As corny as that may have sounded, the term “elephantastic” has been used for tourism, which I wouldn’t dare dispute. It is indeed nothing but fantastic. A few nautical miles away from Mumbai’s Gateway of India, the island is worth a daytrip, especially on those days when you’re just tired of the same old daily city grind.
If you’re looking for an elephant among the photos, bother no more. The island and the caves were given the name “Elephanta” because of the stone elephant that was found by the Portuguese at the entrance of the island. This elephant is no longer on the island; instead, it is now in a museum garden in Byculla, Mumbai.
We took a boat ride from the Gateway of India to the island. It was a very relaxing ride to and from the island.
It was a long stairway up to the caves, but there were side stalls full of lovely souvenir items that made the otherwise dull trip up less tiring.
Upon entering the caves, we were transported 1,400 years back in time. The caves were full of beautiful ancient Indian rock art by the cult of Shiva, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most popular creations is the Maheshmurti (which I wasn’t able to take a Lomo photo of since it was too dark inside and I was only equipped with a 200 ISO Klick Max, a film I love nonetheless!). The Maheshmurti shows Shiva, a Hindu deity, as 3 beings – creator, preserver, and destroyer. I found this most interesting of all because looking around the site, most of the structures appear to be destroyed. Upon further explanation of our guide, the Portuguese used the caves for target practice, repelled by a religion other than their own. Most of the structures have been ruined by their ammunition but the Maheshmurti is still whole. According to our guide, the Portuguese spared it because it resembled the Catholic idea of the Holy Trinity – father, son, and holy spirit.
We’re certainly glad that we agreed to have a guide with us because we were able to appreciate everything even more. He told us stories we weren’t familiar with yet, but very basic to Hinduism. Things like how Ganesha came to have the head of an elephant. This was what I could recall from what he told us (and please do forgive me if I make a few mistakes in retelling the story):
There was a time when Shiva didn’t come home for a long time. Parvati, his wife, assigned Ganesha their son to stand by the entrance of their home and told him not to allow anybody to enter. Ganesha never came to know his father, same goes for Shiva to his son, since Shiva was already away when Ganesha was growing up. When Shiva returned home, Ganesha stopped him. This made Shiva lose his temper and cut off Ganesha’s head. Parvati arrived at the scene, angered and grievous. Shiva then sent out servants to bring the head of the first creature they see with a head directed towards the north (sign of wisdom). They then brought back the head of an elephant.
It was a very culturally enriching experience. To be faced with something so ancient and beautiful makes it easy to appreciate the world and its people. The island was a really nice way to get to know a bit of Hindu culture because there’s nothing like going back to where it all began.