Download GPX file for this article
18.95833372.930556Full screen dynamic map

From Wikivoyage
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Elephanta is an island off of Mumbai and home to the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It consists of a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.


Trimurthi, Cave 1

The island has been referred to as Gharapuri (literally meaning village of caves) in ancient literature. It has a coastline of about 7 km, covers an area of 1050 ha and consists of two hills separated by a narrow valley. The highest point rises to a height of 173 m above sea level. The island once had a share of mangrove forest but a large chunk of it has gone missing over the years.

The Portuguese named the island Elephanta, after a huge rock cut elephant statue found on the island. The elephant statue was damaged in attempts to relocate it to England, was moved to Victoria Gardens (now Jijamata Udyaan) in 1864, and reassembled in 1914. Because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Thane Creek, the island has served as a pit stop for ancient sailors dating back to the 2nd century BCE.

The caves, for which the island is famous, came up much later. Nothing much is known about the history of the caves. Numismatic evidence, along with inscriptions and construction style suggest that the caves were constructed by King Krishnaraja of the Kalachuri Dynasty and date back to the mid 6th century CE.

As of 2022, the grand sculptures of the cave are heavily damaged and defaced, it is not known when the destruction started. The most common theory states that the statues were damaged by the Portuguese soldiers as they used the caves and statues as a firing range and for target practice.

Get in

Ferry to Elephanta Island
Group of sea gulls en route Elephant Island and tourist feeding them

Elephanta is about 11 km from mainland Mumbai. Ferry service is available from Apollo Bunder Jetty located next to Gateway of India, in South Mumbai.

  • The ferry operates every half an hour and the journey takes about an hour.
  • The first ferry leaves Mumbai at 9:30 am and the last one at 2 pm.
  • The first ferry leaves Elephanta Island at noon and the last one at 5:30 pm.
  • A roundtrip ticket costs ₹260 (December 2022). Payment of an extra ₹10 will provide a seat in the upper deck
  • Elephanta Cave is closed on Monday

The journey is a remarkable experience and the ferry sails past the Mumbai harbour providing great views of the city skyline. The ferry also sails past huge ships from all over the world. Folks of seagulls are part of the journey. Tourists feeding these birds fried snacks causes serious damage on the birds' health and is illegal, but the practice continues.

Fees and permits

  • Entry tickets for citizen of India and SAARC (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand) countries is ₹ 40 for other nationals it is ₹ 600. Children below 15 years are free
  • Videography charge: ₹ 25 per camera
  • Still photography: Free
  • Gram Panchayat Tax: ₹ 5 per visitor

Cave 1 is the largest and the grandest of the caves. Paid guide services are available in the cave. Caves 2-5 are adjoining to cave 1 and are much less impressive. But since they are a short walk away they should not be given a miss. Caves 6 and 7 are located outside the walled complex. Located on the adjoining hill, they are approachable by an unmarked trail. The hill also contains two Buddhist Stupas, one unexcavated and one unexplored. Outside the walled complex and on the opposite side of Caves 6 and 7, there are two huge cannons. They are reached in about 20 mins walk from the walled complex gate through a winding trail.

Get around

Map of Mumbai/Elephanta
Map of Mumbai/Elephanta

The ferry docks at the 1 Elephanta Island Pier, on the northern side of the island. A toy train operates along the pier taking visitors to the island. Tickets cost ₹10 for a round trip. However, it is not far to walk on foot. On reaching the ground of the island a long flight of stairs leads to the caves. There are about 120 steps and it is not very steep. There are souvenir and artefact shops all along the way. The shops also sell guide book books which provide ready reference about the history and mythology of the ancient caves.


Section digram of Cave 1 of Elephanta Caves
Entrance of Cave 1
Yogishvara (Lord of Yogis)
Nataraja (Dancing Shiva)
Panels on both side of the entrance
Gangadhara Shiva
Panels on both side of Trimurthi

1 Cave 1. Cave 1 is the largest and the grandest of the Elephanta Caves. The cave consists of a central large hall flanked by the Eastern and Western courtyard. The main hall is approachable from the north and is supported by colossal columns. The entrance is flanked by two sculptures on either side. On the left-hand side of the entrance is the statue of Yogishvara (Lord of Yogis) and on the right is Nataraja (Dancing Shiva). The entrance leads to a huge hall with a tall ceiling supported by a series of colossal columns and a shiva shrine on the left. The southern wall of the main hall houses three magnificent sculptures. On the centre is Trimurthi, on the left is Ardhanarishvara and on right is Gangadhara Shiva. The four corners of the main hall also have beautiful sculptures.

  • Yogishvara (Lord of Yogis) (no. 9 on map): Located on the left of the entrance, the panel shows Shiva seated in padmasana posture and lost in his meditation. Here the lord is represented as a master of the discipline of yoga, the teacher of Yoga arts. It is also known as Mahayogi or Lakulisa, the 28th incarnation of Shiva. He sits on a lotus with a stalk shown as if coming out of the earth, his legs are crossed symmetrically. He wears a crown and his face expresses great spiritual strength and calmness. The statue is badly damaged with both the upper limbs completely broken. The background contains several smaller statues of gods and goddesses, as well as monks and sadhus, creating a complex collage. Although these statues are badly damaged, one can trace out Bramha, Indra and Vishnu riding their respective vehicles of swan, elephant and Garuda.
  • Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) (no. 8 on map): The panel of Nataraja Shiva lies on the right hand side of the main entrance opposite the Yogishvara panel. Here, Shiva represents Nararaj or Nataraja, the king of the dancers. He is seen in lalita mudra. The panel is heavily damaged, with the entire lower portion missing. Large portions of the upper limbs are broken off. In the top left corner, statues of Bramha, Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya can be spotted.
  • Trimurti (no. 4 on map): Trimurti or Mahesh Murti occupies the prime position of the Elephanta caves and no wonder is the star attraction. The sculpture has a width of 6.55 m and a height of 5.43 m and a depth of 3.2 m. It consists of a threesheaded statue of Shiva, identified as Mahesa, Mahadeva, or Sadasiva. Each face has its own expression, jewellery and headdress and represents three essential aspects of Shiva: creation, preservation, and destruction. The central face represents the Tatpursha or Mahadeva the creator. With eyes almost closed it represents Shiva in deep meditation. The left face represents Aghora, Bhairava or Rudra, the destroyer. The face exhibits a curled moustache, bearded, hooked nose and somewhat gruesome appearance. The right head represents Vamadeva the preserver. With eyes almost closed. it has a peaceful look. The trimurti is flanked on both sides by statues of guardians deities, accompanied by a dwarf attendant.
  • Ardhanarishvara (no. 3 on map): Left of Trimurti is the panel of Ardhanarishvara, literally meaning the half-woman god. The female part represents Parvati while the male part represents Shiva. The male part of the four-handed statue leans on a bull (Nandi). The female part with a large breast is elegant with jewellery and holds a mirror in one hand. Numerous other figures crowd the background of the statue creating an elaborate backdrop.
  • Gangadhara Shiva (no. 5 on map): This panel is located right of Trimurti. The panel represents the story of Lord Shiva bringing river Ganges from heaven to earth. The panel shows Lord Shiva and Parvati standing side by side. In between them stands a gana (dwarf jester). Baghirath can be seen kneeling down on the lower left corner. Here also, the background contains an amazing collection of minor sculptures, which include Bramha and Vishnu.
  • Shiva - Parvati dice game (no. 2 on map): This panel occupies the south east corner of the main hall of cave 1. The panel shows Shiva and Parvati engaged in a game of dice in Kailash. The scene, taking place in Kailash Mountain, includes rocky terrain and clouds layered horizontally. There are traces of a crown and a disc behind Shiva, but it is all damaged. In between the couple stands a female figure with a child in her lap. The background is crowded with accessory figures, many of which have been damaged beyond recognition.
  • Ravan lifting Kailash (no. 1 on map): This panel is on the north east corner of the main hall. According to legend, Ravan wanted to uproot Kailash Parvat, the abode of Shiva, and bring it back home to Lanka. He managed to lift the mountain but when Shiva put his left foot on the mountain, it settled back to its original position. The panel depicts Ravana at the base while Shiva is sitting atop with one of his hands steadying a frightened Parvati. The background behind Shiva is crowded with numerous figures. The panel, especially the lower portion is badly damaged, and several of Shiva's arms are broken.
  • Marriage of Shiva and Parvati (no. 6 on map): This panel occupies the south west corner of the main hall. The panel depicts the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. According to Hindu text, the iconographic representation of this celestial marriage is known as Kalyanasundara. Both Shiva and Parvati are in standing position. Shiva is depicted as calm and young, while Parvati is shy and emotional. Brahma, the priest, is squatting on the floor to the right tending the yajna fire. The background shows gods, goddesses and celestial apsaras as witness to the grand wedding.
  • Shiva slaying Andhakasura (no. 7 on map): The panel is on the north west corner of the main hall in Cave 1. The panel shows Shiva, the destroyer, killing the demon Andhakasura, literally meaning blind, darkness. According to legend, each drop of Andhakasura, that falls on the ground creates a new Andhakasura. The Shiva statue in Elephanta carries a cup to prevent the blood of the demon from touching the ground. In the other hand he carries a sword. The upper portion of the panel contains an assortment of statues depicting various gods and goddesses flying through the air and paying homage to a votive stupa. Sadly, like all other statues of Elephanta, this too is badly damaged.
  • Linga Shrine (no. 16 on map): The Linga shrine consists of a free standing cubical cell located on the eastern side of the main hall. All four sides have doors approachable by a flight of stairs. All sides of the four doors are flanked with colossal statues of dvarapalas (gate guardians).
  • West Wing Shrine: A flight of stairs from the main hall leads down to the western court. The western court houses a large water cistern on the south. The small shrine is on the west. A small flight of stairs leads to the shrine supported by two pillars. The linga shrine is on the western wall and is guarded by two dvarapalas (gate guardians). The northern wall contains a statue of Yogishvara Shiva (no. 14 in map) while the southern counterpart houses a statues of Nataraja Shiva (no. 15 in map). Both the Shiva statues and those of the dvarapalas (gate guardians) are badly damaged. They are also of inferior quality and does not match the grace and beauty of those of the main hall.}}
Shiva - Parvati dice game
Ravana lifting Kailsah Mountain
Shiva - Parvati dice marriage
Shiva slaying Andhakasura
Panels on the four corners of main complex of Cave 1

Linga Shrine main complex of Cave 1
  • East Wing Shrine: The eastern gate of the main hall leads to an open space, the eastern court. At the centre of the open space is a circular pedestal which probably housed a statue of nandi bull, the vehicle of Shiva. A flight of stairs, in between six pillars, leads to the eastern shrine. Straight in front is the shiva linga shrine guarded by two lion statues. A flight of stairs leads to the only entrance of the shrine housing linga. The shrine comes in with a circumambulating path.
Open space between main complex and eastern wing shrine of cave 1
Linga Shrine
Darpalas of Eastern Shrine
Darpalas of Eastern Shrine
Eastern Wing Shrine
  • On either side of the circumambulating path are statues of two giant Dvarapalas (gate guardians) (no. 13 on map). The dvarapala on the left is badly damaged but the one on the right is mostly preserved. There are cells on both ends of the porch in front of the shiva shrine. The eastern cell is empty. The western cell contains statues of Kartikeya (no. 10 on map), Matrikas (no. 11 on map) and Ganesha (no. 12 on map). The cell is extremely dark and photography is difficult.

2 Cave 2 - 5. Caves 2-5 of the caves are nothing spectacular but are only located next door, so it is advisable not to give it a miss. Caves 1 and 5 are unfinished caves with almost no ornamentations. Cave 3 has a grand entrance through a six-pillared entrance. It has a large porch and a shiva shrine guarded by damaged dvarapalas (gate guardians). Cave 4 lacks the grand entrance of cave 3 but otherwise, plans are similar with a shiva shrine.

Cave 2
Cave 3
Cave 4
Cave 5
Caves 2 - 5
Second Cannon

Cave 6 & 7. Caves 6 and 7 are located on the adjacent hill, which is known as Stupa Hill. One has to turn right after exiting from the gate of the main complex. It takes about 15 mins to reach the caves. The trail is not well marked and there are hardly any visitors. Cave 6, known as Sitabai’s temple cave, consists of three chambers with a portico. Interestingly, this cave was converted into a church by the Portuguese when the island was a part of their colony. A little further ahead is cave 7, it is quite well hidden and easily missed as the path actually goes over the roof of the cave. It is an unfinished cave.

Stupas. Apart from the Hindu caves, Elphanta Island also houses two Buddhist stupas. In order to visit them, one has to continue beyond caves 6 & 7. One of the stupas is located on a hill top and the other on the coast. Both are extremely difficult to locate and are hardly visited by tourists. Cannons: Elephanta Island also houses two gigantic cannons mounted on rotating platforms. These strategically placed British cannons date back to the time of Edward VII. To reach the cannons, one has to walk out of the cave complex and head left. A 15 mins walk along a winding trail will lead to the first cannon, a couple of minutes more walk will lead to the second cannon. There are also a couple of ruined masonry structures near the two cannons.

  • 3 Cannon Point 1.
  • 4 Cannon Point 2.


  • Nature Walk. Bombay Natural History Society organizes nature tours in the Elephanta Island. The tour focuses on exploring the mangoves region of the island and includes bird watching and visiting caves, which serve as bat dewelling. Cost ₹ 600 for members and ₹ 700 for non members, and imcludes ferry ride charges.



The stairway leading to the main shrine is lined with shops selling artifacts and souvenirs but most of the items sold are available at a lower price in Mumbai. Also, the prices are subject to heavy bargaining.

Eat and drink


There are several small eateries all along the stairway. They serve meals at a reasonable cost along with tea and snacks. Hawkers sell wild berries, starfruit and cucumbers coated with masala. They are tasty but not very hygienic. It is advisable to take lots of drinkable water with you from Mumbai itself.

  • 1 MTDC Chalukya Restaurant (At the entrance of the main complex). Offers a fine spread of Indian food at a reasonable cost. The view of the sea from the MTDC restaurant is really pleasing



There are no hotels and lodges in Elephants Island, so there is no option to sleep. You have to book a hotel in Mumbai instead.

Stay safe


Beware of the monkeys that roam around. They are quite used to the huge masses of people moving around. But they are not happy when kids and even pesky teenagers tease them by throwing stones or making weird sounds. There have been many cases of people been scratched or attacked by monkeys, usually in retaliation. If left alone, they will usually not do anything. Try to be with the crowd, especially if you have got some packed food with you and want to have a picnic in the area.

This district travel guide to Elephanta is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.