BENGALURU: Boarding one of the jetties at Gateway of India, we left on a tumultuous journey to Elephanta Islands that usually takes 40-45 minutes from the Apolla Bunder which was once the traditional dockyard for the local fishermen. Going to Elephanta itself was an experience and that too when the monsoons had started. We were traveling at the fag end of the tourism season and the sea was rough. We managed to reach the shores of these islands housing the famous cave temples of Elephanta albeit taking more time.
I have been to many rock-cut cave temples but that was all inland and not subject to climatic vagaries as this has been since its inception in the sixth or eighth century. As one nears the island, two hills abounding with verdant forests are visible from one side while rice fields can also be seen in the valley. Docking down at the quay, we made our way across to one of the hills comprising five cave temples with Hindu architecture. One has to climb a steep hill to reach the main entrance. One must also be careful of the monkeys that are known to harangue visitors.
The main cave temple comprising the Shiva deity in his various forms is the place to visit as it has not only a 16-ft tall statue of Lord Shiva but also a huge sculpture of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara and attracts a lot of attention. This is the only cave temple which has stood the test of time. The other temples are in a bad shape and not maintained properly.
Most of the caves here depict the Ramayana or the Mahabharata and are embellished with the figures of Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, Ardhanarishwara, and of course, the dancing Nataraja. The architectural style is similar to the Chalukyan style. All these caves are on the Western hill while on the Eastern hill, also called the Stupa Hill, there are a few caves that houses Buddhist temples. Some of them are incomplete and abandoned. One needs a good pair of walking shoes to negotiate the uneven terrain. It is not possible to imbibe the heritage of such a vast era and see every sculpture that is mostly battered and broken down in just about three hours. The cave temples are more than 8-9 in number. It is said that during the rule of Portuguese, the main cave housing the various sculptures and carvings were damaged and vandalized by these invaders.