Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Think of Mumbai and the first few images that come to your mind are commercial capital, sky scrapers, bollywood and even underworld. What is little known is that has a rich heritage of architecture located in different parts of the city. Thus thereis Elephanta caves, Jogeshwari caves, Kanheri caves, Mahakali caves and Mandapeshwar caves. The most prominent of them all is the Elephanta caves, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Part of the romance of the Elephanta caves is the fact that it is located on an island, off the coast of Mumbai, and to reach it you have to take a ferry. As you travel on a boat , you can see the Mumbai skyline in the backdrop and the naval dockyard on the side. It is a refreshing change from the hectic Mumbai lifestyle and crowd.
The boat berths at a jetty called Raj Bunder. The caves are located about two kilometers from here. There is a mini-train service from jetty of the island to the steps leading to the caves, but you may as well skip it and walk. You have to climb 120 steps to reach the cave temples. The broad steps are cut in the stone hill and gradually incline to a height of about 200 metres.
There are`palanquin` carriers ,who can be hired to carry you up the hill. I witnessed pathetic sight of a fashionable well-fed lady being carried by four skinny men in a `palanquin` (arm chair).
The island, which approximately covers an area of seven kilometres in circumference, was originally called Gharapuri Island and was renamed Elephanta Island by the Portuguese, after they found a large stone elephant near the landing area of the island. This elephant collapsed in 1814 and the British subsequently moved it to Victoria Gardens, now known as Jijamata Udyan in Byculla, where it can be still be seen. Most of the statues in Elephanta caves were defaced by the Portuguese, who used the sculptures as target practice.
Once you reach the caves , you enter a world of the past. The caves are surrounded by greenery scampering monkeys. There are three caves or rock cut temples of which one is dedicated to Shiva. Others are of no particular interest except for their majestic exteriors. They were probably finished some time between 450 and 750 AD.
It seems, different dynasties held their sway over this island, namely, the Konkan-Mauryas, Trikutas, Chalukyas of Badami, Silaharas, Rashtrakutas, Kalyani Chalukyas, Yadavas of Deogiri, Muslim rulers of Ahmedabad and then by the Portuguese followed by the Marathas and then from them it passed into the control of the british.
The main Cave 1, dedicated to Shiva, comprises of a pillared hall in which there is a small shrine with four entrance doors flanked by guardians, dwarapalas.
Monumental panels depicting Shiva in myriad forms and legends from Shiva Purana. One shows Shiva bringing the Ganges River down the Earth, letting it trickle thro his matted hair. He is also depicted as yogishwara, lord of yogis, seated on a lotus, and as shiva nataraja, the many armed cosmic dancer. The central recess holds the most famous and remarkable 18ft sculpture of this period known as the Maheshmurthi, 3 headed bust hewn from a single rock representing the 3 aspects fo Shiva, the creator, the preserver and the destroyer.
Left of the Maheshmurthi is Shiva as both male and female, ardhanareshwara. At the 4 corners of the main mantapa are wall panels showing Shiva in many moods. Across the width of the hall is a representation of Kalyanasundaram, the marriage of Shiva with Parvathi.
Right across the mantapa is a scene from the domestic life of Shiva and Parvathi. The circular pedestal in the open courtyard marks the seat of Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. The side cave has a small shrine and pradakshina path. An interesting panel in this cave is that of Astamatrikas, 8 mother godesess, flanked by karthikeya and Ganesha.
The sculputres of Elephanta, executed with great artistic skill, belong to a mediaval period which flourished during the gupta period. The Gupta epoch was marked by the renaiansance of arts in India and the cultural and religious ferval never equalled before. Hindus sculpture was at its peak in that period. The Elephanta sculptures, despite vandalism, is a tribute to this era.