The Elephanta Caves are a network of sculpted caves located on Elephanta Island, r Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") in Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the east of the city of Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The island, located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, consists of two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of wo Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to the god Shiva.
The rock cut architecture of the caves has been dated to between the 5th and 8th centuries, although the identity of the original builders is still a subject of debate. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. All the caves were also originally painted in the past, but now only traces remain.
The island was called Gharapuri and was a Hindu place of worship until Portuguese rule began in 1534. The Portuguese called the island Elephanta on seeing its huge gigantic statue of an Elephant at the entrance.
The Statue is now placed in the garden outside the Bhau Daji Lad (erstwhile Victoria & Albert) Museum at the Jijamata Udyan (erstwhile Victoria Gardens) at Byculla in Mumbai. This cave was renovated in the 1970s after years of neglect, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork. It is currently maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
To the south-east of the Great Cave, is the second excavation which faces east-northeast. It includes a chapel at the north end. The front of this cave is completely destroyed, only fragments of some semi-columns remain. The interior has suffered water damage. The portico is 85 feet (26 m) long and 35 feet (11 m) deep. The chapel is supported by eight eight-cornered columns and two demi-columns and is irregular-shaped. At the back of the portico are three chambers; the central one has an altar and a water channel (pranalika), though the Linga is lost. The shrine door has some traces of sculpture (a boy, a fat figure, alligators on the frieze, and broken animal figures at the head of a door jamb). The door-keepers of the shrine are now in fragments.
A little to the south of the last cave, is another cave in worse condition, with water damage. It is a portico in which each end probably had a chapel or room with pillars in front. Two of them have cells at the back. The central door at the back of the portico leads to a damaged shrine. The shrine door has door-keepers at each side, leaning on dwarfs with flying figures over the head, with door-keepers and demons on the jamb and architrave. The shrine is a 19.833 feet (6.045 m) deep by 18.833 feet (5.740 m) wide plain room with a low altar, holding a Linga. South of this cave is a cavern, which may be used as a cistern.