The Elephant Cave Goa Gajah lies approximately 4 kilometres east of Ubud, which is Bali’s adorable centre of culture. The large parking lot and the inevitable souvenir shops spell out its popularity amongst tourists.
The cave is located in the valley of the Petanu river, reachable by steep stairs. The outside of the cave is ornately decorated with rock carvings. The centre of attention is a witch with large ears. You enter the cave through her mouth.
When Goa Gajah was discovered in 1923, the monstrous head turned out to be damaged, which made the explorers assume it was an elephant’s head. The name Goa Gajah supposedly finds its origins in this theory. Yet it is also possible that the cave thanks its name to Ganesha, son of Shiva. A statue of this Hindu god with the elephant’s head rests inside the dark cave.
The cave is T-shaped. At the end of the left arm you can find Ganesha with his four arms. The other arm leads to twelve lingga’s, which are phallus symbols – the oldest form of honouring Shiva.
Opposite the cave lies a bathing pool with two deep basins, probably one for each sex. The baths were excavated in 1953 by the Dutch archaeologist J.C. Krijgsman. In 1923 the discoverers had already stumbled upon torsos and heads of female sculptures. Behind the stone figures’ mouths they noticed fountain holes, so the notion of water reservoirs nearby was already evident at the time. Only thirty years later the pools were actually found.
Left of the cave’s entrance is a space with the statue of the Buddhist goddess Hariti. Once a child eater, she reverted to Buddhism and became a children’s patroness. Hariti is not the only Buddhist figurine in the neighbourhood of Goa Gajah. Close to the river explorers found the remains of stupa’s, bell shaped Buddhist monuments, the ones with which one is spilled over at the Borobudur.
Based on the inscriptions, and the combination of Hindu and Buddhist elements, experts claim Goa Gajah was built in the 11th century. Goa stands for Cave in Indonesian; Gajah means Elephant. Kuping Gajah or Elephant’s Ears, actually is an Indonesian pastry. Don’t worry, they’re just shaped like that.