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Elephanta Caves, India

  • (worth a detour)
  • 3-5 km
  • Easy
  • Average
  • half day
  • 2 2

Believed to have formed naturally, Elephanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987

Gharapuri, Maharashtra 400094, India.
Though the name may indicate the presence of its namesake animals, but just so you - there are NO elephants in Elephanta Caves!
Cave Entry - INR10 for Indians, INR250 for foreigners.

Ferry from Gateway Jetty to Elephanta - INR120 for return, extra INR10 if you want to sit on the upper deck of the boat (totally worth the extra money)

Elephanta Caves are located in Elephanta Island, also known as Gharapuri meaning “the city of caves”, approximately 10 km to the east of Mumbai. The islands are located on one stretch of the Arabian Sea and comprise two sets of caves – one which holds 5 Hindu caves (the larger part) and another which holds 2 Buddhist caves. The caves are formed out of solid basalt formations. There is no recorded time period of when the caves were formed but it is belied to be in between the 5th and the 8th century. Elephanta caves can be reached via an hour long ferry ride from Gateway of Mumbai, the most famous landmark of Mumbai.

 

It is said that the name “Elephanta” was coined by the Portuguese who started ruling the area in 1534. They named the caves because of a huge elephant sculpture which is assumed to have existed during their reign. Elephanta Caves suffered several damages after the Portuguese rule which eventually led for the restoration work on the caves in 1970s, many years after its damage, and was ultimately coined a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

 

One of the major attractions in the Elephanta Caves is the caves of Shiva which are believed to be formed around the 6th century. However, much before the Hindu Caves were excavated out of the western part of the island, the Buddhist caves were in existence. Some of the remains of the stupa in the Buddhist caves date back to the 2nd century.

 

The Hindu Caves at Elephanta  has distinctive carvings which are further categorized into different mythical themes. Some of the most popular and attractive ones include:

    • Nataraja Panel which is dedicated to the dancing form of Lord Shiva. This panel can be found at the entrance of the main cave also known as the Shiva Cave. Even though it’s partially ruined, the image of dancing Shiva still manages to capture attention of the visitors highlighting some of its unique characteristics. This eight headed carving of Shiva is accompanied by the carvings of other Hindu mythological deities.

 

    • Anhdakasura Vadha – This is one of the most animated panels inside the Elephanta Caves where Lord Shiva is shown slaying a demon named Andhaka who tried to slay Lord Shiva’s betrothed Goddess Parvati.

 

    • Kalyana Sundara – This panel depicts Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi stepping into the life of holy matrimony, arguable one of the most human themes of all.  Apparently, it is perceived that in the painting Goddess Parvati has been shown superior to Lord Shiva.
    • Gangadhara – This panel shows the story of how Lord Shiva brought River Ganges to earth but not before passing it through his dreadlocks so as to reduce the force of the river.

 

  • Ardhanarishvara – Last but not the least in any sense, this panel is a very intriguing one as it shows Shiva and Parvati as one. It depicts the age-long questionable philosophy of combined energy of men and women.

 

There are plenty of other caves, panels, and painting worth visiting. Don’t forget to bring your camera as you certainly do not want to miss this one-off chance of historical photography within a cave whose origins are so old that they are unknown!



Opening hours

The first ferry to Elephanta leaves the Gateway at 09:00 A.M and the first return boat to Gateway from Elephanta leaves at 12:00 noon. The last boat to leave Elephanta Island for Gateway is at 05:00 P.M. The caves are closed on Mondays.

How to get there

The main entrance point to reach Elephanta Caves is Mumbai as the caves are approx. 10 km from the city of Mumbai. There are regular ferries multiple times a day that leave from the jetties right next to Gateway of India. It takes approximately an hour to Elephanta. After you disembark the boat, you can take the mini toy train (INR5 one ay) to the base of the hill and then climb a fleet of 120 stairs to reach the plateau where the main caves are located.

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