A chugging ferry ride from Bombay, surpassing the fishing boats, large ships, little islands, occasionally leaping fishes, reminding in its way down the ever changing face time, takes us to the Elephanta in 15 minutes. The island rises in two conical hillocks. The framed caves lie about two thirds up the higher of the two hills . The architect sculptors carved out the solid basalt rock to create a representation of the heavenly mountain residence of Lord Shiva. Opening out from three sides, the temple lets in light from many angles making the sculptures seem to move with the changing angles of light. Inside the temple is a large hall, with nine sculptured panels representing Lord Shiva in different moods. The temple plan is so symmetric with important focal points worked out in a geometric Mandala (the design that represents the energy field).
The Elephanta Temple is located 9 kms off the gateway of India. The antiquity of Elephanta caves is said to be of 3rd century. The place was the capital of powerful coastal kingdom and the excavation of the caves in the 6th century added to the glory of the kingdom. Later the Portuguese took possession of the island and as they first found a monolith elephant the island was named Elephanta. It is believed that the caves were used as target practice after they constructed a fort and put a flag to ward off pirates. What ever the cause may be many of the sculptures have been desecrated. From the Portuguese it came to British, who tried to find out who had build these caves, but failed. The monolith elephant was earmarked to be taken to England, but they could not lift it so it is now kept in a Bombay Museum. A flight of steps which can prove to be very daunting takes you to the caves. One can hire a chair to be carried up. Today caves can be easily approached but think of time when the artisan used only the contours of the hill to reach the top and then chiseled out the basalt rocks to give it the shape of heavenly abode of Shiva. He has tried to create the cave in which Shiva resides in the Himalayas.
The pillars inside the cave give an impression that the roof is supported by these. Again the cross beams on the roof makes the visitor feel there is a ceiling of the caves. The pillars have been deliberately kept simple as to attract the attention towards the exquisite carvings on the panels which are nine in number. There are three opening to the caves which allows light to enter from various angles in different seasons giving an expression that the images are moving with transition of light. Elephanta caves are temples dedicated to Shiva. In Hindu Mythology, the world is governed by three Gods: Brahma-- the creator, Vishnu-- the Preserver and Mahesh-- the Destroyer. Elephanta has a story that there was a pillar whose end could not be found. Even the Gods failed to determine the length of the pillar. Then Lingobhava, lord Shiva emerged from the temple and hence every body accepted that Lord Shiva is infinite, the Greatest of them all. Temples in the caves and the carvings on the walls show Shiva in different moods and shapes. Some where he is practicing Yoga, some where he is meditating with snakes coiled around his neck, at places he is in company of his wife-- Parvati.
Panel 6 of the caves represents the marriage of Shiva with Parvati, with the rites being performed by Brahma and scores of other Gods attending the marriage. Panel 5 of the cave describes the coming of Ganga from heaven to Earth. As the great force of Ganga might have destroyed the Earth, she lands in the hair locks of Shiva, who then gently releases her. The wise and righteous Lord before whom the forces of evil and ignorance flee and are terrified into submission is carved on the 7th panel. Similarly other wall panels narrate the story of Shiva. On the western end is the sanctuary of Linga, denoting the essence of creative power, in which lord Shiva is worshipped as the Lord of Fertility and procreation. Two smaller shrines flank the eastern and the western entrances to the main cave. The sculptures here are badly mutilated, not much is known of the artists who designed and carved these caves representing Shiva in his paradoxical nature in different forms and moods. These architects must have been genius, who dared to construct something which was totally different from what was being constructed in those days. Motor boats from the Gateway of India chug you out of the Mumbai Harbor and pass the fishing boats and occasional flip of fishes to an hour and half Journey to the Elephanta caves. The best time to visit Elephanta is between November and March. May might prove to be difficult to cross the sea.