Elephanta Caves: An ode to Lord Shiva

| Last Updated: March 13, 2013 at 1:57 PM

The rock cut architecture of Elephanta caves has been dated to between the 4th and 8th centuries

If one word could express my feelings on seeing the magnificent statues of Elephanta caves, then awestruck would come close to that. I was spellbound by the larger than life statues of Lord Shiva and others from the Hindu pantheon.

Truth be told, I was ignorant about Elephanta or its history till I visited the island. Having visited almost all the picnic spots around Mumbai, Elephanta was the only option left for me and my friends. The lure of the ferry ride to Elephanta helped us decide in no time. Situated off the coast of Mumbai, Elephanta Island or Gharapuri as it is called by locals; is well connected by regular ferry services from the Gateway of India.

Despite the fact that I had lived most of my life in Mumbai, I never had any occasion to visit the islands. Compared to other picnic spots around Mumbai, like Vasai, Manori, Lonavala and Matheran, Elephanta was always low on appeal for my gang.

My curiosity levels began to climb rapidly as the ferry neared the island. From the sea, the island looked like a forest. Anxiety gripped me at the thought of trudging through the island under the hot sun. Mamma didn’t raise no fool and I was not going to wilt at the thought.

Also known as Trimurti Sadashiva and Maheshmurti, the three heads are said to represent three essential aspects of Shiva — creation, protection, and destruction

The path leading to the caves was lined with shops selling beads, stone jewelry, Buddha statues and other mementoes. It offered good photo oppurtunities but the discovery of sign boards warning of monkeys compelled me to exercise caution.

A short climb through the shop-lined path and I was standing in the courtyard in front of the first cave, also called the Shiva cave. I experienced a Eureka moment as soon as I entered the cave. Lord Shiva as Nataraja and Yogishwara stood in majestic poise. Shiva’s omnipresence found manifestation in the form of statues in every nook and corner of the cave.

It seemed incredulous that ancient Indians could create such beautiful masterpieces with rudimentary tools. For a person like me who finds even writing with hands a chore, the magnificent creations created out of basalt rocks, was nothing short of divine.

The caves have been in existence since the fourth century, I overheard a guide telling a group of tourists. In Elephanta, Shiva can be found in Yogishwara pose and resembled Gautam Buddha. However, the main attraction of the cave was Shiva in the form of Trimurti. The Trimurti depicts three different moods of Lord Shiva. While many of the statues had been damaged, mostly by the Portuguese who used the caves for target practice, the Trimurti had survived unscathed.

Portuguese soldiers used the reliefs of Shiva for target practice and in the process did considerable damage

I decided to follow the guide and his group. Everyone loves free gifts and here I was getting information for free. Every statue, every frieze told stories from the Hindu mythology — Ravana lifting Mount Kailash, Shiva slaying Andhaka and several more. Though the caves have been in existence since the fourth century, information about the creators of the cave is shrouded in mystery.

It was also the Portugese who christened the island as Elephanta after they found a rock statue of an elephant. The elephant now stands in the Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai.

The caves were once painted but only traces remain. Even without the paints and colours, the statues and the caves were beautiful. It is sad that wanton destruction had damaged the caves and we can only visualize the grandeur of the monuments.

However, what remains will always speak of man’s efforts since time immemorial to create beauty.

The Elephanta Caves resembles the Ellora Caves in its layout

First Published: March 1, 2013 at 3:49 PM

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