Found some one and a half hours out of Bombay, by boat, are the caves of the mountainous island of Elephanta.
Thought to date back to the Silhara kings of the 9th through 12th centuries A.D., these magnificent caves contain beautiful reliefs, sculptures, and a temple to the Hindu god Lord Shiva
The caves and the temple of Shiva it holds are now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Three journeys must be taken to reach the temple: first passage across water, a mountain must be climbed, and a cave entered. This gives worshipers a sense of duty and preparation to be in the home of Shiva.
After the boat ride, visitors must climb halfway up the mountain on magnificent stone steps, until on the right side a broad door opens in the volcanic rock. It leads into one of the biggest cave-temples of ancient India.
Heavy pillars, carved from the rock, bear the roof. The area is divided by columns, creating equal rows and aisles. Toward the west is a square sanctuary detached from the walls. Marvelous representations from Indian mythology are carved on the walls. In the massive, main niche towers an image of the deity Shiva: a three-headed form (Mahadeva Maheshvara, Mahashamurti), depicted from the chest up, growing out of the rock, three times the size of a human being.
The middle head looks straight ahead, silent and powerful; the other two heads are shown in profile. The image portrays Shiva as the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer of the world, and at the same time as the savior and giver of blessings.
To see the temple would truly be worth a trip to India in itself and from the spirit of the religion that lived there one can learn more in an hour of actually being there than from all the books ever written on it.
Another significant point within the cave is the linga (phallus). It has doors with stone guardians, both graceful and powerful. This houses the sanctuary and worship site. The stone of the linga is literally a “sign” of the god. It is a small physical space, to represent and reflect.
Worshippers believe that man is constantly trying to move outward from himself, into larger and larger spaces and that reflection on the inside, coming back to oneself, is a difficult process to be mastered in the temple, amidst all the godly energy.