to carve the rock temples from solid rock and could not have the skilled labour to produce such "high quality" sculpture.[5][6]

Some other historians attribute the construction to the Kalacuris (late 5th to 6th century), who may have had a feudal relationship to the Konkan Mauryas. In an era where polytheism was prevalent, the Elephanta main cave dedicates the monotheism of the Pashupata Shaivism sect dedicated to Shiva, a sect to which Kalacuris as well as Konkan Mauryas belonged.[6]

The Chalukyas who defeated the Kalacuris as well as the Konkan Mauryas are also believed by some to be creators of the main cave, in the mid 7th century. The Rashtrakutas are the last claimants of the creation of the main cave, approximated to early 7th to late 8th century. The Elephanta Shiva cave resembles the 8th century Rashtrakuta rock-temple Kailash Temple at Ellora, in some aspects. The Trimurti of Elephanta showing the three faces of Shiva is almost akin to the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva), which was the royal insignia of the Rashtrakutas. The Nataraja and Ardhanarishvara sculptures are also attributed to the Rashtrakutas.[6][7]

The elephant sculpture from Elephanta is currently installed at the Jijamata Udyaan

Later, Elephanta was ruled by another Chalukyan dynasty and then by Gujarat Sultanate, who surrendered it to the Portuguese in 1534. By then, Elephanta was called Gharapuri, which denotes a hill settlement. The name is still used in the local Marathi language. The Portuguese named the island as "Elephanta Island" in honour of a huge rock-cut black stone statue of an elephant that was then installed on a mound, a short distance to the east of Gharapuri village. The elephant is now placed in the Jijamata Udyaan zoo in Mumbai.[7][6]

The Portuguese rule saw a decline in the Hindu population on the island and the abandonment of the Shiva cave (main cave) as a regular Hindu place of worship, though worship on Mahashivratri – the festival of Shiva – continued and still does.[8] The Portuguese "did considerable damage to the [temple] sanctuaries". Their soldiers used the reliefs of Shiva in the main cave for target practice, sparing only the Trimurti sculpture. The Portuguese also removed an inscription related to the creation of the caves – from the island. The inscription is now lost. While some historians solely blame the Portuguese for the destruction of the caves, others also cite water-logging and dripping rainwater as a reason of the damage. The Portuguese left in 1661 as per the marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal, which placed the islands in possession of the British Empire, as part of Catherine's dowry to Charles.[3][6][9]

Though the main cave was restored in 1970s, other caves – including three consisting of important sculpture – are badly damaged.[6] It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork.

Caves overview

Left: Cave 1 pillars. Right: Cave 1 east entrance (right door) middle courtyard connecting the east-end cave (left door).

The island has two groups of caves of widely acclaimed rock cut architectural style. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. All caves were painted in the past, only traces of which remain. The larger group of caves, consisting of five caves on the western hill of the island, is well known for its Hindu sculptures. The primary cave numbered as Cave 1, is situated about 1 mile (1.6 km) up a hillside, facing the ocean. It is a rock-cut temple complex that covers an area of 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) consisting of a main chamber, 2 lateral ones, courtyards and subsidiary shrines. It is 39 metres (128 ft) deep from the front entrance to the back. The temple complex is the abode of Shiva depicted in widely celebrated carvings, which depict Shiva in his several forms and acts.[1][4][6][10]

On the eastern part of the island, on the Stupa Hill, there is small group of caves that house Buddhist monuments, in its two caves and also cisterns. The Buddhist caves are on the Stupa Hill named after the religious Stupa monument that they display. One of the two caves is in an incomplete state while in the other there is a Stupa made in brick and also has cisterns.[1]

Main cave

The main cave, also called the Shiva cave, Cave 1 and the Great Cave, is 27 metres (89 ft) square in plan with a hall (mandapa) Entry is through for doors; with three open porticos and an aisle at the back. Pillars, six in each row, divide the hall into a series of smaller chambers.[4][6] The roof of the hall has concealed beams supported by stone columns and capitals joined together. The cave entrance is aligned to the north-south axis, which is unusual for a Shiva shrine, usually oriented in the east-west axis. The northern entrance path to the cave, which has steep steps (1000 steps), is flanked by two panels of Shiva dated to the Gupta period; on the left is Yogishvara (The Lord of Yoga) and the other is Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance). The central Shiva shrine (see J in plan) is a free-standing square cell with four entrances, located at the right of the entrance. Smaller shrines are located at the east and west ends of the caves, the eastern sanctuary serving as a ceremonial entrance.[1][4][6]

Each wall in the hall has large carvings of Shiva, each more than 5 metres (16 ft) in height. The central Shiva relief Trimurti is located on the south wall and is flanked by Ardhanarisvara (half-man, half-woman representation of Shiva) on its left and Gangadhara to its right, which denotes river Ganga's descent from Shiva's matted locks. Other carvings related to the legend of Shiva are also seen in the main hall at strategic locations in exclusive cubicles; these include kalyanasundaramurti depicting Shiva’s marriage to goddess Parvati, Andhakasuravadamurti or Andhakasuramardana – the slaying of demon Andhaka by Shiva, Shiva-Parvati on Mount Kailash (the abode of Shiva) and Ravananugraha – demon-king Ravana shaking Kailash.[1][4][5][7]

The main cave blends the Chalukyan architectural features like the massive figures of the divinities and guardians and square pillars with custom capitals – with the Gupta artistic characteristics like depiction of mountains and clouds and women's hairstyles.[5]

Elephanta Map.svg


  • Main Hall: 1. Ravana lifting Kailash 2. Shiva-Parvati on Kailash 3. Ardhanarishvara 4. Trimurti 5. Gangadhara 6. Wedding of Shiva 7. Shiva slaying Andhaka 8. Nataraja 9. Yogishvara
  • East Wing Shrine: 10. Kartikeya 11. Matrikas 12. Ganesha 13. Dvarapala
  • West Wing Shrine: 14. Yogishvara 15. Nataraja
  • Main Hall Shrine: 16. Linga

Shiva-Parvati on Kailash and Ravana lifting Kailash

Left: Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailasha. Right: Ravana shaking Mount Kailash

The carving on the south wall to the east of the portico depicts Shiva and Parvati seated on Mount Kailash, their abode. The four-armed adorned Shiva is seen with a crown and a disc behind it (all seen damaged), the sacred thread across his chest and a dressing gown covering up to the knee. Parvati, dressed in her finery with her hair falling to the front, looks away. Behind her at the right is a woman attendant holding the child, identified with her son Kartikeya, the war-god. Many male and female attendants are seen behind the main figures. Shiva’s attendant, the skeleton-like Bhringi is seated at his feet. Other figures, not distinct, are broadly discerned as: a royal looking tall person, ascetics, a fat figure, a dwarf, a bull – the mount of Shiva, features of a Garuda, two monkeys and many more. The scenic beauty of the mountain is sculpted with the sky background amidst heavenly beings showering flowers on Shiva-Parvati.[3] This scene is interpreted as a Gambling scene, where Parvati is angry as Shiva cheats in a game of dice.[11]

The carved panel on the north facing the above relief is a two level depiction of Ravana lifting Kailash. The upper scene is Mount Kailash, where Shiva and Parvati are seated. The eight-armed, three-eyed Shiva wears a headgear with a crescent and with the disc behind it. Most of his arms are broken, two of them resting on attendants' heads. Parvati figure, seated facing Shiva, remains only as a trunk. The panel is flanked by door keepers. Attendants of Shiva are also seen in the relief but mostly in damaged state. Bhringi is seated near Shiva’s feet and to his left is the elephant-headed son of Shiva, Ganesha. In this ensemble, the ten-headed demon-king Ravana is seen – with only one head left unscathed and out of his twenty arms, only a few are discernible. Around Ravana are several demons. Numerous figures are seen above Shiva: god Vishnu, riding his mount Garuda, to his left; a skeleton-figure and in a recess Parvati's mount, a tiger is depicted.[3]

A legend relates to both these panels.[3] Once, Parvati was annoyed with Shiva. At this moment, Ravana – who was passing by Mount Kailash – found it as an obstruction to his movement. Upset, Ravana shook it vigorously and as a result, Parvati got scared and hugged Shiva. Enraged by Ravana's arrogance, Shiva stamped down on Ravana, who sang praises of Shiva to free him of his misery and turned into an ardent devotee of Shiva. Another version says that Shiva was pleased with Ravana for restoring Parvati’s composure and blessed him.

Trimurti, Gangadhara and Ardhanarishvara

Gangadhara Shiva (right) with part of the Trimurti and a guardian seen on the left

Described as "master piece of Gupta-Chalukyan art", the most important sculpture in the caves is the Trimurti, carved in relief at the back of the cave facing the entrance, in the N-S axis. It is also known as Trimurti Sadashiva and Maheshmurti. The image (see infobox), 20 feet (6.1 m) in height depicts a three headed-Shiva, representing Panchamukha Shiva (Five-headed Shiva).[10][12] The three heads are said to represent three essential aspects of Shiva – creation, protection and destruction. The right half-face (west face) shows him as a young person with sensuous lips, embodying life and its vitality. In his hand he holds something that resembles a rose bud—again with the promise of life and creativity. It is this face that is closest to that of Brahma, the creator or Uma or Vamadeva, the feminine side of Shiva and creator of joy and beauty. The left half-face (east face) is that of a moustached young man, displaying anger. This is Shiva as the terrifying Aghora or Bhairava, as the one whose anger can engulf the entire world in flames leaving only ashes behind. This is Rudra-Shiva, the Destroyer. The central face, benign, meditative, resembles the preserver Vishnu. This is Tatpurusha, “master of positive and negative principles of existence and preserver of their harmony” or Shiva as the yogi-Yogeshwar-in deep meditation praying for the 'preservation' of humanity.[1][4][5][7][13] The aspects Sadyojata and Ishana (not carved) faces are considered to be at the back and top of the sculpture.[3][6][10] The Trimurti sculpture, with the Gateway of India in the background, has been adopted as the logo of the Maharashtra Tourism Department (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation – MTDC).[14][15]

Ardhanarishvara (centre) at Elephanta caves. Note the sculpture's left is female and the right is male, depicting Shiva and his consort Parvati

Gangadhara image to the right of the Trimurti, is an ensemble of divinities assembled around the central figures of Shiva and Parvati, the former bearing river Ganga as she descends from the heaven. The carving is 13 feet (4.0 m) in width and 17.083 feet (5.207 m) in height. The image is much broken, particularly the lower half Shiva (16 feet (4.9 m) high image) seen seated with Parvati is shown with four arms, two of which are broken. From the crown, a cup with a triple headed female figure (with broken arms), representing the three sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati is depicted. Shiva is sculpted and bedecked with ornaments. The arms hold a coiling serpent whose hood is seen above his left shoulder, another hand (partly broken) gives semblance of hugging Parvati, head has matted hair, a small snake is on the right hand, a tortoise is close to the neck, a bundle is tied to the back, and an ornamented drapery covers his lower torso, below the waist. Parvati is (12.33 feet (3.76 m) in height) carved to the left of Shiva has a coiffured hair dress, fully bedecked with ornaments and jewellery, also fully draped, with her right hand touching the head of a female attendant who is also well ornamented and carries Parvati's dress case. While gods Brahma and Indra with their mystic regalia and mounts are shown to the right of Shiva, Vishnu riding his mount Garuda, is shown to the left of Parvati. Many other details are defaced but a kneeling figure in the front is inferred as the king who ordered the image to be carved. There are many divinities and attendant females at the back. The whole setting is under the sky and cloud scenes, with men and women, all dressed, are shown showering flowers on the deities.[3][6]

In the chamber, to the east of Trimurti, is the four-armed Ardhanarishvara (androgynous image) carving. This image, which is (16.75 feet (5.11 m) in height, has a head dress (double folded) with two pleats draped towards the female head (Parvati) and the right side (Shiva) depicting curled hair and a crescent. The female figure has all the ornamentation (broad armlets and long bracelets, a large ring in the ear, jewelled rings on the fingers) but the right male figure has drooping hair, armlets and wrist-lets. One of his hands rests on Nandi’s left horn – Shiva’s mount – which is fairly well preserved. The pair of hands at the back is also bejewelled; the right hand of the male holds a serpent while the left hand of the female holds a mirror. The front left hand is broken but conjectured as holding the robe of the goddess. The central figure is surrounded by divinities.[3]

Shiva slaying Andhaka and Wedding of Shiva

Shiva slaying Andhaka

The engraved panel considered a unique sculpture, in the north end of the aisle shows Bhairava or Virabhadra, a frightful form of Shiva. In the carved panel Shiva's consort is seen sitting next to Shiva, looking terrified seeing him. A female attendant is seen next to her. The central figure, which is much ruined below the waist, is measured at (11.5 feet (3.5 m) high from the base. His legs are seen in a posture of running. He is adorned with a well made headgear “with a ruff on the back, a skull and cobra over the forehead, and the crescent high on the right”. His facial expression is of intense anger discerned from his brow skin, swollen eyes and tusks. The legs and five of the eight arms are broken, attributed to Portuguese vandalism. The smaller broken image Andhaka is seen below Bhairav's image. It is interpreted that Shiva speared him with the front right hand, as conjectured by the spear seen hanging with out any hold. Also seen is the back hand lifted up and holding an elephant's skin as a cover; the elephant's head and carved tusk and trunk are seen hanging from the left hand. The second left hand depicts a snake coiled round it. The hand holds a bowl to collect the blood dripping from the slain Andhaka. Further, pieces of a male and two female forms, figures of two ascetics, a small figure in front, a female figure and two dwarfs are also seen in the carved panel. An unusual sculpture seen above the head of the main figure of Shiva is “of a very wide bottle with a curved groove in the middle of it", which can interpreted variously as: the aum or the linga or a Shiva shrine.[3]

Panel depicting the divine marriage of Shiva and Parvati with Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and other divinities in attendance.

The image carved in to the south wall in a niche is an ensemble of divinities assembled around the central figures of Shiva and Parvati shown getting married. Parvati is seen standing to Shiva's right, the ordained place for a Hindu bride at the wedding. The carvings are damaged substantially; of Shiva’s four hands only the left hand is fully seen while the right leg is missing. Shiva has a head dress with a shining disc attached to it. His garments are well draped, and well tied at the waist. The sacred thread seen across his chest. Parvati is carved with a perfect figure with coiffured hair dress, well adorned with jewellery and is draped tightly to display depressions, below the waist only. She is seen with a coy expression and is led by her father who has his right hand on her shoulder. Even though both her hands are seen damaged, it is inferred that her left hand clasped Shiva’s right hand as a mark of holy alliance. Brahma (damaged image) is sitting as the officiating priest for the marriage. Vishnu is witness to the marriage. Mena, the mother of Parvati is seen standing next to Vishnu. The moon-god Chandra, seen with a wig and a crescent is standing behind Parvati holding a circular pot with nectar for the marriage ceremony. Just above main images, a galaxy of divinities, bearded sages, apsaras (nymphs) Vidyadharas, Yakshis, Gandharvas, Bhringi and other male and female attendants are seen as witness to the marriage ceremony showering flowers on the divine couple.[3]

Yogishvara and Nataraja

Shiva as Yogisvara, doing penance.

The panel to the east of the north portico is Shiva in a Yogic position called as Yogisvara, Mahayogi, Dharmaraja and Lakulish.[16] Engraved resembling a Buddha, Shiva is in a dilapidated condition with only two broken arms. Shiva is seated in padmasana yogic posture (cross legged) on a lotus which is carried by two Nāgas. His crown is carved with details adorned by a crescent, a round frill at the back and hair curls dropping on either side of the shoulders. His face is calm in mediation with eyes half closed. This represents Shiva in penance sitting amidst the Himalayan mountains after the death of his first wife Sati, who was later reborn as Parvati. He is surrounded by divinities in the sky and attendants below. Also seen is a plantain with three open and one opening leaves and a sunflower blossom. These are flanked by two attendants. Other figures discerned from a study of the broken images are: Vishnu riding Garuda on a plantain leaf; the Sun-god Surya riding a horse (head missing) which is fully saddled; a saint with a rosary; two female figures in the sky draped up to their thighs, faceless figure of the moon with a water container; next to the main image three identical figures of a male flanked by two females; skeleton of a sage; Brahma image (without one arm) riding a swan; Indra without his mount (elephant missing).[3]

Shiva as Nataraja (Cosmic dancer)

The panel carving in the west niche opposite Yogishvara depicts Shiva as Nataraja performing the Tandava (cosmic dance). The niche is 13 feet (4.0 m) wide and 11 feet (3.4 m) in height on the wall set low. The Shiva image displays a dance pose and had ten arms, but first right and third left hands are missing. He wears a well-decorated head gear. The remaining first right arm is held across the breast and touches the left side, the second right hand seen damaged with an out-flaying pose is broken at the elbow, the third arm is damaged at the elbow, and the fourth is also broken but inferred to have held a Khatvanga (skull-club). The left arms, seen hanging, are damaged near the wrists the third hand is bent (but broken condition) towards Parvati standing on the side and the fourth hand is raised up. The right thigh is lifted up (but broken) but left leg is not seen at all, the elaborate armlets are well preserved and a skirt round the waist is tied by a ribbon. A tall figurine of Parvati (six feet nine inches tall) stands to the left of Shiva (visitor's right), which is also seen partly broken but well bejewelled. An airborne female figure is seen behind Parvati. Other figures seen in the relief are: Vishnu, riding a Garuda; Indra riding his elephant, elephant-headed Ganesha, Kartikeya, Bhrngi, sages and attendants.[3]

Main cave shrine

Shiva Linga shrine and Dvarapalas at door entry

The central shrine is a free-standing square cell, with entrances on each of its sides, each door flanked by two statues of dvarapalas (gate keepers). The Linga – the symbol of Shiva in union with the Yoni – the symbol of Parvati, together symbolizing supreme unity is deified in the shrine. The Linga is set on a raised platform above the floor of the shrine by (6 feet (1.8 m). Six steps lead to this level from the floor level. The height of the eight dvarapalas varies from (14.833–15.167 feet (4.521–4.623 m). All are in a damaged condition except those at the southern door to the shrine. Some of the features of the southern gate statue are: an unusual head gear; skull above the forehead is large; lips are parted with protruding teeth; adorned with single bead necklace, earrings, plain twisted armlets and thick wrist-lets; stand on the right leg with left leg slightly bent; right shoulder has a stoop; hand held at navel level holds a globe; the robe is held at the right thigh by the left hand and legs are shapeless.[1][3][4][6]

East wing

Left: The four-armed doorkeeper and (right) the leogriff figure

Several courtyards on the east and west of the main cave are blocked. Entering through the eastern part of the courtyard, climbing nine steps is the court that measures (55 feet (17 m) in width, with an exclusive door to the north. A temple on the southern wall of the court depicts a well-preserved fresco. A circular pedestal seen in the courtyard in front of the Shiva's shrine near the east end, in the open area, is said to be the seat of Nandi, Shiva's mount.[1][3][4][5][7]

On each side of the steps leading to the temple-cave portico is a seated tiger or leogriff, each with a raised forepaw. The portico has chambers at each end and a Linga-shrine at the back. Five low steps and a threshold lead into the central Linga-shrine which is (13.833 feet (4.216 m) wide and (16.0833 feet (4.9022 m) deep and has a circumambulatory path (Pradakshina-path) around it. At the back of the portico, near the east end, is a gigantic statue of a four-armed doorkeeper with two attendant demons. At the north end is a standing figure holding a trident. His left hand rests on a defaced demon-figure. The west wall depicts the Ashta-Matrikas (eight mother goddesses), flanked by Kartikeya and Ganesha, sons of Shiva. Some of Matrikas are depicted with children and all of them are shown by their respective mounts – like bull, swan, peacock, a Garuda, etc. – which identify them. At the east end of the portico is another chapel with a plain interior and sunken floor. Water drips in this chapel.[3][5]

West wing

The west wing, entered through the main cave, is in semi-ruined state. It has a small chapel and a cistern enclosed within the pillared cave, which has cold water to depth and is believed to be Buddhist. Another shrine to the west of the courtyard, with a portico, seven feet long, thirteen feet seven inches deep and eight feet ten inches high, has carvings of Shiva in a yogic pose seated on a lotus carried by “two fat heavy wigged figures”. This carving also depicts three-faced bearded Bramha and several other figurines. Entering through the back door of the portico is a cave enshrined with a multifaceted Shiva Linga erected over a roughly hewn salunkhs. At the door entrance on both flanks, statues of gatekeepers standing over demons and two fat poised figures are seen. On the southern side of the door, is an ensemble of a number of statues, prominent among these is the Shiva carving, which is depicted with six arms and the third eye in the forehead. Though in partly ruined state, the carving shows Shiva with an ornamented crown fixed with a crescent, seen carrying a cobra in the left hand, a club in another hand, discerned to be in a dancing pose. Next to this image are a figurine under a plantain tree and a Shiva image (Yogishvara) seated on a lotus. Also seen in the panel are: a male figure riding a hull with a bell fastened to its neck; a female figure and another carving to left of Shiva – a female figure with a jewel on her forehead with neatly looped head-dress; Indra riding an elephant; Vishnu, with four arms, holding a discus in one of his left hands and riding on Garuda flanked by a small flying figure; and a male figure with crescent in his hair.[3]

Other notable caves

To the south-east of the Great Cave, is the second excavation which faces east, north-east; it includes a chapel at the north end. The front of this cave is completely destroyed, only fragments of some semi-columns remain. The interior has suffered water damage. The portico is (85 feet (26 m) long and (35 feet (11 m) deep. The chapel is supported by 4 eight-cornered columns and 2 demi-columns and is irregular-shaped. At the back of the portico are three chambers; the central one has an altar and water channel (pranalika), though the Linga is lost. The shrine door has some traces of sculpture, a boy, a fat figure and alligators on the frieze and broken animal figures at the head of a door jamb. The door-keepers of the shrine are now in fragments.[3]

A little to the south of the last cave, is another cave in a worse condition, with water-logging damage. It is a portico with each end probably having a chapel or room with pillars in front, 2 of them have cells at the back. The central door at the back of the portico leads to a damaged shrine. The shrine door has door-keepers at each side, leaning on dwarfs with flying figures over the head and the door-keepers and demons on the jamb and architrave. The shrine is a (19.833 feet (6.045 m) deep by (18.833 feet (5.740 m) wide plain room with a low altar, holding a Linga. South of this cave is a cavern, which may be used as a cistern.[3]

Above these caves, is a tiger sculpture, which was worshipped as the tiger goddess Vaghesheri. This sculpture may be a guardian of the north entrance of Cave 1. A Linga is also found near a small pond at top of the hill. Sculptures like a stone with a sun and a moon and a mother sucking a child (now moved) were also found nearby.[3]

Across the top of the ravine from Cave 1 is large hall known as Sitabai's temple (cave). The portico has four pillars and two pilasters. The hall has 3 chambers at the back, the central one a shrine and the rest chambers for priests, both are plain rooms. The door of the central shrine has pilasters and a frieze, with the threshold having lion figures at the end. The shrine has an altar, a water channel and hole in the centre, which a statue of Parvati may have been worshipped. A 17th century record of the cave narrates "this cave as having a beautiful gate with a porch of exquisitely wrought marble" and two idols, one of goddess Vetalcandi and a head being in a large square seat.[3]

Passing along the face of the eastern hill to the north of Sitabai's cave is a small Hindu excavation with a veranda, which was probably to be three cells, but was abandoned falling a rock flaw discovery. Towards to the east of hill, is a dry pond, which large artificial boulders and Buddhist cisterns along its banks. At the end of the north spur of the main hill, is a mound that resembles a Buddhist stupa.[3]


Tourists taking pictures of the Trimurti

The threats to Elephanta Caves have been identified as: development pressures (mainly due to its location within the Mumbai harbour), anthropogenic pressure due to growth of population of the communities residing on the island, industrial growth of the port facilities close to the island, no risk preparedness plan to address natural calamities such as earthquake, cyclones and terrorist attacks, unsustainable tourism and tourist facilities on the island and poor management of the heritage monument.[4][14][17]

Preservation of the Elephanta Island as a whole with its monuments has been ensured both through legal legislation and also by physical restoration measures of the caves and its sculptures. The basic legislations enacted are: The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 and Rules (1959); The Elephanta Island (Protected Monument) Rules of 1957 which prohibits mining, quarrying, blasting, excavation and other operations nearby the monument; the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act promulgated in 1972 with its Rules promulgated in 1973; a Notification issued in 1985 declaring the entire island and an area 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the shore as a “a prohibited area”; a series of Maharashtra State Government environmental acts protecting the site; the 1966 Regional and Town Planning Act; and the 1995 Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay.[4]

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Aurangabad Circle armed with the above legislations and rules maintain and manage the monuments. The physical measures undertaken for conservation cover: stabilization of the rock face, supports to the cave structures where pillars had collapsed, consolidation of cave floors and construction of the parapet wall surrounding the site. In addition, visitor facilities at the site have been upgraded (such as toilet facilities, construction of railings, pathways and a flight of steps from the jetty to the caves); an on-site museum has been established and a conservation plan is in place. Overall, conservation of the property is stated to be good. The number of visitors to see the monuments is stated to be 25,000 per month. Public information brochures are also available at the venue of the monuments. During the World Heritage Day 18 April and World Heritage Week 19–25 November there are special events that are held at the caves. Another popular event organized is an annual traditional dance festival that attracts many visitors.[4]

After declaring the caves a World Heritage Site, UNESCO granted $100,000 to document the history and draw up a site plan of the caves. A part of the grant was utilized for conservation of the caves.[7] Based on assessments by UNESCO, management plans on the anvil are: better communication and collaboration between the ASI, on-site staff and other responsible government departments; improved public information and awareness programmes; monitoring environmental impact of tourists on the cave and island environment; greater attention to maintenance of the rocks to address water leakages into the caves; and daily monitoring of both structural and chemical conservation measures.[4]

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is also involved with Archaeological Survey of India in improving the local conditions at the cave site. A book has been published jointly by UNESCO, INTACH and the Government of India which has a comprehensive site plan for restoration and also a brief history of each sculpture constructed inside the caves that provides authentic source of information of this monument.[14]

Cultural influence

The caves, and especially the great three-headed central Trimurti, have become identified with India and have appeared on tourist posters and the like. The caves are mentioned in Moby Dick (1851) as being a great exotic wonder.

Visitor information

The Elephanta Caves are reached by a ferry from the Gateway of India, Mumbai, which has the nearest airport and train station.[15] The caves are under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India. The caves are open from 9 AM to 5 PM and closed on Monday. An entry fee of Rs. 10 is charged for Indian citizens, SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) citizens. Rs. 250 or 5 USD is charged for others.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Elephanta Caves" (pdf). Unesco. http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/244.pdf. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Elephanta Caves". World Heritage: Unesco.org. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/244. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Elephanta". Gazetter Government of Maharashtra. 2006 (Digitization). http://www.maharashtra.gov.in/english/gazetteer/KOLABA/places_Elephanta.html. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "UNESCO State of Conservation Report: India, Elephanta Caves". World Heritage: unesco.org. 2003. http://whc.unesco.org/archive/periodicreporting/apa/cycle01/section2/244-summary.pdf. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g File:Elephanta Rock-cut Temples Sign.jpg: Official plaque of Elephanta Rock-cut Temples at entry to the monuments, erected by the Archaeological Survey of India
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Trudy Ring, Robert M. Salkin, Sharon La Boda. "Elephanta Island". International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania. Taylor & Francis. pp. 252–5. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=vWLRxJEU49EC&pg=PA252&dq=elephanta&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&cd=4#v=onepage&q=elephanta&f=false. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Save the Caves". south-asian.com. http://www.the-south-asian.com/Aug2004/Elephanta_caves.htm. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  8. ^ Times of India, Mumbai, 13 February 2010, p. 12 (Picture showing Trimurti garlanded, with caption).
  9. ^ Benoy K. Behl (Nov. 24-Dec. 07, 2007). "Simply grand". Frontline (the publishers of The Hindu) 24 (23). http://www.flonnet.com/fl2423/stories/20071207505906600.htm. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c File:Elephanta info.jpg: Plaque by Maharashtra Tourism at the caves
  11. ^ Berkson p. 12
  12. ^ Duffer's Guide to Elephanta, Mid-Day, Tinaz Nooshan, Feb 22, 2007, pg A14
  13. ^ HT Cafe, Mumbai, Monday, June 4, 2007 p. 31, Article "Lord of the Islands" by Jerry Pinto
  14. ^ a b c Vinaya Kumar (2010-02-10). "Threat to Caves of Bombay". The Tribune India. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060402/spectrum/main2.htm. 
  15. ^ a b "Caves: Elephanta". Official site of MTDC. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). 2004. http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/mtdc/HTML/MaharashtraTourism/TouristDelight/Caves/Caves.aspx?strpage=ElephantaCaves.html#Gettingthere. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  16. ^ a b "World Heritage Sites – Elephanta Caves". Official site of ASI. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Government of India. http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_elephanta.asp. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  17. ^ Samir S. Patel (May/June 2007). "The Slum and the Sacred Cave". Archaeology Magazine, Volume 60 Number 3. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007682.html. 

External links

Elephanta Island
—  Neighbourhood  —
Elephanta Island
Location of Elephanta Island

in Mumbai and India

Coordinates 18.96°N 72.935°E / 18.96°N 72.935°E / 18.96; 72.935Coordinates: 18.96°N 72.935°E / 18.96°N 72.935°E / 18.96; 72.935
Country Template:Country data India
State Maharashtra
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)

Elephanta Island (also called Gharapuri Island or place of caves) is one of a number of islands in Mumbai Harbour, east of Mumbai, India. This island is a popular tourist destination for a day trip because of the island's cave temples, the Elephanta Caves, that have been carved out of rock.

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 for the journey. The tickets for these can be bought at the Gateway itself (120 Rupees for "luxury boats"), the first ferry leaving at 9 am, the last at 2 pm. From the boat landing stage on the island, a walkway leads to steps that go up to the famous caves. Along the path, hawkers sell souvenirs that may bought at a reasonable price. There are also stalls to buy food and drinks. Small monkeys play along the sides of the path, occasionally thieving items from the hawkers or trashcans. You may also get local guides.

Known in ancient times as Gharapuri, the present name Elephanta, was given by 17th century Portuguese explorers, after seeing a monolithic basalt sculpture of an elephant found here near the entrance. They decided to take it home but ended up dropping it into the sea because their chains were not strong enough. Later, this sculpture was moved to the Victoria and Albert Museum (now Dr Bhau Daji lad Museum) in Mumbai, by the British.[1]

The island has an area of Template:Convert/km². It is located at approximately 18°57′N 72°56′E / 18.95°N 72.93°E / 18.95; 72.93. The area comes under the jurisdiction of the Raigad district in Maharashtra State.

A narrow gauge train takes tourists along the 1 km pier to the base of the steps that lead to the caves.

The island is thickly wooded with palm, mango, and tamarind trees. The island has a population of about 1,200 involved in growing rice, fishing, and repairing boats. It was once the capital of a powerful local kingdom.

There are total three villages viz; Shentbandar, Morabandar, and Rajbandar, of which Rajbandar is known to be the capital. Caves and Stalls can be seen in Shentbandar. Morabandar has thick forest.


  1. ^ HT Cafe, Mumbai, Monday, June,4,2007 pg.31 - Article 'Lord of the Islands" by Jerry Pinto

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Elephanta Island article)

From Wikitravel

Asia : South Asia : India : Western India : Maharashtra : Elephanta Island

Elephanta Island is an island off of Bombay in southern India that is home to the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Get in

To get to Elephanta Caves, you will need to go to the Gateway of India in the Mumbai city. From here, get the tickets for the launch (boat or ferry ). The journey takes 1 hour to reach the island by sea. The launch travels at a speed of 14 Nautical miles. The tickets are available at the Maharastra tourism development corp (MTDC) at the entrance of Gateway. The Caves are off-visit on Mondays although the MTDC does sell boat tickets with the ticket saying so, so be aware. The launch (boat) leaves from gate no.4 at the rear of Gateway of India.

The ticket for the launch (boat ) is Rs.120 return journey. If you want to see the view from the upper deck, you have to pay Rs.10/-extra to the launch (boat) operator.

There are 2 types of launch: Economy and Deluxe. One is big, the other one is slightly smaller in size. Travelling by both carries its own fun experiences.

The first boat of the day is at 9AM; they may wait a little bit for more passengers, but they are pretty much leave the dock on time. They have a boat going to Elephanta Island every 30 minutes. Week days are less crowded than weekends.

Get around

From the Gateway of India to the world famous Elephanta Caves, and from the hustle and bustle of the contemporary commerce of Mumbai, this trip is a journey back in time; to a time when faith, mysticism and art reigned supreme, when the challenge of carving out gigantic statues and caves from monoliths was accepted as a blessing, when the tryst with stone gave birth to passionate effigies of Hindu faith, a glorious testimony, even today, of the aesthetics and hard labour of our ancestors.

When you arrive at the Elephanta Island, there will be lots of locals offering you the service to guide you around. Unless you are familiar with the Indian god Shiva and would like to know the gory details of what happened to Shiva's world, you do not really need a tourist guide -- their charges are not really reasonable, i.e., Rs 2500 or more to tell you all about Indian Gods that you may not know if they are telling you the true stories or not and you would probably forget by the time you leave Elephanta Island. If you really want to know all about Elephanta caves and Shiva, you can buy a good book from any vendors when you walk up the hill to the caves -- remember you should always bargain.

There is a small train to take you from the dockside to the entrance. The price, Rs 5, it is worth the Rs 5 unless you want to exercise which you do not really need, because you'll have a chance to really exercise by walking up to the cave, the whole 120 steep steps.


The island, small and round, rises like the back of a giant turtle from amidst the azure depths of the Arabian Sea. You will take a narrow road after disembarking. This travels to the site of ascent, broken by the persuasive cries of the jamun wallahs selling the salted plum coloured fruit in cleverly designed pouches, holding not more than 7-8 jamuns in each. To get to the caves, you will climb a steep street up, as the caves are located on the top of a hillock shaped island. This climb is followed by a long flight of sharp stone steps, where the old and the invalid used to be carried in palanquins by coolies. Some locals regard the caves as a religious place dedicated to Lord Shiva, which accounts for a large number of aged visitors. There is a tourist tax of Rs 5 for adults and Rs 3 for children. At the entrance of the park, one needs to pay an entrance fee, i.e., Rs 10 for Indian citizens and Rs 250 for foreign nationals.

There are several caves you can visit. According to the guard there, there are only five caves on Elephanta Island. But some of the maps show seven caves. Except the first two caves at the entrance, other caves are small and not well developed. You can also walk up to the top of the Island, it is called Cannon Hill. There is a old cannon there and nothing else to see.


Take lots of pictures and show them to your friends.


There are many things for sale. There are paintings (look for ones with leaves). Most of the stuff is brought in from Mumbai and sold at a double or triple price, so while purchasing mementos, make sure to look out for something unique to the Island and the craft skills of the local people.


One thing you should not miss is eating the wild berries that the locals sell as they are delicious. Also, if you are interested in Indian food, MTDC resort offers a fine spread at a reasonable cost.

The view of the sea from the MTDC restaurant is really pleasing to the eye, and you can sip on you tea, coffee, beer, etc, while enjoying the view.


It is advisable to take lots of drinkable water with you from Mumbai itself.


Overnight stay at Elephanta Caves is not permitted. If you want to rest during daytime, The Maharastra Tourism Department Hotel is a good choice. They also serve food and drinks.

If you want to stay overnight, then you have to stay with the locals and that is not advisable.

Get out

The first boat leaving Elephanta Island for Mumbai is at 12:00 noon and the last one is at 5:30PM. If you are fast, you can take the first boat from Mumbai to Elephanta Island, visit all caves, go up to Cannon Hill to see the old cannon, come back to the dockside, and take the first boat back to Mumbai.

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