The name, Elephanta was given by the Portuguese as there was a large elephant sculpture in the island, when it was held by them as a naval outpost. Otherwise this island was known as Gharapuri.
Elephanta island stands in stark contrast with hectic Mumbai city. Though it is just 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from the heart of the city, Elephanta appears as a remote country and that too centuries afar.
Unlike many other ancient monuments in India, very little is known about the history of Elephanta. In other words who and when theses monuments were executed still remains as a matter of speculation and debate.
Much of the beliefs on the patrons of this mysterious island are based on the stylistic ground on which the caves and its sculptures are executed.
The most convincing of the theories tells as that Elephanta caves were executed during the period 450 to 750 AD. The warrior king Pulakesin II of the Chalukyas of Badami dynasty, is attributed with commissioning of a significant portion of the caves.
Elephanta Island came under the dominions of at least half a dozen powers that ruled this region over the centuries.
That include the Mauryas of Konkan, Trikutakas , Chalukyas of Badami, Silaharas, Rashtrakutas , Kalyani Chalukyas , Yadavas of Deogiri, Shahi dynasty of Gujarat , the Portuguese , the Marathas and also the British.
Leaving the history behind for a while, let us see the attractions of Elephanta and a few tips to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In fact a great amount of your time in Elephanta would be spending in this cave, particularly in front of each of these rock-cut panels.
There are about 24 sculptural panels on the walls of the Cave 1 (main cave) and the shrines within. The whole thing – the shrines, pillars and panels – are executed by removing rock from a giant rocky hill. In otherwise everything made by painstakingly scooping out rather than ‘installing’ them into the cave.
For the main cave of Elephanta, your tour plan is essentially moving from one panel to the other, visiting the shrines within and generally enjoying settings as a whole.
Though there are no particular orders to be followed, in all probability you would start with the two panes located on either sides of the northern porch as you enter the cave through its main entrance.
From outside this portico appears as a 3 aisled hall with two massive pillars on either side of the steps.
Let us go straight to the deeper end of the cave which is opposite to portico you've entered. Before you've hit the darker end of the cave, you would cross the central hall of the cave temple with many rows of giant pillars of either side.
Stand in the darker end of the cave for a few minutes before your eyes get accustomed to the dimly lit environs.
There are three panels in a row at this side of the cave. The center piece, the star attraction of Elephanta cave temple iconic image of the three headed Shiva called Mahesh , the great Lord.
Despite the noisy crowd you may encounter inside main cave in Elephanta , this image of Lord Shiva with his closed eyelids and in a deep contemplating attitude would be the most satisfying piece of art you would ever see in India.Rather this is the highest watermark of medieval Indian art tradition.