The Gharapuri Island, about 11 kms North East of Apollo Bunder (The Gateway of India) is popularly called Elephanta. It houses a set of Shaivist caves – i.e. dedicated to Shiva, probably carved around 7th Century AD. 

  

 

This is the Sadashiva – The Panchmukhi Shiva (Five Headed). This image is ubiquitious in most tourist brochures of India and Mumbai

See the Full Album The Art of Elephanta

The most famous image from the Caves, indeed to main image of the page is the Tri-headed Shiva, called Sadashiva. According to the legend in the guide books, this idol represents the five faces of Shiva (Panchmukha Shiva) – three of which is visible. The fourth face is implied (at the back) and the fifth is the mythical face unseen by any mortal.

Another interesting image is that of Ravana holding aloft Mount Kailasha

Ravana holding aloft Mount Kailasha, with Shiva sitting on top of the mountain

From The Art of Elephanta

For those who regularly visit historical places in India would be aware of the lousy work done by ASI to maintain these priceless examples of Indian heritage. Here in Elephanta it was sheer commerce that was keeping it thriving. Libertarians and free marketers I am sure would be very happy. The local population (who seemed to be descendents of the Siddis – taking a guess on the basis of their physical features) were doing their all – well run restaurants, shops selling all kinds of stones, palkhis, guides, cleaners, even a monkey watcher.

Cave art in India is aplenty. In Mumbai itself, besides Elephanta, we have Jogeshwari, Kanheri (inside Borivili National Park), Mahakali (Junction of SEEPZ and the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road) and Mandapeshwar. While Elephanta is a set of temples dedicated to Shiva, Kanheri and Mahakali are of Buddhist origins.

One also saw a lot of tourists especially the foreigners making their way to Elephanta. No doubt, they were refering to the Lonely Planet and following Tony Wheeler’s suggestions

The enormous central bust of Shiva, its eyes closed in eternal contemplation, may be the most serene sight you witness in India.

For more photos, visit my new Picasa public gallery (The earlier one has saturated all the available free space).

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