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The Elephanta Caves ( ) are caves located on Elephanta Island in the Arabian Seamarker near Mumbaimarker, Maharashtramarker, Indiamarker that contain Shaivistic high reliefs in stone of Hindu deities important to worshipers of Shiva. The sculptures were created beginning in the late Gupta Empire, or some time after, and at later dates. Elephanta Island was designated a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork.

The original name of this epitome of temple art is Agraharpuri. Agrahar is the necklace or most important neck ornament. The Agraharpuri slowly became Gharapuri; still retaining the original meaning as the focal point of Gharapuri Island, which was renamed Elephanta Island by the Portuguese and is located in Mumbai harbour off the coast of Mumbaimarker (formerly known as Bombay), Indiamarker. In 1987, the caves were designated a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site.

It is visited by many domestic and foreign tourists. In recent years, complaints have been made that visitors mistreat this important cultural and historic site. Most of the sculptures here were defaced by the Portuguesemarker, who used the sculptures as target practice in the 17th century. The Portuguese also gave the island its modern name, Elephanta from Gharapuri.

The caves are thought to date back to the Silhara kings of the 9th through 13th centuries (810–1260). Some of the sculptures of this site are also attributed to the imperial Rashtrakutas of Manyakhetamarker (in present day Karnatakamarker), the Trimurti of Elephanta showing the three faces of Shiva almost akin to the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. This was also the royal insignia of the Rashtrakutas. Other Rashtrakuta sculptures here are the reliefs of Nataraja and Sadashiva and the splendid sculptures of Ardhanarishvara.

The rock-cut temple complex cover an area of consisting of a main chamber, 2 lateral ones, courtyards and subsidiary shrines. The site of these magnificent caves contained beautiful reliefs, sculptures, and a temple to the Hindu god Śiva. The caves are hewn from solid rock.The temple complex is said to be the abode of Shiva.

Trimurti-Sadashiva Statue

The great hall: Cave 1
A sculpture of Shiva as Nataraja
Outside the cave
The most important sculpture is that of Trimurti Sadasiva, carved in relief at the end of the N-S axis. The image, in height is of the three headed-Shiva, representing Panchamukha Shiva. The right half-face shows him as a young person with sensuous lips, embodying life and its vitality. In his hand he holds something that resembles a rose bud—again with the promise of life and creativity. It is this face that is closest to that of Brahma, the creator or Uma or Vamadeva,the feminine side of Shiva. The left half-face face on the side is that of a young man. It is moustached, and displays anger. This is Shiva as Aghora Bhairava, as the one whose anger can engulf the entire world in flames leaving only ashes behind. This is Shiva, the Destroyer. The central face, benign, meditative, as the preserver Vishnu. This is Shiva as the yogi—Yogeshwar—in deep meditation praying for the 'preservation' of humanity.

Threats to Elephanta Caves

The threats to Elephanta Caves include development pressures (mainly due to its location within the Mumbaimarker harbor), unsustainable tourism and tourist facilities on the island, and poor management of the heritage monument.

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