What is the significance of Elephanta Caves?

In India, the tradition of excavating caves began during the period of Ashoka and the earliest examples of these have been the Lomasha Rishi Caves in the Barabar Hills. There are various sites like Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri, Karla, Bhaje, Mangi-Tungi, Udaygiri-Khandagiri where one can find fine examples of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu Cave Architecture.

The Elephanta Caves are considered to be a contribution by the Kalachuris and the latest rules to contribute were the Rashtrakutas. The caves are located about 10 kilometers away from Mumbai. It is one of the UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site in India.

Elephanta Caves holds its significance because:

  • The Shaivite group of caves − While there are many examples of Buddhist Caves in India, Elephanta Caves stand as a unique and important example as it is influenced by Shaiva traditions and mythology in the Shiva Purana.

  • Iconography in the caves − The various panels and the iconographic representations in these Caves highlight its artistic beauty. The panels are Kalyanasundaramurti (depicting the marriage of Shiva and Parvati), Ardhanareshwara (the iconography which represents half Shiva and half Shakti which is symbolic of gender equality), Andhakasura Vadha Murti (killing Andhakasura), Nataraja (representing Shiva as the cosmic dancer), the Shiva Linga (the Linga symbolizes union of a male and female)with the dwarapalas (doorkeepers)at the centre of the complex.

  • The architecture − The layout of the site and the geometrical study helps us understand that the entire plan is in-line with focal points considered as important energy centers. Thus, it serves as an important example in the study of Cave Architecture.