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          Elephanta Caves, Mumbai

The  string of rock-cut caves in the Western India comprise of either Buddhist caves like those at the Kanheri caves in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, or Hindu caves like those at Elephanta caves.

The  Elephanta is the name of the island on which the caves are located, about an hour of boat ride away from the Apollo Bunder (the Gateway of India). Boats ply to the Elephanta island every 30 minutes and charge you anywhere between Rs. 100 to 200 depending on the class of the boat (normal or deluxe).  Elephanta is certainly worth a visit but foremost it is a nice escape from Mumbai for half a day - the hustle bustle of the city seems distant when you breath in the fresh sea breeze!

The island of Elephanta, originally, and locally still called Gharapuri, the Portuguese renamed the island Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the entrance to the island. The statue collapsed in 1814 and the British then moved it to the mainland, and can still be found in the Victoria gardens.

The cave complex comprises of five caves of which the first cave is the only one which will catch the visitor's attention. The other caves are more of less excavations in the rock with little if any sculpting. The first cave is datable to mid 7th century AD. It is primarily a temple, with a pillared central hall, and a small Shiva shrine. The four entrance doors to this cave flanked by the Dwarpalas (guardians).

The sculptured panels depict graceful figures of divinities surrounding the central theme of Shiva. On these panels Shiva is depicted variously as either Anugrahamurti (Bestower of gifts) or Samharmurti (destroyer of evil and ignorance). The figure of Maheshmurti - depicting all three aspects of Shiva - the creator, protector and destroyer - in the central panel of the back wall is the masterpiece and is surprisingly well-preserved.

Beware of the monkeys around the caves. Just like at the Kanheri caves, the monkeys are everywhere and are known to snatch the visitors' cold drink bottles, cameras, etc. though not often. They are quite used to the huge masses of people around.

What to buy at Elephanta caves?
The steps leading to the entrance to the caves are lined with many stalls selling curios. There are paintings (look for ones done on dried peepul leaves) and other trinkets (like lapis lazuli - those blue-stone necklaces/bangles/anklets) that are on sale. And then, of course, there is the ubiquitous Ganesha statuettes for sale and some marble carved candle holders. Most of the stuff is brought in from Mumbai and sold at higher prices.

For Elephanta caves, you can surely say one thing...the journey is as good as the destination. Hence I have dedicated a photo gallery for the journey part, and another for the caves themselves.


Journey to Elephanta caves

Elephanta caves

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