Day-trip to Gharapuri / Elephanta Caves (Mumbai - Maharashtra)

Ultimate Guide to Elephanta Caves - Part 1

Continuing from the last post on our little day-trip from Mumbai to visit Gateway of India, followed by Gharapuri/Elephanta caves in the little island off Mumbai! So here's all the information on Elephanta Caves to make your trip as fruitful!
Elephanta Caves Mumbai UNESCO

Battery train to reach Elephanta Caves Mumbai

How to reach Elephanta Caves
The ferry ride from Gateway of India, took about an hour and there I was, after traversing through several ships and boats, at a small island. The island had a long walkway/railway before which the jetty stopped and I had to get down that railing and a short walk took me to the island. But instead of walking, I had a glorious option - the small battery train. It was so cute that it made it irresistible. I took it and in a minute I was there at the island.
A series of several steps (it would be some 200 I guess, I dunno), with several several shops with irresistible goodies on either sides were so tempting. But believe me, I overcame my temptation and did not even buy a single thing. Not even a souvenir. But if at all something is to be bought, you must be a master of bargaining!!!

This is monument protected by the Archeological Survey of India as well as listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India. So entry into this place requires a ticket. I still have it and I think the ticket is the only souvenir I have!!! It had a pretty decent crowd. So many mumbaikars esp. couples (Yeah!! it was Valentine’s Day), and very many foreigners. It’s one of the important tourist places near Mumbai.
How big is this island? Well, this island is about 1050 to 1500 hectares in area. Intriguing to have 2 figures as area? No. I’ll give you the explanation. Mumbai is known for its severe tides that goes in and out of the shoreline. Further this place being an island, is completely eaten up by water in high tides. 
Who built it is still a debate, but most say that Elephanta Caves were built by Chalukyan Emperor Pulikesi II. Estimated to be built during the period of 5th C to 8th C AD, I couldn’t help but wonder how would have the artists come here and sculpted all these marvels. It took an hour by the sturdy motor boat of the present era. How would they have come in manual small boats.? How many hours would it have taken.? I seriously wonder…!!!

There are quite a few caves near Mumbai including Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri etc some of which are Buddhist Caves. As soon as I went inside Elephanta, I came face to face with a huge hall filled with several sculptures & relieves. This is the main area i.e mandap of the island. But most of these sculptures were badly, rather very badly destructed, thanks to the Portugal invasion. All these are essentially rock-cut caves like Mahabalipuram. But unlike Mahabs, the sculptures are massive and less inctricate over all with specific portions of highly intricate ornamentations. All these reliefs are dedicated to Lord Shiva (one of the Trinity gods of Hinduism). 
Caves of elephanta sculptures Shiva as nataraja

Caves of elephanta sculptures Shiva as nataraja
Elephanta gets its name from the huge elephant statue that stood here once. But now its disintegrated into pieces. However, those pieces have been taken to the Jijabhai Bhosle Udyan Gardens in Central Mumbai and re-assembled, where it stands till date. It was this Elephant that the Portuguese saw as soon as they landed here, which is why they called it Elefanta, Portuguese for elephant. How would an Indian place derive its name from Western word.? No. Never. Its original name is Gharapuri. Nowadays it is more commonly called Elephanta Caves or Elephanta Gufa (gufa means caves in Hindi).

The first sculpture that I came across was Yogeshwara Shiva (The Meditator). This is located on the left as soon as I entered. He is seated on a lotus and is meditating. As I said already he is huge and not very intricate in overall, but his headgear is very intricately, elaborately carved. In western terms I could say its very Baroque, but pretty much older than Baroque period. Or should I say, Baroque is very Elephanta head gear-stic…???
On my right, at this juncture was Shiva as Nataraja (The Dancer). This one is been rather very severely damaged. 3 of his 4 hands and both his legs are missing. On Nataraja’s right, on the top is Brahma (the plump, 4 headed one – another one of the trinity). Diagonally on the bottom right of Brahma is Ganesha – Shiva’s elephant faced elder son. Just below him is Kumara – Shiva’s younger son with a ‘Vel’ - a spear in his hand. On the left of Shiva is Iravadham – the white heavenly elephant – the chariot of Indra, the king of heaven. With several other flying celestial there stands my dear friend!!!
Caves of elephanta sculptures Shivalingam

Caves of elephanta sculptures Ganesha

Caves of elephanta sculptures Yogeshwara Kalyanasundara Moorthy Shiva
Just ahead of me was a Lingam (The Symbolic representation of Lord Shiva). This is till date worshipped and rituals take place here once a year on the day of Maha Sivarathri. This Sanctum Sanctorum has entrance on all 4 sides and is guarded by 8 Dwarapalakas. They are huge, I mean really really huge. They have thick lips with a moustache, very much like those represented in Ajanta and Ellora paintings.
The next panel was the Andhakasura Vadhamurthi (Killer of Andhaka Demon). Here he is seen holding a huge sword with angered and huge opened eyes, just ready to kill Andhaka, the demon.
The next panel is of Kalyana Sundaramurthy (Shiva as a groom). Here he is in the marriage pose, taking Parvathi – his consort, hand in hand. Behind Parvathi is Himavan – The Himalaya (Yeah. Parvathi is the daughter of mountain Himalaya, represented as Himavan). Parvathi here stands in a graceful delicate pose, with the absolute shyness of a bride.
This panel is of Gangadhara Shiva (base of Ganges). It is said that when the great drought that hits the earth, Saint Bagiratha, performed the penance to bring the heavenly river Ganges down to earth. Ganges was ready to come, but wanted someone to hold her when she comes down, else with that force that she come, the earth would be damaged. Lord Shiva was there to help and offered to hold Ganges in his matted locks when she comes down. Till date Shiva is depicted with Ganges atop his head flowing down in a graceful flow.
Elephanta Caves Trimurthi Sculpture
The next is the most important and the only un-damaged piece of craftsman ship. He is
Maheshmurthy Shiva also called Trimurthi. It’s a huge statue of the bust of Shiva with 5 faces. But only 3 faces are visible. The 4th is considered to be behind and the 5th is considered invisible to the eyes of mortals. The face on the left is calm and peaceful. This represents his feminine side, of his side of Uma – his consort. The creator mood of Lord Shiva who is Sadashiva/Vamadeva. Even his headgear is highly ornamental and has a lotus in hand and he’s rather beautiful than handsome!!! Centrally placed is the is also calm but not very feminine. This is the preserver for on Shiva who is a mix of feminity and masculinity. He is Mahadeva/Tatpurusha, the one with absolute knowledge. He hold a citron as a symbol of fecundity. The face on the right is the angry young brat in him!!! The destroyer – Bhairava/Aghora. He’s fierce and scary with serpant locks. He has a huge, thick moustache.
This is located centrally in the cave. His bust alone is 6.55m wide and 3.2m deep and 5.43m high. I felt so humbled and small in front of him.
Caves of elephanta sculptures Uma sahitha Shiva

Caves of elephanta sculptures Ravananugraha Shiva
After Maheshmurthy Shiva is Ardhanarishwara. Artha is half, Nari is Lady and Ishwara is Shiva. So Arthanarishwara is the semi lady or half feminine form if Shiva. His left half is consort Uma. This denotes the unified equality of the feminine and masculine forces which forms the creative power of universe. Hinduism being one of the oldest and traditional religions in the world, like the other old religions, believes in fertility and unification. Like Egyptian or Greek civilization, Hinduism too has several symbolisms that denote fertility, unification, etc. Hinduism essentially has 2 paths – ‘Thuravaram’ (asceticism) and ‘Illaram’ (family system). Its about being pure in any one path. Either a person should be a pure family man with a single spouse and must support his family or must be a complete ascetic, not even owning fabric to cover himself (he covers himself with ashes).!!!
The next panel is Parvathi Mana, where Parvathi / Uma is upset. This signifies the game of Ludo, where Shiva keeps winning and Parvathi is upset. So she is seen with her head turned to the other side (not facing Shiva), in anger and foul mood. Then Shiva pacifies her and lets her win. This is one of the very badly damaged panels. Shiva’s face is also gone case.
The next panel is the last panel of Lord Shiva’s legends called Ravananugraha Murthi. This is Ravana in Kailasa. Kailasa is the part of Himalaya where Shiva resides. Ravana is a demon who possesses helluva power. He thinks that he has more power than Shiva, and comes to Kailash and shakes the whole place. Seen here is Kailash denoted as a plank on which Shiva sits. Below the plank is Ravana who is seen lifting Kailash with his 20 arms. Coolly and calmly, Shiva presses his toe onto the ground, crushing Ravana beneath Kailash. Shiva releases Ravana at this point, without letting him die. Ravana thus understood the mighty strength of Shiva. 
The rest will be continued in the next post

How to reach Gateway of India: Refer my last post.
How to reach Elephanta Caves from Gateway of India
Elephanta Caves Ferry from Gateway of India takes about 1 hr.

ELEPHANTA CAVES TIMINGS: Tue to Sun - 9:00AM to 6:00PM

Elephants Caves Tickets for Indians & SAARC Nationals: Rs.35/-
Elephants Caves Entry Tickets for Foreigners: Rs.550/-

Elephants Caves tickets can be bought online on ASI's official website via ASI - PayUMoney app.
Choose Mumbai and choose Elephants Caves. Choose the date and proceed to give your ID details and pay.
Tickets can also be bought at the gate.

ELEPHANTA CAVES HOTELS: There are no hotels or places to stay in Elephanta. Since this is 1hr away from Mumbai by ferry, it is easier to stay anywhere in Mumbai and do this as a day-trip.

WHERE TO EAT AT ELEPHANTA CAVES: There are a couple of eateries in this island, some kiosks that sell Indian food. However it is possible to bring your own food and eat a picnic in this island.

Dedicated to Rathish. Also courtesy of some photographs in this post.

Elephanta Caves UNESCO Gharapuri Pinterest  Elephanta Caves UNESCO Gharapuri Pinterest


An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands


  1. Amazing pics and Wonderful right up... awww am tempted so much by those shops :P OMG.. how I am missing shopping you know :O

  2. *write up.. not right up.. think am affected by some disease like dyslexia

  3. Thank you for the trip! This is so different from any of my many travels - very interesting. Oh, and I liked the shot of the shops with the goodies. You're very strong not to be tempted!

  4. thozhi gr8 narration i have read abt this in books. but not sure whether pulikesi II built this one. ajantha was there in his periond but this one i jave to chk

  5. Beautiful shots. I found it to be dark to take shots when I was there long time back.

    Glimpses of Survaya Ki Grahi

  6. Would love to visit the place! I'm a bit claustrophobic but, from what I can see, these caves are huge! :-)))

  7. Oh boy, what a place; I recalled my visit to Bedse Caves a few months back. Although the caves I visited don't look similar, but man-made caves are man-made caves; they look quite attractive and are full of amazement.

    Thanks so much for sharing these pictures and the information, Bhushavali :) Have a superb day!!!

  8. nice post. Its more likely a Rastrakuta creation.


  9. @Sow,
    Thanks da..... Why missing..??? Venture Ranganathan St na or atleast Shanmugam St... :)
    About the spelling. Its ok. It happens to severe bloggers like u.. :)

    @Miss Footloose,
    Ha ha ha... I really dunno how I managed to control myself that day... :)

    Thank you. Thagaval therindhal sollavum.. :)

    Thank youuuuuuuuu.. :)

  10. @Rajesh,
    I went in Feb. Valentine's Day to be particular. Hee hee... It was pretty sunny by the time. May be in Dec it might be dark.. :)

    You've gotta come here. It really really have to. You'll come over your phobia and fall in love.. :)

    I've not been to Badse caves yet.. But yeah, any of the Indian Architechture has no comparisons across the world!!!

    Thanks dear.. Welcome to my blog. Do drop in often. Thanks for dropping a comment.. :)

  11. On visiting Mumbai this place would be on my list ..
    Gr8 work once again ,you seem to travel to many new places & am feeling more & more jealous on you :)
    Touchwood :)

  12. @Sathish,
    Yenappa unakku indha jealousy... Naan oora suthi paathu ungalukku endha route comfortable'a irukkum'nu sondha anubavatha ungalukka ezhudharen... Pls.. A hundred times, pls no jealousy!!!

  13. Fabulous pictures from a very beautiful place.

  14. Wonderful pics and neatly described. Those rock carvings are truely marvellous, sure to stand the test of time, but how come some are damaged?

  15. hi..

    great infos there in this post...

    u ve explained abt the way the 3 faces look and wat they represent... got any idea abt how the other 2 faces are supposed to look and what they represent??

    just curious to know..


  16. @Phivos,
    Thank you so much dear... :)

    Most are damaged. Thanks to Portuguese invasion. :)

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. The fifth face is supposed to be invisible to mortals, so it has no shape or identity or so. I am not aware about the 4th face. I'll let you know, if I come to know.

  17. too good yar,
    In the trip of elephanta i did heard the stories...

    after read this i got history of these pictures....

    go ahead.............

  18. Excellent!
    Many old memories rekindled, thanks for that.


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