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Elephanta Caves

Elephanta group of Caves, located on the Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor, are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, besides being amongst the top tourist places in Mumbai. There are two groups of caves. One consists of five Hindu Caves and another has two Buddhist Caves. The Hindu ones are dedicated to Lord Shiva. These caves date back to 5th century and the commissioners of the caves are still a mystery. The caves have are composed of solid basalt rock. Archeological Survey of India takes care of these fragile ancient structures. Most important cave of all is Cave One, which is 39m long from the façade to the back. This cave resembles Dumar Lena Cave in Ellora. The entrance is adorned with a 7m high masterpiece Sadashiva, which represents three attributes of Lord Shiva, viz. creator, preserver and destroyer.


No records have yet been found on the island that states the precise history of these caves. According to local traditions, these caves are not manmade. Pandavas (heroes of Mahabharata) and Banasura (demon devotee of Lord Shiva) are given the credit for the survival of the caves. Though having no hard records, historians announced that these date back to 5th to 8th century AD. Kshatrapa coins dating to 4th century AD have been unearthed in archeological excavations. The last known history about the caves trace back to the defeat of Mauryan rulers by Badami Chalukyas in a naval battle, in 635 AD. During that era, Elephanta Caves were called Puri or Purika and served as the capital of Konkan Maurya. However, this fact has been a matter of debate for the historians. Several of them contradict this statement, stating that a small kingdom like Konkan Mauryas could not undertake the massive effort required to carve the rock temples and perhaps did not possess such skilled labor to produce such a high quality outcome.

Some historians believe that this is the construction of Kalacuris, who perhaps had feudal relationship with Konkan Mauryas. On the other hand Chalukyas (who defeated Kalacuris and Konkan Mauryan) and Rashtrakutas are also believed to be the claimants of the creation of the caves. Rashtrakutas, because the Treemurti of Elephanta exhibits three faces of Shiva and is akin to the trinity of Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh; and this was the royal insignia of Rashtrakutas.  The Elephanta Island has also been ruled by Gujarat Sultanate, who lost the rule to the Portuguese. A Portuguese named Gharapuri (another former name of the island) as Elephanta Island in honor of the huge elephant-shaped rock located here. As Portuguese ruled the area, a large number of Hindus abandoned the island. But, during the festival of Mahashivratri (Festival of Lord Shiva) a large number of devotees gather to offer their prayer to the lord.

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