What is Elephanta?

Elephanta Caves is UNESCO World Heritage site is a fine specimen of rock cut architecture and art of medieval India. To state the trivial, there are no elephants in Elephanta!

The name was given by the Portuguese as there was a large elephant sculpture in the island, when it was held by them. Otherwise this island was known as Gharapuri. The island is known for the 7th century caves with boldly executed mythical themes.

Where is Elephanta?

Elephanta is an island in Arabian Sea,  is just 11 kilometers (about 9 nautical miles) from the heart of Mumbai city.

Who made the Elephanta Caves?
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.

What are the attractions in Elephanta?

Mainly the massive caves cut into the granite hills. The walls of the main cave (Cave 1) is carved with massive Hindu mythical themes, of Shiva affiliation.

Apart from the main cave, there are 5 to 6 minor caves with varying level of details.

Most of these are located just around the hill, a short trek from the main cave complex (Elephanta Cave 2, Cave 3, Cave 4, Cave 5, Cave 6&7).

If you still have energy (and time) after visiting the main cave and the minor caves, trek up the the Cannon Hill. There is a old cannon post overlooking the harbor. There are also a few un-excavated Buddhist sites, dating back to 2nd century BC.

And of course there is a tiny site museum next to the ticket counter with great narration of the themes at Elephanta, better visit before exploring the caves.

How to access Elephanta?

Take the ferry from Mumbai's Gateway of India point. This 1 hour ferry is the only way to access this island. Churchgate and CST are closest railway stations. There are also bus connections close to the Gateway of India.

How long does it take to visit Elephanta?
Reserve minimum half a day's itinerary for a whirlwind Elephanta tour. If you are with flair for art and archaeology, you'll need a full day, catching the ferry at 9 am from Mumbai, and returning by the evening. The ferry is 1 hour in each direction. There is a 30 minutes trek from the ferry point to the caves. Keep at least 2 hours for a decent tour of the caves. Add another couple of hours, if you are keen to visit other minor caves and attractions in the island.

How much does it cost for the Elephanta tour?

It's a do it yourself tour. Means, buy everything separately yourself. The ferry tickets (about Rs150 to Rs130) . Buy the entry ticket at the island (Rs10/USD 5) . Local guide fees (if you would prefer one). A superb guide book on Elephanta by ASI costs Rs99 (buy from the ticket cave entry ticket counter). Snacks and foods are sold at the canteen and at the kiosks.

Facilities at Elephanta?

There are some limited facilities available at the island catering to the tourist population. The toy train can save you some walk from the boat landing point to the entry point of the village. There is a canteen at this point. Near to it is a post office.

Further are a series of souvenir shops. At the descent of the trek , you'll find the 'Dolly Service' , a palanquin like service for those who can not scale the steps to the cave entry.

Near the ASI ticket counter there is a restaurant operated by the state owned MTDC.

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Elephanta Caves Tour Map

Elephanta Caves excursion route

Start from Cave 1 (main cave) and end with cave 5 . Return the same path. The route is well paved and mostly shaded, thanks to the tree cover. You can get a nice panoramic view of the foothills and the sea beyond fro the edges of the trail. The restroom/toilet is located between cave 4 and 5. There are also plenty of places built under the trees to relax along the trail.

Everything about Elephanta!

Ardhanari view from Parvati side

Ardhanarishvara at Elephanta

Ardhanarishvara, literally translates into the god (Siva) half female.For its artistic excellence , this image is arguably the second best image, after the three headed Mahesh Murthy (also sometimes referred as Trimurthy ) at Elephanta.

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Entrance to the cave 3 in Elephanta

Elephanta Cave 3

This a large cave complex, probably second only to the main Cave.The facade is impressive with a row of large cussion capital pillars.

A ferocious form of Lord Shiva slaying the demon, Andhaka.

Anhdakasura Vadha at Elephanta

The ferocious expression of Shiva in the Andhakasura Vadha panel stands in stark contrast with the aspects depicted in other panels.

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The unfinished cave 5 in elephanta island

Elephanta Cave 5

Though it's an unfinished cave, a visit can give you good idea of the how the work in progress sites looked like during the excavation of caves.

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Ardhanari image at Elephanta

Mythical Themes at Elephanta

The choice of the themes in Elephanta's panels is an interesting mix... anything from love to contemplation to violence to performing arts to yoga. In Elephanta you'll see some of the highest watermarks of medieval India's sculptural art.

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Mahayogi Shiva of Elephanta

Mahayogi Shiva at Elephanta

Mahayogi Shiva is located as you enter the main cave, opposite to the panel of Nataraja at Elephanta .This is an unusual posture of Shiva portrayed as sitting on a lotus flower in meditating attitude.

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Nataraja at Elephanta Caves

Nataraja at Elephanta

Nataraja Panel is located at the entry point of the main cave, opposite to the Mahayogi Shiva at Elephanta.After the three panels (Gangadhara at Elephanta , Mahesh Murthy at Elephanta and Ardhanarishvara at Elephanta ) which are located in the deep wall of the cave, this is the most dynamic of all t...

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