Elephanta was formerly known in ancient times as "Gharapuri" or The Place of Caves. The Portuguese named it Elephanta after the great statue of elephant which they found on the seashore. They found monolithic stone elephant at the place where they landed and also named this a ilha do elephanta, island of the elephant. There was a stone horse too, a little further, which has vanished without a trace.

There are seven caves of which the Mahesha-Murti Cave is the most important. The main body of the cave, excluding the porticoes on the three open sides and the back aisle, is 27 m square and is supported by rows of six columns. The gigantic figures of Dvarapalas, or doorkeepers are remarkable.


The cave temple is spread over an area of approximately 5000 square metres. It can be reached by climbing a flight of more than 100 steps. Inside the temple, is a large pillared hall with rows of columns that hold up the roof of the cave.

Cross beams create the illusion of a ceiling. The series of marvelous sculptured panels, nine in all, which are set like tableaux on the walls, draw our attention. Very little is known about the architects and sculptors, who worked on this ancient architectural wonder. Each of the panel captures the volatility of Shiva's essentially paradoxic nature, and the magical interplay of light and shade, only intensifies the overall effect.