Elephanta Island

A day trip from Mumbai

Shiva and Shakti

Shiva and Shakti

For anyone visiting Mumbai who has an interest in historic Indian culture and spiritualty, a trip across to Elephanta Island is an excellent day trip.  But if you are to take in the fullness of what the island has to offer, an overnight stay may be worthwhile.

There is a regular ferry service from the Mumbai waterfront (by the Gateway of India). The ferry takes about an hour, but there is sometimes a fast ferry that takes 20 minutes.  Ensure you buy your tickets at the ticket office, or you'll pay extra.  Fees: Indian Rs 10; foreigner RS 250 and open 9am-5.30pm Tues-Sun.

Once on the island remember the monkeys are notorious pickpockets and have been known to bite if they don't get their own way, so keep any food or other temptation well hidden.


The name of the island is actually Gharapuri which translates as the 'City of Caves'.  It's situated about 10 km from Mumbai on the east side of the harbour and owes its name to the enormous stone elephant found there by Portuguese who came seeking conquest and loot.  This colossal statue was moved to Mumbai and today it's forlorn form guards Ranichi Bagh* and many artworks on the island have been severely damaged by the Portuguese and other foreigners.

The island of Elephanta is a place of worship to Lord Shiva and his consort, Shakti. But despite the damage, it remains a fine example of Indian cave art.  There are seven caves on the island decorated with images from Indian history and mythology bearing testimony to a civilization that has almost disappeared.

There are two groups of caves. To the east, Stupa Hill (thus named because of a small brick Buddhist monument at the top) contains two caves, one of which is unfinished, and several cisterns. To the west, the larger group consists of five rock-cut Hindu shrines. The main cave is universally famous for its carvings to the glory of Shiva, who is exalted in various forms and actions.

The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock and were all painted in the past, but today only traces remain.  The larger group of five caves on the western hill of the island are well known for their Hindu sculptures.  The primary cave, numbered as Cave 1, is about 1 mile (1.6 km) up a hillside, facing the ocean.  It's a rock-cut temple complex covering an area of 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2), with a main chamber, two lateral chambers, courtyards, and subsidiary shrines.

*Ranichi Bagh means the Queen's Gardens after the original British title Victoria Gardens.



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