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Magical caves of Elephanta

The Elephanta island, located 11 km east of Mumbai, is extremely popular with domestic as well as int'l tourists.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2008 17:41 IST

Hindustan Times

The picturesque Elephanta island, located 11 km east of Mumbai, is extremely popular with domestic as well as international tourists.

The caves, which form the central attraction of the island, are one of the grand ancient rock temples of India dedicated to Shiva, whose deeds are the theme of nine Shaivite sculptures in the temple.

The magic of these sculptures lies in their symbolic depth and spiritual meaning. <b1>

Well preserved
No one knows who carved the sculpture - what is known, however, is that the island was originally called Gharapuri.

The Portuguese renamed it Elephanta after they found a massive stone statue of an elephant standing near Rajghat, where they landed.

The caves are remarkably well preserved. Incidentally, most of the earliest surviving Buddhist, Jain and Hindu shrines are rock-cut caves.

Rows and aisles
Everything about Elephanta suggests an abandoning of the everyday world. The interior of the cave is decorated with a dozen large relief sculptures of Shiva in both his fierce as well as gentler avatars: dancing, practising yoga and doing the tandav.

The cave is divided by columns that create an equal matrix of rows and aisles.

Toward the west is a square sanctuary that is detached from the walls. Inside this sanctuary is a monolithic lingam.

This cave is not only of spiritual importance, it is also a masterpiece of art.

The Elephanta caves are now one of the 21 World Heritage monuments in India.

Three journeys
According to legend, three journeys must be undertaken in order to approach the temple - a passage across water, a trek over a mountain and entry through a cave.

The spectacular view of the harbour in the warm light of the sinking evening sun makes the experience unforgettable.