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I’m participating in the #AtoZBloggingChallenge 2016 with the theme – Pins on the Map of my Memory – which is about places that bear a special connection with me for reasons mostly personal!

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for Elephanta Caves

As a child, each time I flipped through the pages of the family album, especially one with the snapshots of our trips taken every winter, I used to stop at one particular one – that of me, aged four, holding mom’s hand, with a ferry in the background, and a grin spread across my face, wearing mom’s sunshades. I thought it was a happy picture and I loved to show it to my friends. It was only years later that mom would tell me how terrified I was, to get into the ferry that morning, when we set off for an hour-long ride from the Gateway of India to see the Elephanta Caves.

That winter was the first of many, when we would go on a long trip of almost 15-20 days visiting places along Western India. As a little girl, used to seeing the mountains, the sight of the Arabian Sea intimidated my tiny self so much so that I would not give in. It took a lot of cajoling by my parents for me to agree to step in.

Eventually, I did, though, with very unsure steps and trepidation in my heart, much to the relief of my parents and the amusement of our co-passengers! Every time the ferry swayed even slightly, I thought we were all going to topple over into the waters. Sixty minutes seemed to me like forever and hence that look of relief when I finally got off. That was the secret behind my happy face!

Through that snapshot, Dad had frozen a very special moment in time forever and I’m so grateful to him for that, as it lets me share a slice of my childhood with my son now.

For those who have never been to the Elephanta caves, they are a complex of ancient cave temples, possibly built between the 6th and 8th centuries, an hour away from India’s financial capital, Mumbai.

Apparently, the island was originally called Gharapuri – the Portuguese renamed it Elephanta after they found a large stone elephant near their landing place. The island consists of a large group of five Hindu caves and a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures. It is believed that Shaivism, the worship of Shiva, inspired the building of these temples.

Of the many iconic statues here, the one that is most famous is the enormous Maheshamurti statue 18 ft. in height, depicting Shiva as Creator (facing right), Protector (the crowned face at the center), and Destroyer (facing left, with serpents for hair).

Even though many of Elephanta’s priceless statues have been damaged or destroyed by the Portuguese, who apparently used the Hindu gods for target practice, the caves remain the most magnificent achievement in the history of rock-architecture in western India. Growing saline activity and general deterioration of rock surface are affecting the caves, although as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, efforts are being taken to preserve these as much as possible. So, if you are planning a trip, do make it sooner than later.

Worth noting that if you plan to visit in February, you can catch the annual dance festival held at Elephanta Island every year. If you take the return journey during sunset,  you can also witness a spectacular view of the skyline of Mumbai, a sight you’ll treasure forever!

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