Ten nautical miles away from the busy city of Mumbai lie the enigmatic Island of Elephanta. Water bodies tend to have a soothing effect on me and but not this time. The heat and the moisture made the atmosphere in the boat extremely oppressive. I was more troubled by the number of food packets, plastics and coconut shells which went floating past.
However, we reached the island within forty-five minutes and then took a tram which dropped us nearer to the hill that was the famous abode of Lord Shiva. One look at the gigantic proportions of the temple architecture made all my hard work seem worth it.
The majestic rock-cut temples whose history remains a mystery to this day, is said to have been built during 450-750 A.D. under the influence of Buddhist architecture. Excavated in the 8th century, this imposing cave shrine added to the glory of the ruling Rashtrakuta dynasty which ruled the coastal area from 757-973A.D.
The term “ilha do elephanta” was coined by the Portuguese several centuries later because they found a monolithic stone elephant in the island. “Gharapuri” or the “City of Caves” as this island was known during the reign of the Konkan Mauryas is not only the serene abode of Lord Shiva but also one of the great examples of Indian art and sculpture displaying the lore of Shiva.
It was a thrill to see some research that I had done prior to going being identifiable. The larger-than-life architecture of Sadashiva or The Eternal Shiva was breathtakingly beautiful and justified the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) using it as their emblem.
Contrary to the popular belief that Brahma is the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Maheshwar, the destroyer, the Sadashiva statue depicted Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. The three heads had three different expressions on their faces. It was amazing to see that even stones could express emotions. Besides the statues, there were approximately nine stone Shivalingams which were enshrined within the precincts of the cave.
I was transported to a completely different century altogether. The immensity of the architecture made all the manifestations of Shiva seem mysteriously alive. Was it myth or was it history? I wondered. I knew that every myth had logical base which we failed to recognise in the modern days. I was also aware of the fact that every God in the Hindu religion represented aspects of human nature.
These statues, too, did the same. Shiva as the serene Yogi, as well as the loving Husband, as the supreme Dancer, and the Wrathful God – He is all in one at the same time…and so are we. We, too house paradoxes within ourselves like the concept of Shiva. It was then that I realised the actual essence of pantheism and understood the profundity of our mythical heritage.
The Elephanta Caves was deservedly declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1987. A symbol of ancient Indian culture, religion, myth, history, sculpture and architecture – this temple is an exemplification of a confluence of Science and Arts since its very existence proves the brilliant engineering skill which combined with religiosity, artistic temperament and an aesthetic sense in creating this grand emblem of Indian culture.