Elephanta caves-1400 year old marvel with an amazing story

Probably I should start telling you my visit right from my native place, but it would be better I should start from CSMT station where the world lands in Mumbai. Actually, we were in Mumbai for some official work and then it ended in two days and we were left with 7 hours to board our train back  home. So our team was intrigued about what to do with our   surplus hours.

As soon as we stepped out of CSMT station we had a Sardar taxi driver in front of us with a brochure showing 7 to 10 tourist places  in mumbai. It had Jehangir Art gallery,Gateway of India , Haji Ali Dargah ,Siddhivinayak Temple,Juhu beach, Haji Ali Dargah, Antilaa, marine drive  and more. He was charging some 300 Rs each for this and will take 6 hours for this. But I knew it these famous places are nearby and he shouldn’t be charging so much. 

Let’s get to flash back. The day before  I knew we would have a chance to have a tour. So I did my homework. A decade ago I had been to Mumbai with one of my friends and that time we had a walk from CSMT to Gateway of India.I remembered it was a straight road with art gallery in between. But this time when we came out of the station it was a different exit because the CSMT heritage structure was in renovation. I got little confused so it was better taking a cab. And walking was never an  option. 

We took a taxi that took 30Rs per person from CSMT to gate of India. It’s a wonderful road with many heritage buildings, many belonging to Parsi community.There was a comic fest on that route which I came to know after I returned to my home. We reached Gateway of India. I have been to this place twice in my life. Once when I was a small kid and later  with my partner. 

But today it had been ruined by local authority. It has an open area in front of the gate which today has been used for concert and other functions which  has selected quest. No general public can enter it. The gate frontage has been blocked by the make shift stages, and tourist from outside Mumbai are being forced to have a look from its back. Way back, the area below the gate was barricaded for the public for the reason best known to them, now is being used to erect big screens as a backdrop to the concert.

Anyways, we wandered the area to know from where to take a ferry to reach Elephanta caves. Finally we saw a man with the tickets, It was 260 Rs /person. It was good to know that it was fixed price and only one place to pay.All ferry operators work in sync. No scam at this place. We got down through the stone steps near to the ferry which was dangling in the sea-as a spaceship in the open space. Looked fascinating to step on a ferry which seemed drunk. 

We all got onto the ferry. Almost 75 to 100 people on board. And that to from different economic background and countries. Feels amazing to see people from all India and abroad in one boat to reach a place of peace, meditation and archeology wonder where a cave has been cut inside with pillars and statues. It seemed like we were the only lucky ones on a Noah’s ship to heaven.

Everyone was busy taking selfies in the boat. Some towards the gate of India and others towards the sea. The ride on the ferry has a magical effect on human mind. 

You forget everything as you see endless splashes of water till the end of the earth, where the sea meets the sky. It feels that the journey itself is helping us  to empty our thoughts and reach the destination with zero thoughts. You need an empty vessel to refill it with fresh water. 

It takes 1.5 hours to reach the island which is surrounded by other Indian land. All this made me curious  and forced me to have a look all this on google maps. It’s so amazing as your share your location with them, and it shows exactly where you are, in the midst of the sea and nearing to the island.

There were many smaller stories happening in between. A couple in their 40s on my left asked me to take their photo. I did help them. Then there were other younger couples who had just got married. Girls with fully covered arms with red and white bangles gave its testimony. 3 pairs, one in front of me in 2nd row, one on the right side and the 3rd one was a foreign couple as they looked strikingly different than indians. 

The couple on the right was making me uncomfortable. They were accompanied by the girl’s mother. The girl was wearing a skirt which was above her knees. And it did show that she was wearing it for the first time.It was all skin show. She pretended to be normal. But what I thought was she was an attention seeker. Her hubby  was all there to make her happy. Buying food which was sold on that small ferry. It is little weird to see that almost same dress was on the foreign girl but it never felt indecent. 

The other story was seeing people feeding the seagulls. It’s a norm to feed them. Many of them bought ferry food and were busy feeding them. It’s fun to watch those birds to grab food from their hands. How much it is good to feed packed food is an another story.

The couple who had asked me to take a picture were now in my centre spot. I started thinking how they were with each other for so long and liking each other where the whole world wants quick change. The lady was sleepy and it seemed it was her afternoon nap time. She might prefer sleeping even if god comes her way. 

I started concentrating on the outer sea view which Almost had a 250 degree long stretch silhouette of high rise building on the shore. We also came across many ships. They were like beast sailing on the sea. That gave me a brief idea about how much business  Mumbai is making!. Some were container ships while some ships were to dig the sea. Digging and collecting sea soil might be for the  new airport nearby which is being constructed on the sea or may be to sell it abroad. Hope the government knows it. There were also other ships that had machinery to pick the container and keep it on the platforms.

The other big structure I saw were chimney’s at the shores. It was a Thermal power station (Tata Power Trombay), and then there was a never ending bridge that connected it to the land (SCB and FCB pirpau).In all this we crossed the smallest island. It was like one big ship kept upside down. But was not a ship for sure. Later I checked it on google maps, it showed Jawahar dweep, but I am sure it was smaller than that.

We reached the edge of the island, no sand, no shore, only mangroves and rocks placed by the authority to save the edge  erosion. On the land part we saw a bunch of kiosks selling local fruits and artifacts. Then there was a toy train which was supposed to take us straight to the caves. Tickets were priced 15 yrs/ person. We hurriedly sat and confirmed our seats as India is the most populated country. You can find at least two Indians sleeping under a rock anywhere on the planet.It was fun to take a train ride. But the fun was short lived.It hardly travelled a mile and stopped leaving us in front of an array of stone steps leading to the top Where the caves were supposed to be situated. 

We started climbing those stairs for 15 minutes to find steep steps ahead. Many of us took a break after every 30 steps.The Stepway was surrounded by kiosks on both side and plastic sheds on top  protecting us from the harsh sun. The kiosks were selling fast food, raw fruits, keychain, precious stones, statues of religious leaders/gods and toys,etc.Before we could reach the top we had to take one more ticket of 15 Rs /person from the Gram Panchayat (local authority) which was actually not needed. As we reached the entrance of the vicinity on the top, another 40 Rs /person was charged by the archeological department.

The area is infested with cute little monkeys. It makes me remember why one of our co-mate started distributing goodies in the ferry. I knew from the beginning that  the caves had monkeys, so I told everyone about this when we were on the ferry, and how they snatch visible food from your hands and sometimes from your bags. This made the female friend of ours little nervous and that made her decide to distribute her eatables before reaching such an extreme situation. But to our shock the monkeys behaved pretty decently.

Many were pissed off by the repetitive tickets that were forced on them. One of us asked the security about this, he had answers that many bigwigs on the top will not like it. He took the whole nation into this conversation and told us to ask this question to the leaders at the top.Finally we reached inside the compounded area, all the caves were on the right side and to the left were open area leading to hilly slope. Many trees were planted that added shadow in the afternoon. 

We entered the first cave. I was very much excited to see the three head shiva. I told my mom that we had the picture of the same on my primary textbook. And it has been like 30 years or so to see it in real. Many Bollywood movie scenes were shot here. Even that rolled in front of my eyes when I saw twenty foot statue.Other co-travellers were little dejected  to see all this. I never understood what they were expecting. Imagine a cave made in 1400 years ago, cut inside with 36 pillars and all the statues made inwards, and still you want to see some more  into it.They might be expecting a religious place or a water park to play. But the old and new habits got some beating. No active participation? Only you have to see what all had been made.

Then we moved to the next cave ahead where I saw a (bhaiya) guy who wanted active participation in this tour. I saw him pulling a chip from the statues which were already disfigured by Portugese invaders almost 100 years back.I gave a loud shout at him and went towards him and said in Hindi that “its your and my property and we should conserve it. As usual, the bhaiya (guy) was in complete denial. He said to me that he never did it. After that, he moved to the part of the cave.

Now why I am telling you this story is to let you know who is responsible for the damages to the caves. First and foremost the illiterate guy from a particular state where they pay 1 Rs GST tax and receive 2.6 to 7.06 Rs back from the central government. Then the guards who voluntarily decided to stay out of the cave and not bother to see who is damaging the statues.Then the Archeological Department who tickets but fails to do their job. Beautification of the surrounding area shouldn’t be the sole responsibility but to save guard the ancient caves that took 100 years to make.

If that has not sunk into your mind, let me tell  it again, almost 3 generations of sculptors had the patience and expertise to make these caves when there was nothing on this island.How they were surviving while doing their work? And how every other generation decided to complete the project when none of the artist name had to be engraved on it. And 100 years mean how many generations of kings from Karnataka decided to continue this marvel. It’s not possible in today’s world to continue a 100 year project.

I alerted the guards standing outside about the guy who was moving to cave number 2. I even alerted the guard outside the cave 2. That’s what a responsible citizen should do. Meanwhile, our team was exhausted and decided to sit in the shadow, while I decided to see the other caves.

It is said there are 7 caves  but only 5 caves were here and the other 2 were on the other hillock of this island. I visited the second cave which  had  rooms with no statues but only flat  columns in the front that were constructed later to save it to cave in.

Then I quickly  walked towards the third cave facing east, the cave consists 3 cells in a row, being a main shrine, it is large in size and placed in the center. Sharing common verandah supported on six tall massive pillars on the front, which were restored by the ASI.The central shrine have a rock cut  pitha in the center, once enshrining a linga which is missing now. The sanctum has elegantly carved trishakha doorway with large flanking dwarapalas, though mutilated in condition but still preserved the essence of the rashatrakuta art. Another rectangular recess was on the left (north) now in ruined condition perhaps meant for residential purpose.

The fourth cave is dilapidated and east facing,comprising four cells in the rear wall and an attached cell on the left side sharing a common long verandah. The facade of the cave is very dilapidated. The central shrine has a plain trishakha doorway flanked by shiva dwarpalas with their acolytes on either side. The shrine is dedicated to Shiva, enshrining a linga placed over the moulded pitha. The figures carved on the either side of the doorway are mutilated, but still preserve the distant connection of Gupta art. These caves are dated 6th century CE.

The fifth cave is very raw with no such special features in it. It seems like naturally made or of the stone age. It might be that the caves have dilapidated due to natural elements in these 1400 years. While cave 6 and 7 are closed for public due some unknown reason. 

We started back as the last ferry was at 6:00 and it was almost 5:00. As I told you before, the vicinity had monkeys also. I saw some family grooming up get together where 3 monkeys were sitting in a row, searching head lice in each others hairs. Also, we saw something funny, A monkey drinking soft drinks. The monkey was spilling the drink on the floor before drinking it. Later I understood what he was doing. The drink was too cold to drink, so it was spilling it to make it drinkable.

We were feeling little thirsty so we had sugarcane juice while coming down. Finally, we boarded the ferry. The ferry was facing the sun and we could see golden water all over the place. It was a very beautiful scene. At last we reached gate of India. While coming out of the ferry I saw one more newly married couple where the girl was wearing hot pants with usual red white bangles. But this time something weird struck my eyes, many others were also staring her thighs. They had bites, on both legs,and she was flaunting her bedroom stories to the world.I had no intention to sensationalise the ending as I had to write what it is and what exactly happened.

Finally we reached the CSMT on time and took our train back home.

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