My Christmas vacation in 2019 was a combination of historical and cultural significance. I had embarked on a trip to Elephanta Caves, Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, India. Elephanta Caves is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is essentially a collection of caves comprising of images of Lord Shiva carved out of stone.
The different incarnations of Lord Shiva are depicted in the rock sculpture carvings inside the caves. Historians believe that the caves date back between the 5th and 7th centuries. You can find the figures of Nataraja, Sadashiva and Yogishvara portraying the various Hindu mythological characters.
Basalt rock had been used for creating artistic sculptures. Some of them have been worn away but the majority of the carvings are still intact. Elephanta caves are currently maintained and preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a wonderful experience to watch the excellent artistic skills of the sculptors of ancient India.
The Journey towards Elephanta Caves
The caves are situated in Elephanta Island also known as Gharapuri. In order to reach the Elephanta Island, you need to avail the ferry services from the Gateway of India in Mumbai. It is advisable to opt for the ferries operated by the Mumbai Corporation officials and staff. Tickets are available at the Gateway of India. You need to stand in a queue and wait for your chance into the ferry. The ferry services are operational from 9 AM till 2 PM every day except on Mondays when Elephanta caves are closed
A sufficient number of ferries operate towards Elephanta Island and hence the wait at the queue won’t be very long. The staff operating the ferries are organized and extremely helpful towards the tourists. The ferries have adequate capacities to accommodate passengers at the top as well as the bottom. You can seat yourself comfortably at the chairs placed inside the ferry and prepare yourself to enjoy the journey towards Elephanta Caves.
The ferries cover a distance of about 10 km across the Arabian Sea. The crystal clear waters welcome the tourists along with the golden rays of the sun glittering on the sea. You will be accompanied throughout the journey by the magnificent seagulls. You can offer them some food sold by the staff inside the ferries. The moment you offer food, the seagulls would be flocking in large quantities around the ferry squawking, chirping and wailing in glory.
The other attraction of the journey is the fleet of ships moving across the sea. You can witness the Indian Naval coastal guard ships stationed on the sea waters for patrolling and vigilance. Oil tankers, fishermen boats, and several steamers and ferries can be seen floating on the sea.
The Tour inside the Elephanta Caves
After travelling for about 1 and a half hours, I reached the dock of the Elephanta Islands. There is a toy train service available from the dock to the entrance of the Elephanta caves. Well, I preferred walking down the path towards the caves since I did not want to miss out on the natural beauty and the adventurous walk along 120 steep stairs. The adjacent shops sell some juicy cucumbers and papaya. You can enjoy a healthy bite of the fruits and then continue your walk towards the Elephanta Caves.
Cave 1 is the main cave of the Elephanta Island, said to have been constructed about 500 to 600 years back. It consists of many entrances with a big hall at the center of the cave. The main entrance consists of artistically carved pillars that segregate the center hall into multiple chambers. There is a Shiva Linga inside a square-shaped cell in the Grand Cave.
At the south wall of the cave, you can find the sculpture of Trimurti or Sadasiva. Trimurti is the 3-headed Shiva of about 20 feet in height. On the right-hand side of Trimurti is Gangadhara (Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati standing) and the left-hand side is Ardhanarisvara (an idol of Half-Shiva and Half-Parvati). At the north-west side of the cave, you can find the sculpture of Bhairava (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) destroying the demon Andhaka. The other important carvings are the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, Lord of Yoga – Yogishvara and Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The other caves are very small and less significant compared to Cave 1 with the sculptures inside almost damaged.
Important Tips for Travellers
- It is better to arrive at the Gateway early to avoid the crowd
- Carry light food and water bottles if you are not comfortable to eat at the street side shops
- Wear caps and sunglasses to avoid the heat
- Apply sunscreen lotions and creams as a protection against the sun rays
- Wear comfortable and light cotton clothes
- Wear comfortable shoes as you need to walk up steep steps to reach the Elephanta caves