The Elephanta Caves – I
Once you step onto the island, the mini train welcomes you. Again, as I always prefer to do; we kept the mini train ride for coming back when we would be tired. So fresh and raring to go, we chose to walk while going, clicking some pictures on the way.
The island is full of tourists and small-shop owners and the fifteen minute trek to the first cave is the noisiest part of the whole trip. Shops on both sides of the steps tempt you to stop and the foreigners are lured to hire the wooden chairs to be carried up. However noisy it maybe, I am sure that centuries ago, the Shiva cult that inspired this temple complex demanded silence and solemnity – a place of worship in the middle of the vast ocean.
The name – The island of Elephanta, originally known as Gharapuri, derives its name from a massive stone elephant which now being displayed in the Victoria Gardens in Mumbai.
The island rises in two conical hillocks. Today the caves can be easily approached, but think of the time when the artisans used only the contours of the hill to reach the top and then chiseled out the basalt rocks to give it the shape of heavenly abode of Shiva.
There are three caves out of which, one is dedicated to Shiva made out of solid basalt rock. The main cave comprises of a pillared hall in which a small shrine with four entrance doors flanked by Dwaarapals (Watchmen) is situated. Legends and history suggest that the great warrior prince of Chalukya dynasty Pulkesin II raised the shrine to celebrate his victory.
Slowly, once the eyes become accustomed to the dim light within the cave; one can make out marvelous representations from Indian mythology carved on the walls. Here Lord Shiva can be seen in different moods. The nine sculptured panels depict Shiva as Samharamurti (destroyer of evil and ignorance). The figure of Mahesamurti (as Shiva is called when all the three aspects of creation, protection, and destruction are combined), in the central panel of the back wall is a masterpiece of Chalukya-Gupta art.
His calm face in the centre represents the protector, while his left ferocious face depicts Bhairava (responsible for destruction), and the one on the right having a gentle feminine look depicts Vamadeva (responsible for creation).
The Monasteries of Ajanta lead us directly to Elephanta. I tried to find out and it appears that the same families of craftsmen and sculptors who were working on the Kailasa temple of Ellora and adjoining Buddhist caves at Ellora were employed at Elephanta.
One of the other two caves.