One of my friends Christine of the UK was planning a conference cum personal trip to Mumbai. She wanted to know of some tourist spots she could visit with her family during the week-long trip.
When I listed out a few spots to her, she of apprehensive about visiting some places like Elephanta caves.
I allayed her concerns and fears with facts. I also listed out reasons why she should not miss seeing this wonderful place.
Elephanta caves are not new to me. I have visited these caves many times even taking with me my foreign clients on such occasions. Therefore, I thought it wise to write this blog to provide necessary clarifications to many who would want this place but have concerns.
Elephanta Caves – What to Know Before You Go – Things to See & Do
Elephanta Caves are on the Elephanta Islands, also called Gharapuri islands are located some 10 km from Mumbai city.
These caves exhibit rocks out sculptures dedicated to Lord Shiva of the Hindu pantheon and few Buddhist sculptures. Five Hindu caves and two Buddhist caves and stupas are located in the 2kms long island.
A six meters (20ft) tall Trimurti sculpture is a world-famous image of these ancient caves built between the 5th and 7th centuries. Discovered by the Portuguese, they were named Elefante as they first found some elephant statues there.
These caves were a place of worship at one point in history. However, after the advent of the Portuguese, it ceased to be so. There was heavy damage to the rock-cut sculptures in the ensuing years. Not until it was made a UNESCO heritage site in 1987 that the maintenance process began.
Various theories abound as to who built it.
Some historians say it was built during the Gupta Empire. Others debate that the Kalchuri dynasty was behind the inception of these rock-cut caves. Few others feel Rashtrakutas had set their artisans to the task.
It is also said that Buddhist stupas were sculpted by Hinayana Buddhists around 2nd century who settled around that time.
So, what are inside these famous Rockcut caves?
The caves are one km away from the spot the boat docks. From here you can either walk or take a toy train to the site. Again you have to climb roughly 120 steps to reach the first cave called Great Cave. Chairs are available to carry you up to the top if you need them.
The Sculptures in the caves are carved out of Basalt rock. They retell stories from Hindu mythology. The first cave has the most number of partially damaged sculptures and hence is the main cave. The sculptures in other caves have been severely defaced and damaged.
It is a Buddhist Vihara style architecture with manifestations of Lord Shiva in form of huge sculptures inside. There are many entrances to this cave. The small deceptive main entrance does little to reveal the grandeur inside.
Ornate bas work, massive panels and big pillars make this cave the most prominent of all caves. Some of the famous sculptures inside this cave are
- Trimurti or Mahesh Murthy – Shiva with exquisitely sculptured three faces
- Gangagadhara depicts Shiva bringing the Ganges from heaven to earth
- Ardhanarishvara – a unified sculpture of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi
- Andhakavadha – a form of eight-armed Shiva Slaying of Andhaka demon
- Kalyana Sundara – displaying Shiva-Parvathi’s marriage with all the Gods of Hindu Pantheon in attendance
- Nataraja – the dancing Shiva
- Shiva Parvathi engaged in a game of dice
- Shiva on a Lotus meditating Mahayogi Shiva
Caves 2 to 5 have some Shiva statues but most of them are in dilapidated condition. There are some pillars still intact in these caves.
Stupas Hill Cave 6 and 7
These caves are also in a bad condition. One can notice some friezes, lion sculptures, water tanks, and Buddhist stupas here.
Sadly, some of the sculptures of the Elephant caves such as Mahishasuramardini and some Vishnu figurines are not at the place of origin but Museums and private collection across the world.
Is Elephanta Caves Worth Visiting?
Some foreign friends have wondered aloud if it is worth visiting Elephant caves. The biggest complaints they have are of mischievous monkeys and beggars.
However, hardly surprising is the fact that the tourist numbers to this spot hit 1 million every year. Tourists keep coming curious or awe-stuck by the architectural excellence!
Here are some reasons why you should surely come here when visiting Mumbai or adjoining areas
- Mumbai is a metropolitan with commercial overtones all around. This place is a best bet for peace and quiet after hectic work schedules in the City.
- Lovers of Indian culture and mythology should not give this place a miss for obvious reasons.
- Students of History and Architecture have so much to learn here.
- During February and March come and be a part of the Elephanta cultural festival with classical dance, music, theatre and fishing community performances on the agenda.
- Food and eating outlets available so you need not worry about your lunch here
- A walk around and inside the caves and the serene surroundings give you a sense of calm
- Going in the morning and coming back with the setting sun is an amazing experience
True, Monkeys are in plenty. However, moving in groups will keep them away from you.
Avoid the monsoon seasons of June and August when the sea is rough for traveling. Rains are very heavy in these parts
How Do I Book Elephanta Cave Tickets?
Foreign nationals can book an online ticket on the Archeological Survey of India website for Rs.600/- to visit Elephanta caves. For Indians, SAARC and BIMSTEC country nationals it is Rs.40/-
How do I get to Elephanta Cave?
Every half an hour, a boat leaves Mumbai for Elephanta jetty. You can hop onto the two-way ferry from Gateway of India jetty. The caves are open from 9.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening. The first boat returns back to Mumbai at 12.00 pm
The nearest airport to Mumbai is Chatrapathi Shivaji terminus. If you want to travel by Rail, you should take a ticket to the Churchgate Railway station, the Gateway of India.
Is Elephanta Caves Safe for Couples?
Elephant caves are absolutely safe for couples and families. Be friendly with groups and move along with them to enjoy the fun.
On Which Day Elephanta Caves is Closed?
This tourist spot is closed on Mondays.