Elephanta (Maharashtra)

Six miles to the south-east across the harbour, on a small island locally known as Gharapuri (means "the city of caves") are the famous caves of Elephanta, seven in all, these caves hewn from living rock, date back to the 8th century. The Great Cave, which ones served as a temple, has huge sculptures and panels in relief. The most striking of the images is Maheshmurti, a 19 feet high triple-headed figure with each of the members of the Hindu trinity- Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer)- being represented. To the left is a huge statue of Lord Shiva and, to the right, two equally huge figures of Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati.

The peninsula of Mumbai originally consisted of seven islands separated at high tide by the seas. Elephanta is a shrine carved out of solid rock seven hundred years before Vasco da Gama set foot on Indian soil. The island is only about an hour's boat ride from the world famous Taj Mahal Hotel.

The Elephanta cave temple was excavated sometime in the 8th century AD by Rashtrakuta dynasty, which ruled the Deccan from 757 AD to 973 AD. It was probably intended as a private chapel to the royal family and its exact date is still unknown. The name Elephanta is derived by the colossal stone elephant that stood originally at the entrance to the site. The remains of the elephant can still be seen in the Prince of Wales Museum of Mumbai. This elephant structure was a monolithic one. UNESCO has declared Elephanta Caves as World Heritage Site. The temple is considered to be a testimony to the genius and golden age during the Gupta and Rashtrakuta dynasties rule. Elephanta embodies and symbolizes two of mankind's oldest and most potent symbols: the sea and the island.

The Elephanta shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the ancient-most deity in Hindu religion.

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