Elephanta Island was known
in ancient times as "Gharapuri" or The Place of Caves. The Portuguese
took possession of the island and named it Elephanta after the great
statue which they found on the seashore.
There are seven caves of which the most important is the Mahesha-Murti
Cave. The main body of the cave, excluding the porticoes on the three
open sides and the back aisle, is 27 m square and is supported by rows
of six columns. The gigantic figures of Dvarapalas, or doorkeepers are
The cave temple, which is the pride of Elephanta, sprawled over an
area of approximately 5000 square metres, is reached by climbing a
flight of more than 100 steps, to the top of a hill. Inside the
temple, is a large pillared hall with rows of columns, that appear to
hold up the roof of the cave.
Cross beams complete the illusion of a ceiling. One's attention is
immediately drawn to the series of marvellous sculptured panels, nine
in all, which are set like tableaux on the walls. Little is known
about the architects and sculptors, who worked on this gem of ancient
architecture. What is almost tangible is their intense faith, which
seems to create an energy field in the cave premises. Each of the
panel captures the volatility of Shiva's essentially paradoxic nature,
and the magical interplay of light and shade, only intensifies the
The northern coastline of Bombay. reminds you of the changing
industrial and technological
scene. Attendant gulls hover motionless overhead, an occasional fish
leaps out of the wake furrowing behind it is a pleasant hour and 15
minutes to Elephanta.
Once known as Puri - later Gharapuri - this island was the proud
capital of a powerful coastal kingdom and the great cave shrine in
praise of Shiva, excavated in the sixth century, added to the ruling
dynasty. Several centuries later the Portugese took possession of the
island. They found monolithic stone elephant at the place where they
landed and also named this a ilha do elephanta, island of the
elephant. There was a stone horse too, a little further, which has a
vanished without a trace.
The Portugese built a fort here with a watchtower, hoisting up to flag
to ward off Aattacks by pirates boats. Did they use the caves for
target practice? Or did they deliberately desecrate the sculptures?
Antonio Bocarro, Portugese chronicler of the 17th century described
Elephanta vividity and made special mention of the cistern of water in
the western cave: "There is also a large and deep tank of water
without which the heathens of the East never build their pagodas;
because among their other abominations they believe that water
purifies and cleanses them".