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Elephanta caves photoPhotos by ramnath bhat, History

Gharapuri, another name for Elephanta island, is located in the Mumbai district. It is an attractive island covered by Karanja, mango, palm trees and tamarind. In early 1981, the UNESCO identified these caves as a World Heritage Site. The Archaeological Survey of India looks after the upkeep and maintenance of these caves. Elephant caves are one of the oldest rock cut sculptures depicting the Indian art related to Lord Shiva. The Elephanta caves were primarily believed to be the habitat of Lord Shiva, hence are an incarnation of Hindu cave culture to the ancient era. The art and sculptures in the Elephanta caves tell us about the 6th and 8th century from where it has been so popular. The Portuguese discovered the elephant stone structure on the island. It is also said that primarily temple was built to worship Lord Shiva. The Portuguese used Hindu idols for target practice and also destroyed many sculptures. Later the site became popular as one of the most wanted tourist destination.

Architecture And Sculptures

Elephanta caves photoPhotos by 陈霆, Ting Chen, Wing,

Most of the western India caves are located in the Sahyadri range. At Elephanta caves, the basalt rock and trap rock are found which is suitable for the minute and fine carvings. In Elephanta caves, there are two groups. In group one, the caves represent some of the extremely beautiful and delicate examples of the detailed sculptures of India and are dedicated to Lord Shiva. In group two there are Buddhist caves and are slightly smaller than group one. Most of the paintings have been peeled off from these caves due to climatic changes, human vandalism and damaging effect with time while still there are proofs that paintings were made in these caves.

The Elephanta island is a delightful and quiet island with harmless primates and green leaves scurry about. Elephanta caves are something which is to be watched out on this island. You will be greeted by the large statue of Mahesamurti in the massive hall supported by huge pillars at the entrance of the cave. The three-headed sculpture of Lord Shiva is the major attraction of the island. The Shiva cave is the main cave which is 89 square feet is with a hall called mandapa. The carvings of Lord Shiva are depicted on each of the walls. The south wall of the cave depicts Parvati and Shiva seated on their habitat Mount Kailash. Other Shiva sculptures seen here are ‘Ardhanarishvara’ and ‘Shiva Nataraja’. The entire cave is made up of natural rock and is about 60000 sq feet. To see the beautiful elephant shaped rock cut sculpture you need to head out of the cave and there you are also able to see the Arabian sea. You can also relax and enjoy the nature by just relaxing on the beach or you can walk up the Cannon hills while exploring the island.

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Elephanta caves photoPhotos by leonyaakov,

Some other sculptures are also found in these caves. Lord Shiva is found seated in a yoga posture generally called as Mahayogi. This sculpture is found on the left side while you enter the main temple. The other panel is Uma Mahesvara murti in which Shakti and Shiva are the consequence of undivided absolute. The other panel is the Gangadhara murti which is found next to the Maheshmurti. This panel tells us about the river Ganga dropping to the earth from heaven. The Elephanta caves also depict the marriage of Parvati and Shiva. Shiva as Natraj is also depicted in one sculpture. Cave 2 is southwest to the main cave. They have large pillars and sculptures which are badly damaged now. Cave 3 is in good condition because it is reconstructed and is located in the south of cave 2. There are big verandah and large chambers supported by huge pillars. Some other caves are also there named as cave 4, cave 5, cave 6 etc.


You must be thinking that on this small island on the coast of the Arabian Sea, there may be nothing which you can carry while returning but it’s the wrong thinking because there are collections of local elephanta memento that you can carry as a remembrance. There is a local flea market as u walk towards the hill. In this market you will find clothes, marble made sculptures, Lord Shiva paintings, and much other wooden works. This flea market is considered as the ultimate abode for women. Elephanta caves are considered as the best place if you wish to buy Indian artifacts and memento. At the beautiful and unique places in elephanta caves, you need to bargain because the prices of these artifacts are unreasonably high.

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If you wish to have snacks and some refreshment then local food vendors outside the caves and at cannon hills are available offering you with coffee, tea, berries, and others local drinks. Also, local Indian food is available at the resorts run by MTDC, offering u with hygienic food at reasonable cost.


If you wish to relax and rest during daytime then Maharashtra Tourism Department Hotel is available at reasonable price and also offers you food and drinks. At 5:00 PM you need to check out of the hotel because overnights stays are not permitted on Elephanta Island.

Means Of Transport

To reach elephanta caves you need to take a ferry/boat ride after reaching the gateway of India in Mumbai. Through sea, it takes almost an hour to reach there. Tickets are available for the boats. The rates of the tickets vary according to the boat the traveler wishes whether it’s a deluxe boat or economy boat. From the island, the first boat leaves at 9 AM and the last boat leaves at 5 PM.

Elephanta caves photoPhotos by 陈霆, Ting Chen, Wing,

From the hustle and bustle of Mumbai metropolis, Elephanta Cave is a great place to visit. The trip to the caves will take you to the ancient era when religion, art, faith, romanticism and hard labor served for everyday living. Elephanta caves are regarded as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mumbai.

Photo by 陈霆, Ting Chen, Wing

Elephanta Caves – Mumbai

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