The Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Mumbai’s oldest historic sites. The caves are known for its cave temples that have sculptures of Hindu gods. The caves are located off the Mumbai coast on an island known as Gharapuri, and is nine nautical miles from the Gateway of India. A world heritage site, the Elephanta Caves were named by the Portuguese after they saw statue of an elephant on the island. The statue is now placed at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum at the Jijamata Udyan at Byculla in Mumbai. The island was ruled by the Chalukyas and later by the Gujarat sultanate. It was later handed over by the Gujarat Sultan to the Portuguese in 1534.
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The identity of the creators of the architectural masterpieces still is shrouded in mystery. It is believed the Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas were behind the creation of the masterpieces. The caves are carved out of a single solid basalt rock, which represents Mount Kailash, the mountain residence of Lord Shiva and date back to the 3rd or 5th centuries. The caves are filled with beautiful stone carvings of Hindu gods and goddess. The statue of Parvati, Ravana and especially of Lord Shiva, which shows his three moods as the creator, the destroyer and the preserver, is a masterpiece by itself. Some of the rock surfaces are highly finished while some are untreated bare rock.
The heritage site has two groups of caves in the rock cut architectural style. Five caves are situated on the western hills of the island. Some of the famous sculptures include Ravan holding up the Kailash, Shiva-Parvati on Kailash, Ardhanarishvara, Trimurti, wedding of Shiva, Linga, Nataraja and Kartikeya. On the eastern part of the island, on the Stupa Hill, there are a small group of caves that have Buddhist images. This hill gets its name from a stupa on the hill. Images of Gautam Buddha and Jaataka Tales abound.
Another attraction of the island is the Cannon Hill. Located at the top of the island, it was used safeguard the Bombay harbour during colonial times. Although, a numbers of caves have been ruined and damaged. Elephanta caves still present a rich heritage of ancient history to the tourist. The Elephanta Caves is also the site of the annual Elephanta Festival. Conducted by the Maharashtra Tourism Department, the festival is held every year in February. The festival showcases classical performances and aims at promoting Indian classical dance and heritage.
Photograph courtesy: Ronald Woan/Creative Commons
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