The cave temples to Siva, on the island of Elephanta, in the Bombay harbour, contain some of the most magnificent sculptures in the Deccan. The dating of the caves seems to be controversial. They were probably finished some time between 450 and 750 AD. The complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Access from Mumbai is by boats leaving from the Gateway of India. The 10 Km journey takes a little less than an hour each way. The boat service may be suspended during the monsoon. Tickets and timings for the boats are available at the Gateway. From the landing stage on Elephanta Island there are stairs that lead to the cave. Tickets are available at the top, near the entrance to the caves. There is a good view of the city across the harbour from the terrace of the Tourism Department's hotel next to the cave complex. For further tourist information see the Archaeological Survey of India pages.
There are three entrances to the main temple in the complex- from the north, east and west. The main gallery is divided by columns into equal rows and aisles. To the west, and outside this area, is a square sanctuary containing a monolithic Linga.
The huge, high-relief works in the main cave, on both sides of the three entrances and on the south wall, are characteristic of the cult of Siva and considered to be among the most perfect expressions of Indian art of their time. The most well-known is the six metre high Trimurti, showing Siva in the three roles of creator, preserver and destroyer. This sculpture is supposed to be one of the centerpieces of the Indian sculptural tradition. Other panels include representations of Siva as Ardhanarisvara (part female), Kalyana-sundara and Nataraja.
Known as Gharapuri since the time of the Konkani Mauryas, the island's present name is due to a sculpture of an elephant found here. This piece was moved to the Bhau Daji Ladd museum near the Jijamata Udyan in Bycullah, where it can still be seen.
Down at the foot of the sublime sculptures, Disfigured by the Mohammedans and the Portuguese, The multitude has left its litter, Tiffin for the crows and the curs. I damn it to a thousand reincarnations, Each on a muck-heap While those others, Can be carved, in living flesh, for aeons, In the hell for defacers of statues.Extract from Sunday on Elephanta, Ladera Este, Octavio Paz
See also an architectural review of Elephanta and other web resources.
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