Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a set of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. They are on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri (literally “the city of caves”), in Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Mumbai within the Indian state of Mahārāshtra. The island, about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of the Nehru Port, consists of 5 Hindu caves and a couple of Buddhist stupa mounds that go back to the 2nd century BCE, also as alittle group of two Buddhist caves with water tanks.
The Elephanta Caves contain rock cut stone sculptures that show syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. Except for a few exceptions, much of the artwork is defaced and damaged. The main temple’s orientation also because the relative location of other temples are placed during a mandala pattern. The carvings narrate Hindu mythologies, with the massive monolithic 20 feet (6.1 m) Trimurti Sadashiva (three-faced Shiva), Nataraja (Lord of dance) and Yogishvara (Lord of Yoga) being the foremost celebrated.
The main cave, also called Cave 1, Grand Cave or the good Cave, is 39.63 metres (130.0 ft) square in plan with a hall (mandapa). The basic plan of the cave are often traced back to the plan of the traditional Buddhist viharas, consisting of a square court surrounded by cells, built from about 500 to 600 years before in India. The Cave has several entrances, the most entrance is unassumingly small and hides the grand hall inside. The main entrance faces north, while two side entrances face east and west. The cave’s main entrance is aligned with the north–south axis, unusual for a Shiva shrine (normally east–west). However, inside is an integrated square plan Linga shrine (garbha-griya) that’s aligned east-west, opening to the sunrise.
To the south-east of the good Cave is Cave 2. The cave is unfinished. The front of this cave was completely destroyed and restored within the 1970s with four square pillars. It has two small cells in the back.
Cave 3 is next to Cave 2, together continues to travel far away from the most shrine. It is a portico with six pillars, and a mandapa with pillars. The portico is 26 m (85 ft) long and 11 m (36 ft) deep and is supported by four reconstructed pillars. At the back of the portico are three chambers. The central door at the rear of the portico results in a damaged shrine, the sanctum seems to be for a Linga, but that’s lost. The shrine may be a plain room 6 m (20 ft) deep by 5.7 m (19 ft) wide with a coffee altar. The shrine door has some traces of sculpture. The dvarapalas on all sides, leaning on dwarfs with flying figures over the top , are now in fragments. There are two other chambers, one on all sides of the shrine.
Cave 4 is sort of damaged, the massive verandah lacking all its columns. The relief remains suggest the cave was once a Shaiva temple also. The shrine in the back contains a lingam. There also are three cells for monks and a chapel at each end of the verandah.
Cave 5 is unfinished and during a very damaged state, with no artistic remains
One may be a large hall referred to as Cave 6, or Sitabai’s temple cave. The portico has four pillars and two pilasters. The hall has 3 chambers at the rear, the central one a shrine and therefore the rest for monks or priests. The hall is barren of any decoration, apart from the door of the central shrine, which has pilasters and a frieze, with the edge decorated with lion figures
Next, along the face of the eastern hill to the north of Sitabai’s cave is Cave 7, another small excavation with a veranda, which was probably to be three cells, but was abandoned following the invention of a flaw within the rock.
Past Cave 7, to the east, may be a dry pond, with large artificial boulders and a number of other Buddhist cisterns along its banks. Near the cistern, now at the top of the north spur of Capitol Hill, may be a mound that was identified because the remains of a Buddhist stupa. This stupa, state Michell and Dhavalikar, was originally much taller and dates to about the 2nd century BCE.