Elephanta caves

About Elephanta Caves

Located 11km away from the bustling city of Mumba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elephanta Caves is a fine specimen of rock-cut art and architecture from the medieval India. These stunning caves are located on the Elephanta or GharapuriIsland in Maharashtra at 11km of distance from Mumbai and are one of the most visited tourist places in the state. Locally known as Gharapurichi Leni, the Elephanta Caves that we see today are the ruins of what were once a collection of intricately carved artworks chiseled on a single basaltic rock formation. The caves offer a stunning view of the Mumbai skyline and can be reached via a ferry ride from the Gateway of India.

The Elephanta Caves temples date back to 5th to 7th centuries and most of them are devoted to Lord Shiva. There are two groups of alcoves here, the first is a large group of five Hindu caves and the second one is a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves comprises stone sculptures depicting the Shiva Hindu sect with several imageries sculpted as an expression of art. The sculptures and drawings include ‘Trimurti’ or three-headed Shiva, ‘Gangadhar’ (a manifestation of the river Ganga as she come down to the earth from heaven), ‘Ardhnareshwar’ (a depictionof Shiva and Parvati in the same body). Apart from being a significant heritage and spiritual site, Elephanta Caves also attract tourists as an unlikely trekking destination.

History of Elephanta Caves

Elephanta Caves doesn’t have a solid history bound by facts and figures but is based on several inferences drawn from speculations. It is believed that the Elephanta caves were built by Pandavas while some also believe that they were constructed by Banasura, the demon devotee of Shiva. According to local legends, these caves were not built by the hands of common men at all.

While the historians and archaeologists date the caves back to 5the century AD, the Kshatrapa coins dated to 4th century AD also have been excavated from here. Some records from the defeat of the Mauryan rulers of Konkan by the Badami Chalukya emperor Pulakeshi II also state Elephanta as Puri or Purika and was the capital of Konkan Mauryas. Because of this, it is also believed that Elephanta caves were built during the Konkan Mauryan reign only. As the caves are dedicated to Pashupata Shaivism, a sect to which Kalachuris and Konkan Mauryas belong, the construction of these caves is also attributed to Kalachuris as well. Furthermore, the creation of the Elephanta caves is also believed to be done by the Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas as well.

After the reign of the Chalukyas, Elephanta Caves came under the Gujarat Sultanate who abandoned it to the Portuguese in 1534. The Portuguese renamed the caves as ‘Elephanta Caves’ because of the huge elephant stone statue located near the island. During the era of the Portuguese, the caves got deteriorated even more until the 1661, when took over them and the territory. The main cave was then repaired in 1970s after Independence, but the other caves are still in a very deteriorating condition. In 1987 the Elephanta caves were designated as UNESCO heritage site and since then have been a major part of tourist attraction in the state of Maharashtra.

Architecture of Elephanta Caves

The entire complex of Elephanta Caves comprises of seven caves and is constructed in 60,000 square feet of area. During the Portuguese rule, the main big cave was the Hindu place of worship which has a pillared mandapa, open entryway, and an aisle. The walls are carved from the single stone and contains several deities intricately designed on them.

The main cave here showcases a statue of Ravana lifting the Kailasha mountain (abode of Shiva), Shiva Parvati on Kailash, Ardhanarishwar (a manifestation of shiva and Parvati in the same body), Trimurti (three-headed shiva), Gangadhar (when river Ganga was descending down from heaven to earth), a narration of Shiva-Parvati wedding, Shiva killing Andhaka, Nataraj (which is a depiction of Shiva performing taandav or the universal dance), Yogishvara, and the Shiva Linga. Towards the east wing of the caves, there are figurines of Kartikeya, Matrikas, Ganesha, and Dvarapala that can be seen, while the west wing has Yogishvara and Nataraja embellishing the caves.

Timings and Entry Fees

Timings - 9am to 5:30pm

Entry Fee - Indians and SAARC citizens INR10, Foreigners INR250

Children under 15 - Free

Village entry fee - INR10

Videography charges - INR25

Photography charges - free

How to Reach

The nearest train station is Churchgate from Gateway of India for which you can get trains from anywhere in Mumbai. From there you can either hire a taxi or walk to the Gateway of India to get a ferry ride.

There are BEST buses in Mumbai which will get you to Gateway of India directly from where you will have to get a ferry ride to Elephanta Caves.

Elephanta Caves Ferry

Since the caves are located on an island, taking vehicles is not possible. You will have to take a ferry to the islands which is an exciting ride on its own. The first ferry can be taken from the Gateway of India which leaves at 9am while the last one leaves at 2pm sharp. The cost of the ferry can range from INR130 to INR150 depending on the ride and operator you chose. The ride to the Elephanta caves via the shimmering waters of Arabian Sea is an absolute delight, especially for children. You can also get a glimpse of the beautiful Alibaug village and grab some snacks on the go.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Elephanta caves is from November to March when the weather is pleasant, and rainfall won’t interrupt your tour. Avoid monsoon season as the sea can be unpredictable and you won’t be able to enjoy.

The Ajanta Caves

Witness the grandeur and magnificence of the rock-cut Ajanta Caves located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, and enveloped by a panoramic view of lush green mountains. The Ajanta Caves are dedicated to Lord Buddha and comprise 29 caves with several paintings, sculptures, and other structures depicting the past lives and rebirth of Gautam Buddha.

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Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What are Elephanta Caves famous for?

Elephanta cave are UNESCO heritage site and are rock-cut cave temples dotted with numerous archaeological ruins depicting our cultural past with Hindu and Buddhist caves.

Where are Elephanta caves located?

Elephanta caves are located inElephanta Island or Gharapuri, 11km away from Mumbai, Maharashtra.

What is Elephanta Caves Trimurti?

The main cave of Elephanta has a Trimurti sculpture which is a depiction of the three-headed Shiva. The Elephanta cave Trimurti has a great significance for devotees of Shiva and Shiva sect.

Who built/made Elephanta caves?

There is no single historical fact stating who built Elephanta caves. Locals believe that they were built by Pandavas or demon lord Banasura. Historians also suggest that the Chalukyas, Konkan Mauryans or Rashtrakutas have their hands n the construction of the caves but there are no facts to prove this.

What is Gharapuri?

Gharapuri or Island of Gharapuri is also known as Elephanta Island which houses the famous and stunning Elephanta Caves, which features two hillocks separated by narrow alley and has several figurines of spiritual deities cut out from stone.

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