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Elephanta Caves in Hindu Religion – Importance of Elephanta Caves in Hinduism

Elephanta Caves represents Hindu religion related sculptural art at its best. What Artistically and stylistically, the sculptures and the caves can be ascribed to the Kalachuri Kings (600 AD), who were staunch devotees of Hindu God Shiva. This small group of seven Puranic caves is of great importance to Hinduism for its sculptures of exceptional grandeur. The caves are home to Trimurti Shiva – three headed bust of Shiva. The pain, the effort and the struggle Hindu sculptors undertook to give form to the formless is simply awesome. No words are enough to define the beauty and craftsmanship of the sculptures in the caves.

Shiva as Mahayogi In Elephanta Caves

Elephanta caves, locally known as Gharapuri (city of forts), is a small island, nine kilometers west of city of Mumbai.

The caves are reached by boat in about an hour from the world famous Gateway of India.

How Elephanta Caves Got Its Name?

When the Portuguese captured Mumbai from the king of Gujarat, they named it Elephanta after the huge sculpted elephant, which is now kept at the Jijamata Garden in Mumbai.

The Shiva Tandava In Elephanta Caves

How Many Caves are there in Elephanta?

  • There are seven caves on the Island.
  • Five in a group on the smaller hill to the west.
  • Two in another group on the eastern hill.
  • Majority of the caves are unfinished.

Importance of Elephanta Caves in Hinduism

All the important sculptures in the caves are larger than life-size sculptures carved with great skill. They represent the depth, concentration, and artistic skill of Hindu sculptors.

The sculptures in the cave represent sculptural art associated with Hinduism as its best.

The main cave, which is numbered as Cave 1 part of the five caves on the smaller hill on the west side consists of a large square hall (43 meters long and wide) supported by massive pillars having cushion capitals which divide it into transepts.

Trimurti Shiva at Elephanta Caves

Towards the rear end is the square shrine containing the famous Trimurti Shiva (Sada Shiva) – the three-headed bust of Shiva. It is about 5.45 meters, excluding the pedestal which itself is nearly a meter high and represents three different forms of Shiva as Mahesha.

The central face, representing the Tatpurusha aspect of Shiva in deep contemplation is majestic and beyond words.

The one on the right represents the wrathful aspect of Shiva as Aghora – Bhairava.

The one on the left, representing Vamadeva or Uma has a smiling countenance.

The delineation of facial features is the most remarkable aspect of sculpture.

This image ranks as one of the masterpieces of Hindu sculptural art.

On the doorway of the shrine stand gigantic Shaiva Dwarapalakas or doorkeepers.

This is a view from the right of the Trimurti, the colossal triple-headed bust of Shiva; the left profile expresses the god's feminine and peaceful aspect which contrast with the fierce and masculine right profile. The majestic central face is calm and detached. The three faces symbolise the nature of the Divine, which combines and transcends all opposites. The other panel, seen in the left in the photograph, represents Ardhanarishvara, Shiva represented as half-male and half-female. 

Other Important Sculptures in the Cave Are:

  • Ardhanarishwara which is over 16 feet high
  • Andhakasura Vadha Murti in which Shiva says the demon Andaka
  • Gangadhara Murti in which Shiva is shown taking on fiercely falling Ganga on earth
  • Shiva as Lakulisha
  • Shiva as Nataraja
  • Shiva as Kalyana Sundara
  • Numerous Puranic stories associated with Shiva.