Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hindu Cave Temples of Mumbai : Jogeshwari, Mandapeshwar and Elephanta Caves

Pic: Maheshmurti at Elephanta caves

There is an historical treasure right amidst the shanty lands of Mumbai city, oblivious to the common Mumbaikar . They are the Jogeshwari caves located in the suburb of Jogeshwari and Mandapeshwar Caves situated at Borivali. Though they are as old as the famous Elephanta caves, they are not as prominent as the latter.

Pic: Mandapeshwar caves

They were excavated almost fifteen hundred to two thousand years ago. Now, though they have been declared as protected monuments by the Archaelogical Survey of India, they lie in a state of disrepair and utter neglect. Their surroundings have been encroached by slums and today they lie unnoticed and unpreserved.

Pic: Jogeshwari caves

Jogeshwari caves are hindu cave temples probably excavated even before the famed Elephanta caves. They are located right in the midst of a slumland and are used as a regular temple by the locals.

The Jogeshwari cave temple is dedicated to lord Shiva and was said to have been excavated during the reign of the Kalachuri dynasty sometime in 520-525 AD, (before the excavation of the Elephanta caves).

There are three temples in the complex. The main temple being the one dedicated to lord Shiva, the other to Godess Jodeshwari and the third to lord Ganesha.

There are beautiful figurines of Gods, Godesses,Yakshas and Gandharvas adorning the walls. The doors too have motifs carved out on their brackets.

One of the entrances has two dwarpal statues carved on either side.

The Jogeshwari caves are also infested by lots of bats, that seem to be everywhere.

The Mandapeshwar caves are located in Borivali west around three kilometers from the highway. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was excavated almost fifteen hundred years ago.

The entrance leads one to the sabha mandap,  which houses a Nandi statue facing the garbhagriha. The sanctum has a Shiva linga, the phallic representation of lord Shiva.

The room to the left of the sabha mandapa has beautifull carvings of lord Shiva as Nataraja performing the cosmic dance.

The other figurines have been either defaced by vandals or have blunted with time.

The pillars are decorated with elaborate motifs.

Adjoining are other cave rooms that served probably as dharmashalas for passing travellers.

The Elephanta Caves : The last but the most famous amongst the cave temples of Mumbai are the Elephanta caves. They are situated around 15kms from the Gateway of India , Mumbai on an tiny island called Gharapuri.

Gharapuri is an fishing village inhabited by the Koli fishermen community.

The journey to these caves can be commenced from the Gateway of India from where several boats and launches ferry passengers throughout the day. It is an hours jourey from Gateway to the Gharapuri island, from where one has to climb several stone steps to reach the Elephanta caves.

These caves were constructed sometime between the sixth and seventh century AD. Who actually built them is still not clear, but they have been patronised by several ruling dynasties over the years, like the Konkan Mauryas, the Kalachuris, the Chalukyas (there is an mention of the Chalukyan King Pulakeshin II having conquered the island), the Silharas and the Rashtrakutas.

These caves are actually Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. They have been built as per the traditional Buddhist tradition of ‘leni viharas’ (cave dwellings).

The site has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site and is under the maintenance of the Archaelogical society of India, Maharashtra Tourism development corporation of India and the Maharashtra government.
The name Elephanta is derived from a mammoth statue of an Elephant discovered by the Portuguese, when they first acquired control over the island in 1534 from the Gujrat Sultanate. This statue has since been relocated at the Jijamata Udyan in Mumbai.

The cave temples have been chiselled out from the igneous black basalt rock available on the island.

The most famous statue of the Elephanta island is the four faced Maheshmurti (Sadashiva) statue which depicts Lord Shiva as the fearsome (right face), the benign /meditative (the middle face) and the lovable (left face) . This statue is housed in the main cave along with other very interesting and intricately carved statues depicting the events related to the life of Lord Shiva.

The same include Shiva slaying the demon Andhaka.

Or a statue of the demon king Ravan lifting Mount Kailasa, but then weighed down and trapped under the weight of Lord Shiva.

There are also statues of Lord Shiva in meditation as Lakulisha , the founder of the Pashupati sect that consider Shiva as the supreme God and Lakulisha as his incarnate.

There is an statue of Kalyansundara, the wedding of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati (who is Sati reborn).

A statue of Shiva and Parvati enjoying a game of dice on Mount Kailasa.

Or the Shiva performing the cosmic dance in the form of Nataraja.

Or as Gangadhara reining in the River Ganga as it descends on the earth.

Then there is also the statue of Shiva as Ardhanareshwara or half man half woman.

One also comes across several Shiva lingas or idols in the form of a phallus and an vagina depicting the union of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati. The main shiva linga being housed in a square shaped room flanked by four dwarpalas (gatekeepers) on the edges of the room.

All these statues are housed in the main caves which are situated at the entrance.

The other caves are minor caves and had served as dwellings for the ascetics and visitors who frequented these caves.

Also can be seen on the island is an old British cannon which is located on the pinnacle of the hill and frequented only by the real enthusiasts, because of the high altitude.

Text and Photographs : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha


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