About an hour off the coast of the city of Mumbai, a small island in the sea if Oman is home to a series of stunning temple-caves. Nobody is quite sure who carved the Elephanta Caves of Elephanta Island, other than the fact that they worshiped the Hindu god Shiva. In fact, according to Wikipedia the local legend is that the caves “are not man-made,” but rather were carved by heroes from Hindu epics or perhaps by a powerful demon who was devoted to Shiva.
More down-to-earth theories credit the kingdom of the Konkan Mauryas or the Kalacuris. Whoever built them, the caves themselves are amazing. Surrounded by lush, tropical foliage, the caves form a cool, dark, retreat. Inside, intricate carvings and statues loom in the shadows. Unfortunately, many of them were damaged when the Portuguese took control of the island in 16th century. The Portuguese were ones who gave this island the name “Elephanta Island,” after a statue of elephant they found there. However, they apparently had no qualms about using the statues in the caves for target practice.
Even so, the artwork that remains is definitely worth a visit. The crown jewel of Elephanta Island is the Trimurti, a three-headed sculpture of Shiva that Wikipedia describes as a “masterpiece of Gupta-Chalukyan art.”
Describing the Elephanta Caves, UNESCO says that “here, Indian art has found one of its most perfect expressions, particularly the huge high reliefs in the main cave.”
To visit Elephanta Island, you’ll need an Indian visa before you can leave. If you are traveling as a tourist, see Indian Visa Requirements for Tourists.
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