Elephanta Caves - Buddhist Architecture

The Elephanta Caves are located on a small island in Western India dotted with numerous ancient archaeological remains that depict its rich cultural past. The architecture and forested area of Elephanta Caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, since 1987.

Aspirants might encounter questions on Elephanta Caves under Art and Culture section in UPSC Prelims, and about its architecture in the Mains. 

Additionally, candidates can also read about the following Buddhist caves for relevant details-

  1. Ajanta Caves & Ellora Caves
  2. Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri Caves
  3. Kanheri Caves

Details regarding other monasteries and Cave Architecture in Ancient India are available on the linked page.

Elephanta Caves

  • The Elephanta Caves are located on Elephanta Island in Mumbai also known as Gharapuri island. 
  • The Elephanta island is the glorious abode of Lord Shiva and an epitome of Hindu cave culture, consists of seven caves on an island in the Sea of Oman close to Mumbai.
  • The seven caves constitute one of the most striking collections of rock-cut style of architecture in India.
  • There are two groups of caves on Elephanta Island (two hillocks separated by a narrow valley).
    • To the east, there is a Stupa Hill (thus named because of ancient Buddhist stupa mounds at the top) contains two caves, one of which is unfinished, and several cisterns. 
    • The larger group, to the west, consists of five rock-cut Hindu shrines. 
    • Each cave has been carved as a rock-cut temple with one main huge chamber, courtyards, two lateral chambers, and minor shrines.
  • The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock and show syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. You can read the Differences between Buddhism and Hinduism on the linked page. 

Candidates can check the links provided below to assist their exam preparation – 

  • The date of the famous Elephanta Caves is still very much debated and varies from the 6th century to the 8th century.
  • The cave temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, was excavated sometime in the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta kings.
  • The Mahesa-murti cave is the most important one. The main body of this cave is 27 meters square and is supported by rows of six columns each (excluding the porticos on the three open sides and the back aisle).
  • There are sculptured compartments in this cave with remarkable images of Ardhanarishvara, Nataraja Shiva, Ravana lifting Kailasa, Kalyana-Sundara Shiva, Andhakari-Murti (slaying of Andhaka demon).
  • There are also impressive gigantic figures of ‘dwarapala’ or doorkeepers.
  • The 7-meter-high masterpiece “Sadashiva” dominates the entrance of the cave. It represents the three aspects of Shiva: the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer, with Vamadeva or Uma (right half), Taptapurusha or Mahadeva (central full face), and Aghora or Bhairava (left half).
  • The main cave is universally famous for its carvings to the glory of Shiva, which is exalted in various forms and actions.
  • Another structure that remains somewhat intact, in comparison to the other dilapidated caves, is the Sitabai Temple, a large prayer hall featuring walls adorned with rich and intricate sculptures located near the great cave.
  • Hindu spiritualistic beliefs and symbology are finely utilized in the overall planning of the caves.
  • The fifteen large reliefs surrounding the lingam chapel in the main Elephanta Cave is one of the most important collections for the cult of Shiva.  
  • The layout of the caves, including the pillar components, the placement and division of the caves into different parts, and the provision of a sanctum or Garbhagriha of sarvatobhadra plan, are important developments in rock-cut architecture.
  • Besides the caves, Elephanta Island possesses archaeological remains from as early as the 2nd century BC and from the Portuguese period in India, as witnessed, respectively, by stupas buried towards the eastern side of the hillock and a cannon located at its top.

Aspirants can check out the related links given below to do comprehensive preparation of upcoming exams – 

 Recent Developments related to Elephanta Caves – 

  1. India’s first and longest sea ropeway project will connect Mumbai with the Elephanta Caves.
    • It is to be executed by the Mumbai Port Trust, under the Ministry of Shipping.
    • It is Rs. 700 crore PPP (Public-Private Partnership) project 
    • From Sewri in Mumbai’s east coast, the 8-km ropeway will begin and end at Raigad district’s Elephanta Island.
    • Clearance will have to be taken from the Archeological Survey of India – ASI, besides the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and the Ministry of Environment because Elephanta Caves are world heritage sites.
  2. Significance of the project – 
    • The caves see an annual footfall of nearly seven lakh visitors
    • It takes around an hour for the 10-km cruise from Mumbai and vice versa.
    • It is one of the must-visit places around Mumbai
    • Hence, The 14-minute ride by 30-seater cable cars will give a major boost to tourism.

The facts about Elephanta caves given in the article will help candidates prepare for the IAS exam.

Frequently Asked Questions about Elephant Caves

What does the Elephant Caves consist of?

The Elephanta Caves contain rock cut stone sculptures that show syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock

How old are Elephanta Caves?

The rock-cut Elephanta Caves were constructed about the mid-5th to 6th centuries AD. The most important among the caves is the great Cave 1, which measures 39 metres from the front entrance to the back.

Get the detailed UPSC Syllabus for the prelims and mains examination and start your Civil Services Exam preparation accordingly.

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