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:
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!
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.