Elephanta Caves, famous all over the world, are located a few kilometers from Mumbai on Elephanta Island. The caves are dedicated to Lord Shiva, hence the carvings inside narrate Hindu mythologies, with the large monolithic 20 feet Trimurti Sadashiva (three-faced Shiva), Nataraja (Lord of Dance), and Yogishvara (Lord of Yoga) are the most celebrated. Not just in Maharashtra but Elephanta Caves are one of the major historical sites in India.
These grand caves are divided into 2 distinct sections, one part of which contains caves related to Hinduism, while the other part consists of caves related to Buddhism. Due to the marvelous craftsmanship and historical significance, Elephanta caves were included in the list of World Heritage by UNESCO in the year 1987.
The Elephanta Caves are known for their magnificent sculptures of mythological deities. Among these, the idol of Trimurti Shiva is the most popular.
Elephanta caves are recorded from the time of the defeat of the Mauryan rulers of Konkan by the Badami Chalukya Emperor Pulakeshin II. During that period, the caves were known as Puri or Purika, and this Gharapuri Island (now Elephanta Island) was formerly the capital of the Konkan Mauryas.
But some historians have different opinions about it. The history of these caves is also associated with the Portuguese. It is said that the Portuguese had possession here in the 16th century named the island ‘Elephanta’ because of the presence of a huge statue of an elephant.
The history of the famous caves of Elephanta is not precise, and every historian has something different to say about it. Moreover, there is no concrete evidence of when and who built these caves. However, some scholars believe that they were built by the Pandavas. While some think that Vidhana Elephanta caves were built by Shiva devotee Banasura.
The entire complex of Elephanta Caves is a built-in rock-cut style on an area of 60,000 sq ft. The complex consists of seven caves and the main cave was a Hindu place of worship during the Portuguese rule. It has a pillar pavilion, open porticoes, and a corridor. The walls of the cave are beautifully carved with stone and can be seen in the sight of idols of many deities.
There are a total of 7 caves in its complex, of which 5 caves belong to Hinduism, while the other two caves belong to Buddhism. Cave 1 of Elephanta Cave located at Gharapuri Island is known as Great Cave, inside which are many sculpted idols of Lord Shiva. In the center of this cave, there are Trimurti (3 idols) dedicated to Lord Shiva, which is known as Sadasiva.
There is another idol of Lord Shiva in this cave, depicting Shiva bringing the Ganges to the earth. Cave 2 to 5 of Elephanta Caves are known as Cannon Hill. There are Stupa Hills for Caves 6 and 7. Also, Cave 6 is also known as Sitabai cave and a pond present next to Cave 7, is known as the Buddhist pond.
The famous caves of Elephanta are located about 11 kilometers from Mumbai, Maharashtra.
Tourists can visit Elephanta Caves all days of the week from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
It is noteworthy that the caves remain closed on Mondays.
Charges for visiting Elephanta Caves
- Children up to 15 years can visit Elephanta Caves for free.
- Indian citizens: INR 10 per person
- Foreign Nationals: INR 250 per person
Best Time to Visit Elephanta Caves
The best time to visit Elephanta Caves is from November to February. The climate between these months remains pleasant and is good for exploring the site. Avoid peak monsoon season (June to August) as the sea tides become inconstant and ferry schedules get disrupted. Morning is the best time to visit the Elephanta caves.
How to Reach Elephanta Caves
To reach Elephanta Island, one can take a ferry from the Gateway of India. There are two types of ferries available - luxury and economy. The earliest ferry leaves the Gateway of India jetty at 09:00 am and takes you to the Elephanta Island in about an hour. The ferry leaves every half hour from the Gateway of India for Elephanta, with the last one leaving at 02:00 pm. The first ferry returns from Elephanta at 12 noon and the last one at 05:30 pm. During the Elephanta Festival, special launch services are provided for the guests.
Fast facts about Elephanta Caves
- A giant statue of an elephant guards the island. This elephant now remains in the Victoria Garden Zoo. It was the Portuguese who renamed it Elephanta after they got a large stone elephant near their landing place.
- The Portuguese invaded and captured the area in 1547 and the Portuguese soldiers used the statue for the target practice.
- Portuguese soldiers removed the writing on the statues, which was the only source, and important clues about the makers of caves and statues.