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Elephanta is listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Monument.
It is particularly well known for its huge sculptures, the Sadasiva sculpture is especially well-known for its grandeur and elegance. Elephanta has been a site or marvel and curiosity from as early as 1579 CE as per references in literary records.
The site. Elephanta is a group of 7 caves on an island called Gharapuri some 11 km from Mumbai City, Maharshtra. Its name Elephanta was given by the Portuguese after a large elephant sculpture on the island. The sculpture now stands next to Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla, Mumbai.
The caves are broadly dated between the late 6th to 8th century, under the Chalukyan reign and stylistically close to the early Kalachuris (or Haihayas). There are 5 caves dedicated to Siva in the Brahmanical group; and another 2 caves consist the Buddhist group.
Architecture. The characteristic features of Elephanta caves architecture are their monumentality, and functionality that leverage the geographical elements, and natural light. A number of innovations can be seen here in their ground plans, wider space experiences, creation of new artistic forms, amalgamation of motifs, and decorations from various regional styles.
Sculpture. Elephanta is known for its gamut of magnanimous sculptures, which flank the main halls, and galleries in and outside the caves. The sculptures, especially dedicated to Siva, like Nataraja, Raktbijantaka vadha, Ardhanarishwara in the Brahmanical caves evoke immense grace in posture and vivid expression. The sculptures depict scenes from contemporaneous literature like Kumarsambhava by Kalidasa, and depict scenes from the life of Siva, and his consort Parvati.
The Buddhist sculptures include Bodhisattvas and images of the Buddha.
Epigraphy. No inscriptions currently exist at the site. There is however, a reference to a stone with an elaborate inscription, which was originally acquired by the Portuguese, but is now known to be lost.
Module curator: Snehal Tambulwadikar-Khedkar. Photographs: Dr. Rajesh Kumar Singh.