Cave Temple of Shiva

Elephanta Island

The cave temple of Shiva, located on Elephanta Island in Bombay Harbor, was excavated out of the rock sometime in the 6th century. Inside, it contains a square linga shrine. The interior of the cave is decorated with a dozen large relief sculptures of the great god Shiva in his fierce and kindly aspects: dancing, practicing yoga, playing dice with Parvati, slaying the demon Andhaka, receiving the Gages river in his hair, etc.

The north entrance to the cave (plan), shown here, is on axis with the great three-headed Shiva on the south wall, while the linga shrine is placed off-center (so as not to obscure the three-headed Shiva) on the east-west axis. This dual scheme allows Shiva to be presented in his iconic and aniconic forms.

The island of Elephanta was named by the Portuguese after a stone elephant found there in the 16th century. The historical name of the island was Gharapuri. It is very dark inside the cave, so only a small selection of photographs, illuminated by what little natural light there is, can be presented in the following pages. The viewer is recommended to consult Michell and Zimmer (vol. 2, plates 248 - 265), for a full appreciation of this marvelous site.