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Elephanta Cave on the Side of the Hill

  • An amazing island just 10km from modern Mumbai, India, Elephanta is known for its rock-cut temples and sculptures dating from the medieval period in Indian religious history. The English name comes from a stone elephant found on the island and later moved to Mumbai proper. In ancient times, the island was called Agraharapuri, which is the Sanskrit word for a village that was without rent and owned by the Brahmin priestly class. That name gave rise to the modern name, which is a shortened version, ‘Gharapuri’. The island was probably inhabited first by Buddhists during the early centuries of this millennium but the Buddhist stupas and monasteries were undoubtedly replaced by the presence of Brahmanical Hindu temples and support structures like cisterns. Archaeologists date most of the site based on the style of found sculptures. One elegant image of the god Brahma dates to around the 9th century AD and an inscribed copper cup dates to perhaps the 11th century. A cache of coins found in one of the caves date to the 6th century, but it is unclear if they were brought to the island at that time or if they were brought much later. Coins are notoriously difficult to use as a dating tool for architecture because they often remained in circulation for decades if not centuries during the ancient periods. Most scholars believe the cave was excavated for use by the Pashupatas, a Shiva-worshipping Hindu group from the 6th , 7th , and 8th centuries.

Elephanta Ornate Sculpture of Shiva and Attendants