The Elephanta Caves (Marathi: घारापुरीची लेणी, Gharapurichya Lenee) are a network of sculpted caves located on Elephanta Island
, or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") in Mumbai
Harbour, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the east of the city of Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra
. The island, located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, consists of two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god Shiva.
Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, is about 7 miles (11 km) east of the Apollo Bunder (Bunder in Marathi means a "pier for embarkation and disembarkation of passengers and goods") on the Mumbai Harbor and 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Pir Pal in Trombay. The island covers about 4 square miles (10 km Sq) at high tide and about 6 square miles (16 km Sq) at low tide. Gharapuri is small village on the south side of the island. The Elephanta Caves can be reached by a ferry from the Gateway of India
, Mumbai, which has the nearest airport and train station. The cave is closed on Monday.
Since no inscriptions on any of the island have been discovered, the ancient history of the island is conjectural, at best. Pandava, the hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and Banasura, the demon devotee of Shiva, are both credited with building temples or cut caves to live. Local tradition holds that the caves are not man-made.
The Elephanta caves are "of unknown date and attribution". Art historians have dated the caves in the range of late 5th to late 8th century AD. Archaeological excavations have unearthed a few Kshatrapa coins dated to 4th century AD. The known history is traced only to the defeat of Mauryan rulers of Konkan
by the Badami Chalukyas emperor Pulakesi II (609–642) in a naval battle, in 635 AD. Elephanta was then called Puri or Purika, and served as the capital of the Konkan Mauryas. Some historians attribute the caves to the Konkan Mauryas, dating them to the mid 6th century, though others refute this claim saying a relatively small kingdom like the Konkan Mauryas could not undertake "an almost superhuman excavation effort," which was needed to carve the rock temples from solid rock and could not have the skilled labour to produce such "high quality" sculpture.
The island has two groups of caves in the rock cut architectural style. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. All caves were painted in the past, but only traces remain. The larger group of caves, which consists of five caves on the western hill of the island, is well known for its Hindu sculptures. The primary cave numbered as Cave 1, is situated about 1 mile (1.6 km) up a hillside, facing the ocean. It is a rock cut temple complex that covers an area of 60,000 square feet (5,600 Sq mi), and consists of a main chamber, two lateral chambers, courtyards, and subsidiary shrines. It is 39 metres (128 ft) deep from the front entrance to the back. The temple complex is the abode of Shiva, depicted in widely celebrated carvings which reveal his several forms and acts.
The main cave, also called the Shiva cave, Cave 1, or the Great Cave, is 27 metres (89 ft) square in plan with a hall (mandapa). At the entrance are four doors, with three open porticoes and an aisle at the back. Pillars, six in each row, divide the hall into a series of smaller chambers. The roof of the hall has concealed beams supported by stone columns joined together by capitals. The cave entrance is aligned with the north-south axis, unusual for a Shiva shrine (normally east-west).
The northern entrance to the cave, which has 1,000 steep steps, is flanked by two panels of Shiva dated to the Gupta period. The left panel depicts Yogishvara (The Lord of Yoga) and the right shows Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance). The central Shiva shrine (see 16 in plan below) is a free-standing square cell with four entrances, located in the right section of the main hall. Smaller shrines are located at the east and west ends of the caves. The eastern sanctuary serves as a ceremonial entrance.
Shiva-Parvati on Kailash and Ravana lifting Kailash
The carving on the south wall to the east of the portico depicts Shiva and Parvati seated on their abode Mount Kailash. The four-armed Shiva is seen with a crown and a disc behind it (all damaged), the sacred thread across his chest, and a dressing gown covering up to the knee. Parvati, dressed in her finery with her hair falling to the front, looks away. Behind her at the right is a woman attendant holding the child, identified with her son Kartikeya, the war-god. Many male and female attendants are seen behind the main figures. Shiva's attendant, the skeleton-like Bhringi is seated at his feet. Other figures, not distinct, depict, among others, a royal-looking tall person, ascetics, a fat figure, a dwarf, a bull (the mount of Shiva), features of a Garuda, and two monkeys.