Shiv Jee | Shiv Temples

Om Namah Shivaaya
Shiv Temples

Home | Shiv | Shiv-Temples

Elephanta Caves

Previous | Next

Cave Temple, Elephanta Island

The cave Temple of Shiv, located on Elephanta Island in Bombay Harbor, India, was excavated out of the rock sometime in the 6th century AD. Inside, it contains a square Ling shrine. The interior of the cave is decorated with a dozen large relief sculptures of the great god Shiv in his fierce and kindly aspects: dancing, practicing yoga, playing dice with Paarvatee, slaying the demon Andhakaasur, receiving the Ganges River in his hair, etc.

The great height (7m) and darkness of the statue reinforce Shiv's mysterious awesomeness, which must have been even more impressive during worship, when the statue would have been illuminated by the flickering light of numerous small oil lamps.

Its north entrance is on axis with the great three-headed Shiv on the south wall, while the Ling shrine is placed off-center (so as not to obscure the three-headed Shiv) on the east-west axis. This dual scheme allows Shiv to be presented in his iconic and aniconic forms.

The island of Elephanta was named by the Portuguese after a stone elephant found there in the 16th century. The historical name of the island was Ghar Puree. It is very dark inside the cave.

Ling Shrine
There is a Ling shrine in the cave temple. It is unusual in having four entrances, one at each compass point. Beautiful Dwaarapaal guard the entrance openings. Although detached from the walls, the shrine is, like everything else in the cave, cut from a matrix of living rock. Extensive damage to the guardians and other sculptures was caused, it is said, by the Portuguese. However, more than enough remains to justify the general opinion that the sculpture here is among the finest in India.

Its Columns
The columns at Elephanta do not actually bear weight, because the cave roof is self-supporting. Architecturally, the columns define the temple space as a large, multi-columned hall whose grid plan is laid out according to a precise mathematical scheme. The columns display a compound geometry. Their squared-off lower shafts support fluted round upper shafts which expand into pincushion capitals. The upper shafts and capitals bulge as if compressed by the (illusory) weight of the ceiling. Small Gan at the upper corners, now mostly destroyed, mark the transition between the lower and upper shafts. Carved brackets and beams reinforce the convincing simulation of a structural building.



Home | Shiv | Shiv-Temples


Previous | Next

Created and Maintained by Sushma Gupta
Created on March 15, 2003 and Updated on February 12, 2013