1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elephanta Isle

ELEPHANTA ISLE (called by the natives Gharapuri), a small island between Bombay and the mainland of India, situated about 6 m. from Bombay. It is nearly 5 m. in circumference, and the few inhabitants it contains are employed in the cultivation of rice, and in rearing sheep and poultry for the Bombay market. The island, till within recent times, was almost entirely overgrown with wood; it contains several springs of good water. There are also important quarries of building stone. But it owes its chief celebrity to the mythological excavations and sculptures of Hindu superstition which it contains. Opposite to the landing-place was a colossal statue of an elephant, cracked and mutilated, from which the island received from the Portuguese the name it still bears. The statue was removed in 1864, and may now be seen in the Victoria Gardens, Bombay. At a short distance from this spot is a cave, the entrance to which is nearly 60 ft. wide and 18 high, supported by pillars cut out of the rock; the sides are sculptured into numerous compartments, containing representations of the Hindu deities, but many of the figures have been defaced by the zeal of the Mahommedans and Portuguese. In the centre of the excavations is a remarkable Trimurti or bust, formerly thought to represent the Hindu Triad, namely, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Siva or Mahadeva the Destroyer, but now held to be a triform representation of Siva alone. The heads are from 4 to 5 ft. in length, and are well cut, and the faces, with the exception of the under lip, are handsome. The head-dresses are curiously ornamented; and one of the figures holds in it’s hand a cobra, while on the cap are, amongst other symbols, a human skull and an infant. On each side of the Trimurti is a pilaster, the front of which is filled up by a human figure leaning on a dwarf, both much defaced. There is a large compartment to the right, hollowed a little, and covered with a great variety of figures, the largest of which is 16 ft. high, representing the double figure of Siva and Parvati, named Viraj, half male and half female. On the right is Brahma, four-faced, on a lotus—one of the very few representations of this god which now exist in India; and on the left is Vishnu. On the other side of the Trimurti is another compartment with various figures of Siva and Parvati, the most remarkable of which is Siva in his vindictive character, eight-handed, with a collet of skulls round his neck. On the right of the entrance to the cave is a square apartment, supported by eight colossal figures, containing a gigantic symbol of Mahadeva or Siva cut out of the rock. In a ravine connected with the great cave are two other caves, also containing sculptures, which, however, have been much defaced owing to the action of damp and the falling of the rocks; and in another hill is a fourth cave. This interesting retreat of Hindu religious art is said to have been dedicated to Siva, but it contains numerous representations of other Hindu deities. It has, however, for long been a place not so much of worship as of archaeological and artistic interest alike to the European and Hindu traveller. It forms a wonderful monument of antiquity, and must have been a work of incredible labour. Archaeological authorities are of opinion that the cave must have been excavated about the 10th century of the Christian era, if not earlier. The island is much frequented by the British residents of Bombay; and during his tour in India in 1875 King Edward VII., then prince of Wales, was entertained there at a banquet.