Elephanta – The Playground of Shiva


Past References – Before Twentieth Century CE

So much has been written on these caves that probably there is no need for further writing. Also, there have been various successful attempts in consolidating all the information written earlier into a detailed thesis. Hence what I am doing here is, probably, nothing new, except consolidating this information on web accompanied with my eye witness account of these caves with proper illustrations. Before I start on this attempt, it would be nice to know who all have visited these caves and what all has come down to us in form of their accounts and studies.

Elephanta caves are located on an island of the same name, located about 8 km from the city of Mumbai. John Huighen Van Linschoten mentions the name of the isle as Pory, Diego de Coutto as Elephanta, Anquetil du Perron and Niebuhr as Gali Pouri, Stevenson as Garapuri which he translates as ‘Town of Excavation’, J Wilson as Gharapuri which he translates into ‘Hill of Purification’. Stevenson also mentions that the name Elephanta was unknown to the natives of the island as they know this place as Gharapuri.

The caves on the island are known since the start of the sixteenth century CE as since then we have accounts of various travelers, explorers and enthusiasts. A continuous series of accounts and guides available since that century till now proves that the charm of Elepahnta is still alive. As this article is also an attempt to describe these caves, hence it would be appropriate if we have a look at the past references of these caves. This will help in better understanding the caves and setting the context for the next chapter.

Most of the visitors, prior to nineteenth century, were perplexed about the origin and the date of these caves. They were also confused about the icons seen in the sculptural panels across the excavation. They tried their best to get this information from the natives however that was of no help. Since the start of the nineteenth century, when the Europeans got knowledge about the Hindu iconography, the complexity around the cave started fading away. However, still, we are not sure that who excavated these caves and in which period.

Garcia de Orta (1534, Coloquios dos Simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da India) – Orta was a Portuguese physician who visited India in 1534. He settled at Goa in 1538 where he died in 1568.  He was granted on lease an island of Bombay however he never visited lived there. Though he was a doctor by profession however he was also a keen observer of his surroundings. He traveled a lot across western India on duty.
About Elephanta he writes, ‘Another pagoda, the best of all, is on an island called Pori, which we call the isle of the Elephanta. On it there is a hill and in the upper part of it is a subterranean house worked out of the living rock, and the house is as large as a monastery. Within there are courts and cisterns of good water. On the walls, all round, there are sculptured images of elephants, lions, tigers, and many human images, some like Amazons, and in many other shapes well sculptured’.

‘Certainly it is a sight well worth seeing, and it would appear that the devil had used all his powers and knowledge to deceive the gentiles into his worship. Some say that it is the work of the Chinese when they navigated to this land. It might well be true seeing that it is so well worked and that Chinese are sutis. It is true that, at present day, this pagoda is much defied by cattle getting inside but in the year 1534, when I came from Portugal, it was a very fine site’.

Joao de Castro (1538, Primeiro Roteiro da Costa da India) – Castro was a Portuguese naval officer who later became the fourth viceroy of Portuguese India. He came to India in 1538 and died at Goa in 1548. In his logbook, he mentions that he visited this island in December, 1538. He mentions sighting the stone elephant near the shore. He was impressed with the quality and variety of the sculptures inside the main cave and states that it looks impossible to be made by human hands. He provided descriptions of various sculptures however the identification of these was beyond his prowess. He however does not provide much detail on history of the cave or any inscription on that.

Diogo de Couto (1559, Da Asia Decada) – Couto was a famous Portuguese historian who traveled to India in 1559 and stayed for almost a decade. Though he visited the island in 1559 however his accounts were published only in 1603. Couto’s accounts were made available by W K Fletcher. As Couto had not much knowledge on Hindu iconography and temple architecture hence his accounts are mostly inaccurate on these parts however he provided an eye-witness account of the caves with measurements.

Couto tells us that this isle is called Elephanta on account of a great stone elephant which is seen on entering the river. It is said to be built by a Hindu king named Banasur, who became master of everything from the Ganga inwards. He mentions about a legend that a Hindu king named Bimilamenta who ruled from Bengal till the Mughal territory and constructed many towns, villages and forts. He was also credited for Kanheri and Elephanta caves as per the locals of Salsette isle.

Couto was the first one to mention about an inscription. He mentions that this stone plaque bore an inscription which no one could decipher in India hence it was sent to Portugal where it lost never was to forever.

Gasparo Balbi (1580, Voyage to the Oriental Indies) – He was an Italian jeweler merchant who is famous for his travel accounts of India and other Eastern Asian countries from 1579-88. His book ‘Voyage to the Oriental Indies’ was published in Venice in 1590. Balbi was first to propose that the caves at Elephanta were executed by Alexander the Great as a record in his deeds.

John Huighen Van Linschoten (1583, Itinerario) – Linschoten was a Dutch merchant who visited India in 1583. His works were translated into English in 1598 as ‘His discourse of voyages into the East and West Indies’. About the caves at Salsette, he writes, ‘There is yet another Pagode, which they hold and esteem for the highest and the chiefest Pagode, of all, which standeth in the little island called Pory: this pagode by the Portingalls is called the Pagode of the Elephant.’

About the main cave he writes that the cave is carved out of the hard rock as big as a great cloister, within it has places and water cisterns, very curiously made. He mentions that round about the walls are cut and formed the shapes of elephants, lions, tigers and a thousand other wild animals, along with Amazons and many other deformed things of diverse sorts. He mentions that the tradition of its Chinese origin was still in vogue. He also informs that these Pagodes and buildings are much spoiled under the rule of the Portuguese.

John Fryer (1673, New Account of East Asia and Persia) – He was an English doctor and traveler who traveled to India in 1673. During his stay in India, though he was more focused on medicine, however he made stray references of the surrounding. He referred the island as Eliphanto being named so from a monstrous elephant cut out of main rock, bearing a young one on its back. Not far from it was the effigies of a stone horse. On top of the hill was a miraculous piece hewed out of solid stone, supported with 42 Corinthian pillars. He noticed the three head statue, crowned with strange Heiroglyphics. He did not visit any other caves apart from the main cave.

J Ovington (1689, Voyage to Surat) – Ovington mentions the stone elephant and stone horse standing on the island. He provides details of the main cave with few measurements. He mentions that the cave was profusely carved with gigantic sculptures shown in various attitudes, some with multiple heads and some with multiple hands. He writes, ‘There is nothing of Beauty in the Frontispiece of this Pagode, or of Ornament at the Entrance to it.’

Captain Pykes (1712, Archaeologica vol VII) – Pykes mentions a stone elephant on south-east side landing of the island. This elephant used to serve as a sea mark. Moving further towards main cave, there is a stone horse called as Alexander’s horse. The measurement of the main cave was given as 104 feet square including all the side cut-offs. He takes the Kalyanasundara-murti as the marriage scene of a Gentoo (Hindu) king. The number of pillars and pilasters were told to be 52. He takes the Andhakantaka-murti sculpture to be that of Solomon’s wisdom. He mentions that there was no inscription to identify its builders, nor the present inhabitants throw any light on this. He suggests that this could be work of the Egyptian artists.

About Ganesha in the eastern chamber, Pykes mentions that it was told that he was the son of a tyrannical king. The king cut-off the head of his son, which on request from his mother, was joined by a holy sage. However as they did not find a human head so they took an elephant’s head. After death of the king, the elephant headed prince rose to the throne and governed the kingdom. He married and his wife bore him a white elephant baby.

Alexander Hamilton (1744, A New Account of East Indies) – Hamilton provided a very short account of Elephanta caves which he referred as Elephanto. About the stone elephant near the shore, he mentions that it is so like a living elephant that at two hundred yards distance, a sharp eye might deceives by its similitude. He also mentions a stone horse, a little way from the elephant. His account only includes the main cave however he did not describe any of the panels except a panel depicting a giant with four heads joined. He tried to ask the inhabitants of the island about the history and origin of this cave, however none was able to provide any legend.

John Henry Grose (1750, Voyage to the East Indies) – Grose notices a stone elephant on the right side where you land on the island. From a distance it could be mistaken for a real one as the color of the rocks is similar to the skin color of the beast. He mentions that on the back of this elephant was a small elephant however that was broken down. As Grose did not see the young one, hence it is most probable that his statement is based upon the travel accounts of the earlier visitors. About the legend or traditions on its origin, he mentions that no one at the island know anything about it.

Considering the size and workmanship that would have gone into excavating the main cave, Grose mentions that in his opinion this is a bolder attempt than the Great pyramids at Egypt. He mentions about the destruction caused by the Portuguese in the blind fury of their bigotry. He, like few previous travelers, takes the Andhakantaka-murti statue as that of Solomon in the act of cutting the child into two. He mentioned traces of painting over the cornice.

Grose was very concerned that there is no historical account available for such an impressive work. He was aware of a tradition of ascribing these monuments to Alexander the Great however he refuted these as it was known by that time that Alexander did not come this far into India. Grose also complained about the Hindus as they abandon such a large monument and were not paying any veneration towards this though the monument by all means appears to be related to Hindus.

Edward Ives (1754, A Voyage from England to India in the year MDCCLIV) – Ives was a surgeon under the British Majesty’s Service. He visited Elephanta before leaving Bombay (now Mumbai) and moving to Madras (now Chennai). Elephanta got a small space in his huge account of his voyages. He provided a plan of the main cave in his article. He mentioned that the cave is a Hindu temple and the walls are covered with 12 feet high statues except for the baths. The grand altars were filled with mutilated figure of god Orixa all around. Out of curiosity he dug the floor of an attached cave, which he left in between as he found a very deep cavity. I believe by baths he refers to the subsidiary caves attached to the main caves which were full of water during the monsoon season.

Anquetil du Perron (1760, Zend Avesta) – De Perron is celebrated as the first professional French scholar of Indian culture. He stayed in India for seven years. He visited Salsette in December 1760.

Carsten Niebuhr (1764, Travels through Arabia and other Countries in the East) – Niebuhr was German mathematician, cartographer and explorer. He joined a scientific expedition in which he traveled to Egypt, Arabia and Syria. He visited Bombay in 1764 and paid a visit to Elephanta and dedicated a full chapter to it in his accounts. He mentions that the proper name of the isle is Gali Pouri however the Europeans call it Elephanta. The isle being not so important so Marathas take no care of it. He visited the cave temple three times to make proper drawings and plans. He mentions that the hall of the main cave was a 120 feet square.

He writes, ‘Neither in design, nor in execution, indeed, can these bas-reliefs be compared with the works of Grecian sculptors. But they are greatly superior in elegance to the remains of the ancient Egyptian sculpture. They are also finer than the bas-reliefs from the ruins of Persepolis. No doubt, then, but the arts were cultivated by the ancient Indians with better success than is commonly supposed’. Niebuhr tried to get information about the panels however he tells, ‘The modern Indians are so ignorant, that I could obtain no information concerning those antiquities. One man, who pretended to explain the character of one of the largest statues, assured me that it was Kaun, one of their ancient fabulous princesses, famous for his cruelties committed upon his sister’s children’.

Though Niebuhr claims that all his predecessors were failed in analysis of the sculptures here however he also did not fare well. Looking at the Ardhnareeshvara panel, he mentions that the theory of Amazon was not unknown to the ancient Indians. He compared the style, attitude and clothing of these figures with then Indians and he indeed found many similarities. He praised Indian culture and history a lot however he was despised by the attitude of the present inhabitants as they know nothing of their ancient culture and hence do nothing to preserve that. This statement, probably, applies for the present era as well. How many times we have seen our own countrymen desecrating our own heritage.

Niebuhr mentions that the Indians are the most ancient of nations whose history is known and have best retained their ancient usages and opinions. He also mentioned that the other countries in the east, the Greeks and perhaps the Egyptians too, drew the first element of their knowledge from India. It seems that Niebuhr provided a very detailed account at some other place then his book. Valentia who visited Elephanta in 1802 mentions that after the detailed account of Niebuhr there is nothing more to add. However that detailed account of Niebuhr is not accessible to me at the moment.

Hector Macneil (1783, Archaeologica vol VIII) – He visited the Elephanta caves after visiting Kanheri and Jogeshwari hence there is a tone of comparison in his account. He mentions a stone elephant on the south-east of the island near the landing place. The first sight of the main cave did not offer any great impact of Macneil as he was disturbed with the destruction and mutilation by the Portuguese. He writes, ‘It is difficult to write with any degree of temper on the dismal mutilations of this princely cavern. But what the hand of time has not been able to deface, the blind zeal of bigots and the childish tricks of fools have very nearly destroyed’.

The main hall of the cave is 129 feet long and 94 feet wide. It is adorned for four rows of pillars, six in each row. He described all the panels with his eye-witness account, however as he did of any knowledge of the Hindu iconography hence for him all these panels represent some monster, devil or similar figures. About the Andhakantaka-murti panel, he mentioned that he was informed that the figure of the child held head downward by the eight-armed figure was not very much mutilated however at the time of his visit, this figure of the child is almost disappeared. About the panel in whole, he mentions that whole is thought to be a representation of the judgment of Solomon, though he sees nothing to authorize this conjecture.

As there was no history of these caves available to him or to the inhabitants of the island, Macneil writes, ‘…should we ascribe these surprising labors to the Gentoos, no similarity either in feature or in dress to the present race of that people is anywhere to found. If to the Egyptians or Ethiopians, whom they seem to resemble most; whence the object of worship in these caves so dissimilar to those of that nation, namely the elephant, cow and swammies, all of which are worshiped in India and universally found in every Gentoo pagoda?’

He mentions that to perplex more on its origins, there is a Persian inscription on the side of one of the doors that lead to the grand cave of Elephanta but importing nothing that throws the least light on the subject. He provides some theories about the origin related to Egyptians or others, and at the end he concludes that these caves must be attributes to Gentoos (Hindus) only. The main argument in this conclusion was that the shrine at Elephanta was still in worship by the Hindus.

William Hunter (1784, Archaeologica vol VII) – Hunter provides a detailed account of these caves, however his account did not include all the caves. He noticed the stone elephant near the south end of the island. The measurements provided by him are 12 feet in length and 8 feet in height. He also noticed remains of something on its back, and mentioned that its body was split which was done by gunpowder as its marks were visible. He also noticed that the lower part of the elephant was not well sculptured and is shapeless masses of matter.

Measurements of the main cave by him are ninety feet north to south and seventy-eight feet from east to west excluding the verandahs, including verandahs it is 130 feet by 110 feet respectively. Hunter mentions that few earlier visitors took the Andhakantaka-murti statue as that of Solomon in act of dividing the child. He explained the Mahesha-murti as a four faced icon whose fourth face is hidden behind the first one. He takes Ardhanareeshvar as an Amazon.

Plan of the Cave 1 (courtesy – J Goldingham – Asiatic Researched vol IV)


J Goldingham (1799, Asiatic Researches vol IV) –  Goldingham mentions the stone elephant which was large as the life and standing near the landing place. He described almost all the panels of the main cave however unlike his previous travelers; he did possess some knowledge about the Hindu iconography, hence he was able to identify few deities depicted in these panels. About the main three-headed figure, he tells that this represents the Hindu Trinity comprising of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. The assigned the middle face to Brahma, left to Vishnu and the right to Shiva.

Trimurti Image (courtesy – J Goldingham – Asiatic Researches vol IV)


About the Ardhnareeshvara panel, he states that it has been recognized as wrongly as an Amzon but instead it presents the consort of Shiva exhibiting the active power of her lord. The figure over the elephant in this panel he identified inaccurately with Kama, however he correctly identified Brahma and Vishnu in the panel. About the Andhakantaka-murti panel, he discards the Solomon theory and as well the Kamsa slaying Krishna theory. To him, it was more of a scene of destruction probably in the infernal regions. He did not mention any child held upside down by the main figure of the panel as told by Pykes and Grose. Goldingham mentions that if the sword is held in purpose to sever someone then it would be for a full grown person rather than a child.

Goldingham was the first traveler who used the word lingam for the stone kept in the shrine of the main cave. On whole, he said that the cave was a Hindu shrine and was dedicated to Shiva as it is he who is present in all the panels in some form or other.

George Valentia (1802, Voyage and Travels to India and Ceylon) – Valentia tells that accurate Niebuhr has given so good an account of it, that a description is unnecessary. However he mentions that either his drawings or the etchings in Asiatic Researches have given the character of the true deity. About the famous bust he mentions that he was much surprised at the ingenuity of the conception and the merit of execution, how superior must it have appeared when in state of perfection.

However, till his visit, the question of Amazon was not yet settled. He mentions did the romance of the Amazons reach Greece from India, or were there ever such personage in the Eastern world. He also tells that there is no appearance of any great violence having been used to injure the figures.

William Ouseley (1811, Travels in Various Countries of the East) – He mentioned that the island was known as Gharipuri by the locals. He tells that the elephant was much injured but is of considerable size. That there never had been an opening behind the triple-visaged head, nor a fourth face, as some have imagined, he ascertained that climbing to the summit. His account was accompanied with the sketches from Major D’Arcy.

Ouseley points to the similarities encountered in many Egyptian gods with the Hindu gods. He therefore states that it is not surprising that between edifices consecrated to similar deities in Egypt and in India a conformity should appear. Elephanta’s massive columns, flat roof and gigantic idols reminded him of the Egyptian temples. He also declares that the caves of Elephanta were constructed before those at Kanheri.

William Erskine (1813, The Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay vol I) – He referred the island as island of Gara-pori. Erskine mentions that there is a need to reexamine the accounts of all previous travelers as these were defective in various particulars as either they were ignorant of the Hindu mythology or they visited the caves in haste without giving proper time for study. Erskine mentions that the best account available is that of Niebuhr if we discount the mythology and identification of panels. It is surprising why he did not mention of J Goldingham who successfully identified the main theme of the cave, though he has mentioned his reference in the notes of his article. Erskine’s study may be termed as the first serious study of the caves.

Erskine tells that about two hundred and fifty yards to the right of the landing place, there stood a large and clumsy elephant cutout of an insulated black rock. By applying a ladder Erskine and Captain Basil Hall mounted on the back of the elephant for purpose of observing if any traces remained of the young elephant said by Pykes and Anquetil to have been placed on it. The remains of its four paws as well as the marks of the junction of its belly with the back of the larger animal were perfectly distinct; and the appearance it offered is represented in the drawing made by Captain Hall, who from its present appearance conjectures that it must have been a tiger rather than a young elephant – an idea in which I feel disposed to agree, in spite of the opinion of Pykes and Anquetil who call the figure which they saw a young elephant.

Erskine mentions that the stone horse was reported by Pykes in 1712 however not by Dr. Hunter who visited before 1784. There were no remains of it when Erskine visited the site. Erskine did not agree to the suggestion that the three-headed bust in the main hall represent the Hindu Trinity. His argument is that the Hindu Trinity did not get that high recognition and place among the Hindu deities that it can be carved to such a grand scale. Hall and Erskine washed this sculpture with high-pressure water nozzle which removed the dust and other settlements from the figure. Then they noticed the third eye on the eastern head of this figure. With this discovery they were sure that this head represents Shiva. He then suggests that this three-headed bust represents Shiva alone.

Erskine rightly identified the Ardhanareeshvara-panel and within that Indra, Brahma and Vishnu as well.  About the Gangadhara panel, he mentions that three heads of Ganga probably represent Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati. However he also mentions Tripathaga as one of Ganga’s epithet. About the Shiva-Parvati at Kailasha panel, he identifies Brhngi correctly. About the lady carrying a child and standing behind Parvati, Erskine surmises that the child might be Kartik (Kartikeya).

About the Kalyanasundara-murti, Erskine did not consider as a marriage scene. This, probably, might be due to a fact that this icon was not very famous or rather rare among the Indian temples which Erskine might have visited. Erskine was again successful in identifying the Ravananugraha-murti panel. He did not fail miserably, like his predecessors, in identification of the Andhankata-murti, as he took it as Bhairava.
Erskine marks the ascetic Shiva panel as one of the complex one to be identified. The lotus seat with two nagas supporting it clearly points to Buddha however presence of Brahma and Vishnu indicates its Hindu nature. Erskine at last suggests that this probably is Shiva shown in a contemplative posture as a religious recluse. In the Nataraja panel, Erskine was able to identify Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, Ganesha etc.

Of the eastern chapel attached to the main cave, Erskine identifies Ganesha correctly, however fails to identify Kartikeya and Sapta-matkrakas. About the empty recess in this hall, Erskine mentions a legend that this recess is left empty without sculptures as on Shivaratri, the water from Ganga comes through this recess.

Elephanta Elephant (courtesy – Basil Hall)


Basil Hall (1813, Fragments of Voyages and Travels) – Hall mentions that the island was known as Gara-poori or Places of Caves. The famous stone elephant from the island derives its name was no more there. He mentioned that nothing could be more rudely sculptured than this figure, which possessed none of the gratefulness of the living elephant, though in some of the sculptures in the cave temples of India that character is exceedingly well preserved.

On his next visit, he was accompanied with William Erskine who made careful measurements and drawings in which Basil also contributed. At that time, the elephant was almost tattering to its fall. By September 1814, its head and neck dropped and soon the whole sculpture sunk down to earth. As Hall accompanied Erskine hence most of his description of the place is borrowed from latter’s accounts hence there is no need to repeat it again.

Basil described the labors, taken by his party in company of Erskine, put into making plans and sketches of the various panels. One curious thing I found in his narrative, though very much appreciable, is that he mentions that they never allowed beef in any shape or way to approach at their camps, for although the temple of Elephanta has for centuries been desecrated, and, consequently, is no longer used by the Hindus, there still hangs about this splendid monument a certain degree of sanctity in the eyes of the poor natives, which it would be cruel not to respect. Here I would like to mention that from his accounts it appears that Hall had a special passion for these caves which is reflected through his various visits and his encouragements to his countrymen to visit the site.

Hall tells the measurements of the hall as 130 feet deep and 135 feet broad. It is supported on 26 pillars, of which 8 were broken at that time. Sixteen pilasters were there on sides. The height of the cave varies between 17.5 feet and 15 feet.

Reginald Heber (1825, Narrative of a Journey Through the Upper Provinces of India) – Reginald Heber was an archbishop of Calcutta. Heber refers the island as Shaporee. About the stone elephant, Heber said that it was three times as big as life. The animal on its back was no longer in any distinguishable shape. Heber shows concern over the rapidity of deterioration. He mentions that the stone elephant is reduced to its ruins within 40 years, and if this same pace is applied to the cave then the time is not far that it might be see its end soon.

In the absence of any inscription, Heber suggests that Elephanta can be assigned to any date we chose, it can be as old as Parthenon or as recent as Henry VII’s chapel. He tells that he would certainly not disposed to assign to it any great degree of antiquity.

Trimurti Image at Ellora (courtesy – E H Sykes – The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland)


W H Sykes (1837, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland vol V) – Sykes was the first who notices triple-headed images at Ellora and compares those with that of Elephanta. He thus concludes that the Trimurti image at Elephanta does not represents that Hindu Trinity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva but only represents Shiva in his three different aspects.

J Stevenson (1852, The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay vol IV) –  Stevenson’s article was largely derived from that of Erskine. He placed the caves between the eighth and twelfth century CE. Providing references of the Brahmans of Bombay and nearby area, Stevenson mentions that they all maintain that this and other similar structures around the area are the work of the Pandavas who constructed these during their banishment from their country. For the Trimurti image, Stevenson mentions that is Shiva represented as Vishnu on proper left, Brahma in the middle and Rudra on proper right. He also mentions that this three-face bust probably represents the five-headed Shiva with its one head hidden behind the central and one hidden above.

He mentions that the three-headed goddess in the Gangadhara panel represents Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Stevenson rightly identifies the Kalyanasundara-murti panel. He also identified Brahma who took place as a priest in this panel. About the Shiva-Parvati on Kailasha panel, Stevenson if of the opinion that it represents the birth of their first son, Ganesha. For the Andhakantaka panel, he mentions that it represents the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice in the hands of Shiva as Virabhadra. About the mystical figure on top of this panel, Stevenson is of opinion that it represents OM over a linga. The Nataraja-panel is identified as Bhairava by him. He identifies Shiva as Yogi in the panel where he is shown seated as an ascetic.

To support his identifications, Stevenson provides references from Linga Purana. He mentions that Linga Purana explains the triad of Shiva in which Shiva plays three roles, of the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. Stevenson disagrees with Sykes on the suggestion that the proper left face has some feminine features. Linga Purana also has explanations for Ardhanarreshvar, Kalyanasundara-murti, Ganesha’s birth, Bhairava and Shiva as Mahayogi. Stevenson does not find any reference of Ravananugraha-murti in the Linga Purana. For Daksha’s sacrifice, he provides references from Vayu Purana.

John Wilson (1866, The Calcutta Review vol 42) – John Wilson delivered a lecture in the Townhall at Mumbai in 1866. About the Trimurti image, he mentions that it represents Shiva who is possessed of three functions, creation, preservation and destruction. These three attributes of Shiva are personified as Brahma which is the central face, proper right face is of Shiva and proper left is that of Shiva as Vishnu recognized by his symbol lotus. He mentions that the bust was fine without damages few months back till some mischievous visitors broke off a portion of the noses of two faces.

About the Gangadhara panel, he only mentions that it depicts Shiva and Parvati standing together but did not mention anything about Ganga. About the Ardhnareeshvara panel, he notices that Nandi in that panel is not a domestic bull but a forest Gava which is mentioned as an article of food in the Vedas. He identifies the Kalyanasundara panel suggesting that it depicts the marriage ceremony of Shiva with Parvati. He also tells that this panel has its counterpart in the Dhumar Lena cave at Ellora.  Like his predecessors, Wilson also took the Andhakantaka panel as depicting Bhairava. John Wilson was the first one to bring the similarities in many reliefs of Elephanta caves with those found in the Dhumar Lena cave at Ellora.

About the panel opposite to Ravanaugrahamurti, depicting Shiva and Parvati at Kailsha, Wilson tells that a similar panel is found in Dhumar Lena at Ellora. About the mysterious Shivain meditation panel, Wilson suggests that it represents Shiva as an ascetic. He took the Sapta-matrika panel as a procession of ladies carrying infants.

On the dating of this cave and other surrounding caves, Wilson quotes Fergusson who suggests that the Kailasha Temple at Ellora was constructed by the Cholas, in his view either by Rajendra Chola or Karikala Chola. Wilson makes a point by interpreting an inscription at Ellora where the hill is referred as Virolla Parvat and this Virolla is a derivation of Vira-Chola. Thus he dates the Ellora caves to tenth century CE. And as he puts Elephanta posterior to Ellora, so Elephanta is dated to a period after tenth century CE.

James Burgess (1871, The Rock-Temples of Elephanta or Gharapuri) – It was only in 1871 that we found the first very accurate account from the pen of an archaeologist, James Burgess. He consolidated all past accounts and provided new directions in form of references from the works of Kalidasa and various Puranas.


Kalyanasundara-murti (courtesy – Edward Carpenter)


Edward Carpenter (1892, From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta) – He visited these caves during his journey from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to Delhi. He, probably, was not aware of the latest studies on the triple-headed image, therefore he still mentions that it represents the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He mentions that a hollow behind the triple head is supposed to conceal a priest who could simulate the awful tones of the god. Though unaware of the latest studies on the triple-headed image, Carpenter successfully described the Ardhnareeshvara and Kalyanasundara panels with correct themes.

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