Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mumbai's Elephanta Island - Heritage, History, Beauty

Elephanta Island is 9 kilometers (some say 7 or 10) northeast from Mumbai Harbour. The island is home to a cave system that has been turned into both Hindu and Buddhist temples, with basalt rock carved into pillars and gods, including a 6-meter tall Sadashiva. In olden times, the island was called Gharapuri  which literally means “city of caves”, kept afloat by an arm of the Arabian Sea.

The larger group contains Hindu images – with rock cut stone sculptures representing Shiva, while the smaller one has Buddhist carvings. Sometime in 1534, the Portuguese explorers came and ruled over the region.

What they found was a behemoth statue of an Elephant “guarding” the island, thus they renamed Gharapuri as such. In the caves, all they found were a few Kshatrapa coins from the 4th century. Nothing else. The aforementioned elephant statue, though still in existence, has since been transferred in the Victorian Garden outside Bhau Daji Lad in Central Mumbai.

Locals believe that these caves aren’t man-made. In fact, some believe that Pandava, a hero (composed of five personages) from Mahabharata, was responsible for the creation of these caves, previously designed as an abode of sorts. Others believe Banasura, the demon devotee of Shiva, was responsible for its construction. Historians however believe that the place served as the capital of the Konkan Mauryas, dating them to the mid 6th century (635 A.D.) Several other rulers made Elephanta their kingdom.

I paid 250 rupees for my foreigner’s entrance fees (locals pay a measly 10 rupees), plus a 5 rupee tax; then hopped into a boat that soon left the jetty. The ride was a pleasant and refreshing glide into the Arabian Seas, which took about an hour to get there. A miniature diesel train, looking more like a Willy Wonka carnival toy (as it’s painted red), awaits those who want to leisurely take their time (for a 10-rupee fee of course). Otherwise, it’s a short walk through rows of makeshift stalls selling souvenir items (shirts, wood carvings, trinkets, etc.). I had my first proper meal for the day before heading towards the caves. The journey would be a bit uphill, but it was hardly strenuous. It reminded me of the road towards the Perfumed Pagodas of North Vietnam.

Bucher (or Butcher ) Island is a fortress-like structure en route to Elephanta Island. 

A short train ride costs 10 rupees. I didn't bother.

A short walk from here to those establishments. At the back of those structures are the caves. If walking is "too much" for you, you can take the 10-rupee train (above).
Affordable meals at the Elephanta Port Restaurant

Map of Elephanta Island

Though there are close to 10 caves in the complex, tourists gets to practically experience the two cave systems containing intricately carved statues. Taking photos of some of them without people was almost a challenge because of the big throng wandering around. It didn't take me more than an hour to see what had to be seen. There was also a little pictographic museum near the caves: Asi Site Museum, though I feel this was too simplistic, if not misplaced, beside these spectacular rock sculptures.  

It’s easy to understand why the Elephanta Caves have been bestowed the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site as early as 1987, but India has so many of these grandiose sites. I’d favor many other sites than this one. I loved the boat ride though. In fact, one of my most favorite moments in Mumbai was this boat ride back to the Gateway. It felt peaceful, with most passengers keeping mum and enjoying the gentle late afternoon breeze.

The elephant statue found by the Portuguese guarding the cave. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia.

From a distance, the sun glistened like a fierce bowl of fire, deep orange and seemingly burning. It was a sight to behold. 

Bucher Island looked like a sleeping fortress, with a flag waving languidly in the middle of the island, flapping gently against the wind. While the day seemed like a brisk series of slide shows, the boat disallowed any more movement outside the boundaries of the moving ship. For once, I was stationary. And it wasn't so bad.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Shiva as Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer.

Trimurti (right)

Asi Site Museum

Souvenir shops 

Fiery sun reluctantly sets over Mumbai.

Mumbai Walk -

Mumbai Tales, Greedy Drivers and Losing Cool

A Rickshaw Ride in Delhi One Lazy Morning


NRIGirl said...

Enjoyed the ride!

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

Thanks. :)

jonah aiza said...

I enjoyed your blog!

eye in the sky said...

Salamat, Jonah Aiza. Saw your photos and travels as well. Your work is impressive; very professional. Love especially your "still life" subjects. Ganda. :)