In 1534, when the Portuguese landed in Gharapuri, they saw a stone elephant there. And they called it the Elephanta caves.
The caves are cut out of the hill side and are said to have been from the Gupta period.
"But, there’s no elephant here,” exclaimed the little girl.
She was running around the cave and checked the adjoining spaces, but found no elephant.
It is strange to visit the Elephanta caves and see no elephant standing majestically. So why is it called Elephanta caves?
About seven km off the Mumbai coast in the Arabian Sea, visitors take a launch from the Apollo Bundar at Gateway of India and it takes about an hour to get there.
It probably took longer for the first Portuguese to get here in 1534 A.D. When they landed they saw a huge stone elephant and called it the Elephanta caves. The elephant can now only be seen at the Jijamata garden in Mumbai which houses a zoo. When the gardens were laid out, the British shifted out the elephant from Elephanta.
This island was known as Gharapuri in ancient times and has belonged to various rulers like the Konkan-Mauryas, Trikutakas, Chalukyas of Badami, Silaharas, Rashtrakutas, Kalyani Chalukyas, Yadavas of Deogiri, Muslim rulers of Ahmedabad and then by the Portuguese. The Marathas also had this island under their control and from them it passed into the control of the British. There is a toy train from the jetty to the entry point. On both sides of this last bit of walkway are the mangroves.
These have held the sea at bay over all these centuries. A World Heritage Site, it is maintained by the Archeological Survey of
India. After a climb of 100 odd steps, the first and most important cave can be spotted. It looks massive. Two lines of pillars divide the entrance into three parts.
Recesses all around the cave have fantastic sculptures. Two massive dwarapalakas stand outside the shrine to Shiva.
This one cave with its three entrances in three directions, massive symmetric pillars and its beautiful panels is what attracts people to the Elephanta island.
All the panels are approximately 3.3 X 4 mts big and refer to Shiva in one way or the other. A lot of damage has been wreaked over the centuries, but the parts that are intact bring across the skill of the sculptors.
The other six caves are no match to the main cave. We might not know why such panels were carved out with such difficulty
in such a remote island, but
there is no doubt that they are magnificent.