Monday, January 9, 2017

This Sunday , I and my friends decided to go to ELEPHANTA caves ...a kind of a trip... very much needed one after the MAINS exam ...So I would like to share with u'll what all we saw there and try my best to provide a glimpse of our marvellous architecture and sculpture techniques which dates right back to 6th century A.D. So, here it goes !!



  • 10 kilometres  to the east of the city of Mumbai
  • 45 min jetty-ferry ride from Gateway of India.
  • taluka Uran, district Raigad

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Firstly, the name !

  • Elephanta gets its name from the huge elephant statue that stood here once. 
  • But now its disintegrated into pieces. 
  • However, those pieces have been taken to the Botanical Garden in Central Mumbai and re-assembled, where it stands till date.
  • How would an Indian place derive its name from English word.? No. Never. Its original name is Gharapuri.

 The History !
  • In ancient period, the place is variously identified as Puri which is mentioned in the Aihole inscription of Pulakesin II. 
  • It seems, different dynasties held their sway over this island, namely, the Konkan-Mauryas, Trikutakas, Chalukyas of Badami, Silaharas, Rashtrakutas, Kalyani Chalukyas, Yadavas of Deogiri, Muslim rulers of Ahmedabad and then by the Portuguese. 
  • The Marathas also had this island under their control and from them it passed into the control of the British.

The caves !

  • There are seven cave excavations in the Elephanta group and these are datable from circa 6th – 7th centuries A.D. 
  • Among the cave excavations, the Cave 1 is the most impressive which represents the evolved Brahmanical rock-cut architecture. 
  • The cave is also famous for the exquisite and vibrant sculptures. 
  • On plan it almost resembles the Dumar Lena (Cave 29) of Ellora. 
  • The cave has a main entrance on the north with two other openings on the east and west respectively and a central hall with six rows of pillared columns, six in each row except on the western corner, where a shrine of lingam is provided.

The description !!

On plan, there are three large square recesses divided off by pilasters each of them bearing a gigantic image of a dvarapala. 

  • The panel on the east has a figure of ardhanarisvara, a form of Siva with the combined energies of male and female; a
  • on the west figures of Siva and Parvati playing chausar is carved. 
  • The central recess holds the most famous and remarkable sculpture of this period known as the Mahesa-murti. It is a colossal bust of the three forms of Siva, the aghora, turbulent and fearsome; tatpurusha, benign and meditative and vamadeva, mild pleasing and lovable. 

  • The other notable panels in the main cave are Andhakasuravada murti; cosmic dance of Nataraja; Kalyanasundara murti; Gangadhara murti; Ravana shaking Kailasa and Siva as Lakulisa. A panel depicting Saptamatrikas near the eastern opening is also remarkable.

The STORY !!

The main cave (Cave 1, or the Great Cave) was a Hindu place of worship until Portuguese rule began in 1534, after which the caves suffered severe damage. This cave was renovated in the 1970s after years of neglect, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork. It is currently maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Going deep !!

Shiva-Parvati on Kailash 

  • The carving on the south wall to the east of the portico depicts Shiva and Parvati seated on their abode Mount Kailash.  
    • The four-armed Shiva is seen with a crown and a disc behind it (all damaged), the sacred thread across his chest, and a dressing gown covering up to the knee. 
      • Parvati, dressed in her finery with her hair falling to the front, looks away. 
Behind her at the right is a woman attendant holding the child, identified with her son Kartikeya, the war-god. 
Many male and female attendants are seen behind the main figures. Shiva's attendant, the skeleton-like Bhringi, is seated at his feet. 
Other figures, not distinct, depict, among others, a royal-looking tall person, ascetics, a fat figure, a dwarf, a bull (the mount of Shiva), features of a Garuda, and two monkeys. 
The scenic beauty of the mountain is sculpted with the sky background amidst heavenly beings showering flowers on Shiva-Parvati. This scene is interpreted as a gambling scene, where Parvati is angry as Shiva cheats in a game of dice.

Ravana lifting Kailash

Image result for Shiva-Parvati on Kailash  elephanta
  • The carved panel facing this one is a two-level depiction of Ravana lifting Kailash
  • The upper scene is Mount Kailash, where Shiva and Parvati are seated. 
  • The eight-armed, three-eyed Shiva wears headgear with a crescent and disc behind it. 
  • Most of his arms are broken, two of them resting on attendants' heads. 
  • The Parvati figure, seated facing Shiva, remains only as a trunk. 
  • The panel is flanked by door keepers. Attendants of Shiva are also seen in the relief but mostly in a damaged state. 
  • Bhringi is seated near Shiva's feet and to his left is the elephant-headed son of Shiva, Ganesha
  • In this ensemble, the ten-headed demon-king Ravana is seen, with only one head left unscathed, and out of his twenty arms, only a few are discernible. 
  • Around Ravana are several demons. Numerous figures are seen above Shiva: the god Vishnu, riding his mount Garuda, to his left; a skeleton-figure; and in a recess, Parvati's mount, a tiger is depicted.[3]
A legend relates to both these panels. Once, Parvati was annoyed with Shiva. At this moment, Ravana, who was passing by Mount Kailash, found it as an obstruction to his movement. Upset, Ravana shook it vigorously and as a result, Parvati got scared and hugged Shiva. Enraged by Ravana's arrogance, Shiva stamped down on Ravana, who sang praises of Shiva to free him of his misery and turned into an ardent devotee of Shiva. Another version states that Shiva was pleased with Ravana for restoring Parvati's composure and blessed him.


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  • Described as a "masterpiece of Gupta-Chalukyan art", the most important sculpture in the caves is the Trimurti, carved in relief at the back of the cave facing the entrance, on the north-south axis. It is also known as Trimurti Sadashiva and Maheshmurti

  • The image, 6 m (20 ft) in height, depicts a three-headed Shiva, representing Panchamukha Shiva. 
  • The three heads are said to represent three essential aspects of Shiva: creation, protection, and destruction. 
  • The right half-face (west face) shows him as a young person with sensuous lips, embodying life and its vitality. In his hand he holds an object resembling a rosebud, depicting the promise of life and creativity. This face is closest to that of Brahma, the creator or Uma or Vamadeva, the feminine side of Shiva and creator of joy and beauty. 
  • The left half-face (east face) is that of a moustached young man, displaying anger. This is Shiva as the terrifying Aghora or Bhairava, the one whose anger can engulf the entire world in flames, leaving only ashes behind. This is also known as Rudra-Shiva, the Destroyer.

  • The central face, benign and meditative, resembles the preserver Vishnu. This is Tatpurusha, "master of positive and negative principles of existence and preserver of their harmony" or Shiva as the yogi Yogeshwar in deep meditation praying for the preservation of humanity. 
  • The aspects Sadyojata and Ishana (not carved) faces are considered to be at the back and top of the sculpture.

The Trimurti sculpture, with the Gateway of India in the background, has been adopted as the logo of the Maharashtra Tourism Department (MTDC).



  • The Gangadhara image to the right of the Trimurti is an ensemble of divinities assembled around the central figures of Shiva and Parvati, the former bearing the River Ganges as she descends from heaven. 
Image result for elephanta caves Wedding of Shiva

  • The carving is 4 m (13 ft) wide and 5.207 m (17.08 ft) high. The image is highly damaged, particularly the lower half of Shiva seen seated with Parvati, who is shown with four arms, two of which are broken. 
  • From the crown, a cup with a triple-headed female figure (with broken arms), representing the three sacred rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati, is depicted. Shiva is sculpted and bedecked with ornaments. 
  • The arms hold a coiling serpent whose hood is seen above his left shoulder. 
  • Another hand (partly broken) gives the semblance of Shiva hugging Parvati, with a head of matted hair. 
  • There is a small snake on the right hand and a tortoise close to the neck, with a bundle tied to the back. An ornamented drapery covers his lower torso, below the waist. Parvati is carved to the left of Shiva with a coiffured hair dress, fully bedecked with ornaments and jewellery, also fully draped, with her right hand touching the head of a female attendant who carries Parvati's dress case. 
  • The gods Brahma and Indra, with their mystic regalia and mounts, are shown to the right of Shiva; Vishnu, riding his mount Garuda, is shown to the left of Parvati. Many other details are defaced but a kneeling figure in the front is inferred to be the king who ordered the image to be carved. There are many divinities and attendant females at the back. The whole setting is under the sky and cloud scenes, with men and women, all dressed, shown showering flowers on the deities



    Image result for elephanta caves Ardhanarishvara

  • In the chamber to the east of the Trimurti is the four-armed Ardhanarishvara carving.  

  • This image, which is 5.11 m (16.8 ft) in height, has a headdress (double-folded) with two pleats draped towards the female head (Parvati) and the right side (Shiva) depicting curled hair and a crescent. 
  • The female figure has all the ornamentation (broad armlets and long bracelets, a large ring in the ear, jewelled rings on the fingers) but the right male figure has drooping hair, armlets and wristlets. 
  • One of his hands rests on Nandi’s left horn, Shiva's mount, which is fairly well preserved. The pair of hands at the back is also bejewelled; the right hand of the male holds a serpent, while the left hand of the female holds a mirror. 
  • The front left hand is broken but conjectured as holding the robe of the goddess. The central figure is surrounded by divinities

Shiva slaying Andhaka
    Image result for elephanta caves andhaka

  • The engraved panel in the north end of the aisle is considered to be a unique sculpture, and shows Bhairava, or Virabhadra, a frightful form of Shiva. 

  • In the carved panel Shiva's consort is seen sitting next to him, looking terrified. A female attendant is next to her. 
  • The central figure, which is much ruined below the waist, is 3.5 m (11 ft) high and posed as if running. 
  • His headgear has a ruff on the back, a skull and cobra over the forehead, and the crescent high on the right. 
  • His facial expression is of intense anger discerned from his furrowed brow, swollen eyes, and tusks. 
  • The legs and five of the eight arms are broken, attributed to Portuguese vandalism. 
  • The smaller broken image Andhaka is seen below Bhairava's image. 
  • It is interpreted that Shiva is spearing him with the front right hand, as conjectured by the spear seen hanging without any hold. 
  • Also seen is the back hand lifted up and holding an elephant's skin as a cover; the elephant's head, carved tusk, and trunk are seen hanging from the left hand. 
  • The second left hand depicts a snake coiled round it. The hand holds a bowl to collect the blood dripping from the slain Andhaka. 
  • Furthermore, pieces of a male and two female forms, figures of two ascetics, a small figure in front, a female figure, and two dwarfs are also seen in the carved panel. 
  • An unusual sculpture seen above the head of the main figure of Shiva is of a "very wide bottle with a curved groove in the middle of it", which can interpreted variously as: the aum or the linga or a Shiva shrine

Wedding of Shiva 

Image result for elephanta caves shiva parvati wedding

  • The niche image carved on the south wall is an ensemble of divinities assembled around the central figures of Shiva and Parvati shown getting married (Kalyanasundara icon). 

  • Parvati is seen standing to Shiva's right, the ordained place for a Hindu bride at the wedding. The carvings are substantially damaged; only one of Shiva's four hands is fully seen and the right leg is missing. 
  • Shiva has a headdress with a shining disc attached to it. His garments are well-draped, and well-tied at the waist. The sacred thread is seen across his chest. 

  • Parvati is carved as a perfect figure with coiffured hair dress, well adorned with jewellery and is draped tightly to display depressions below the waist only. She is seen with a coy expression and is led by her father who has his right hand on her shoulder. Even though both her hands are damaged, it is inferred that her left hand clasped Shiva's right hand as a mark of holy alliance. 

  • Brahma is sitting as the officiating priest for the marriage. 
  • Vishnu is witness to the marriage. 
  • Mena, the mother of Parvati, is seen standing next to Vishnu.

  • The moon-god Chandra, seen with a wig and a crescent, is standing behind Parvati holding a circular pot with nectar for the marriage ceremony. 

  • Just above the main images, a galaxy of divinities, bearded sages, apsaras (nymphs), Vidyadharas, Yakshis, Gandharvas, Bhringi, and other male and female attendants are seen as witness to the marriage ceremony showering flowers on the divine couple.

  • The panel to the east of the north portico is Shiva in a Yogic position called Yogisvara, Mahayogi, Dharmaraja and Lakulish.
  • Resembling a Buddha, Shiva is in a dilapidated condition with only two broken arms. 
  • Shiva is seated in padmasana yogic posture (cross legged) on a lotus carried by two Nāgas
  • His crown is carved with details adorned by a crescent, a round frill at the back, and hair curls dropping on either side of the shoulders.
  • His face is calm in mediation, his eyes half-closed. This represents Shiva in penance sitting amidst the Himalayan mountains after the death of his first wife Sati, who was later reborn as Parvati. He is surrounded by divinities in the sky and attendants below. Also seen is a plantain with three leaves already open and one opening, as well as a sunflower blossom.
  • These are flanked by two attendants. Other figures discerned from a study of the broken images are: Vishnu riding Garuda on a plantain leaf; the Sun-god Surya riding a fully saddled horse (head missing); a saint with a rosary; two female figures in the sky draped up to their thighs; a faceless figure of the moon with a water container; three identical figures of a male flanked by two females; the skeleton of a sage; Brahma (without one arm) riding a swan; and Indra without his mount (elephant missing)


  • The panel carving in the west niche opposite Yogishvara depicts Shiva as Nataraja performing the Tandava (cosmic dance). 
  • The niche is 4 m (13 ft) wide and 3.4 m (11 ft) high and set low on the wall.
  • He wears well-decorated headgear. The Shiva image displays a dance pose and had ten arms, but the first right and third left hands are missing. 
  • The remaining first right arm is held across the breast and touches the left side, the second right hand that is seen damaged with an out-flaying pose is broken at the elbow. 
  • The third arm is damaged at the elbow, and the fourth is also broken but inferred to have held a Khatvanga (skull-club). 
  • The left arms, seen hanging, are damaged near the wrists. 
  • The third hand is bent (but broken) towards Parvati standing on the side and the fourth hand is raised up. 
  • The right thigh (broken) is lifted up, and the left leg is not seen at all, the elaborate armlets are well-preserved and a skirt round the waist is tied by a ribbon. 
  • A tall figurine of Parvati stands to the left of Shiva, which is also seen partly broken but well bejewelled. An airborne female figure is seen behind Parvati. Other figures seen in the relief are: Vishnu riding a Garuda; Indra riding his elephant; the elephant-headed Ganesha; Kartikeya; Bhrngi; sages and attendants.

Main cave shrine

  • The central shrine is a free-standing square cell, with entrances on each of its sides. 
  • Each door is flanked by two dvarapalas (gate keepers).
  • The Linga, the symbol of Shiva in union with the Yoni, and the symbol of Parvati together symbolise the supreme unity that is deified by the shrine. 

  • The Linga is set on a raised platform above the floor of the shrine by 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in). Six steps lead to this level from the floor level. 
  • The height of the eight dvarapalas varies from 4.521–4.623 m (14.83–15.17 ft). 
  • All are in a damaged condition except those at the southern door to the shrine. 
  • The southern gate statue has many unusual features – unusual headgear; a large skull above the forehead; lips parted with protruding teeth; statues adorned with a single bead necklace, earrings, plain twisted armlets and thick wristlets; a stooped right shoulder; a globe held at navel level; the robe is held at the right thigh by the left hand, and the legs are shapeless.


There are caves too ...but the work has been left unfinished ..due to unknown reasons ...But Cave no.1 is the main attraction. So I wont elaborate the rest of the other details !

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