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The Elephanta Caves of Mumbai

Today, we explored the great Hindu cave temples located on an island about an hour’s ferry ride from the Gateway of India. It was a hot, humid day—we had forgotten how unforgiveable the climate of Mumbai was. The ferry ride, therefore, was a joyous break from the sweltering heat, providing a cool breeze.

The island was green and lush. We hiked up what seemed like hundreds of stone steps, and merchants with their tables and trinkets lined either side. The island was filled with dogs who intermingled with the people, including one very small and adorable puppy. There were also monkeys everywhere. The monkeys were known to steal food and drinks from people; we were warned to hide our drinks that had color in them, and anything that looked like food. By the time we reached the top, we were sweating nonstop.

Our tour guide was a middle-aged Indian woman who had a wonderful, easy to understand accent. She gave us a brief introduction to the caves, and the Hindu religion. As we had learned from the Ajunta Caves, the Buddhists were the first to carve temples from mountains. The Hindus then began to do this as well. Every Hindu temple primarily worships one Hindu god, and the Elephanta Caves were for worshipping the god Shiva.

The cave had pillars, like the Ajunta caves. However, in place of paintings by the Buddhists, there were statues carved on the walls. The statues were huge, as tall as the ceiling, perhaps 20 feet high. They were elaborate, centering on a scene in Shiva’s life, featuring Shiva as well as his wife and other characters.

It was very unfortunate to see that many of the hands, faces, and other parts were smashed off. The tour guide told us that this was the result of Portuguese who came over and used the statues for target shooting. It made us quite upset to see that foreigners had come in not only to attempt colonization, but also completely disrespected such a rich culture and way of life.

The temple itself was not actually the entire cave, but rather a portion in the center that was about 10 by 10 feet. There was a dome in the center of the temple area, representing the god Shiva.

After being amazed by the caves, we went back to the Mumbai street-shopping area that we had become familiar with the first couple days in India. We ate lunch at a nice restaurant, and some of us went out to get some last minute gifts.

Finally it was time for us to leave Mumbai. We boarded the plane to Delhi, and a quick two-hour flight brought us to the capital of India! We would stay here for just one night before leaving the next morning for the city of Jaipur.

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