INDIA, PART TWO: ELEPHANTA CAVES AND A PRIMER ON HINDU GODS AND DEITIES

 

No matter the country it is always a favorite activity of mine to take a boat ride.  Our first water excursion in India was to a UNESCO World Heritage site, Elephanta Caves, shown above.

This was the view from our boat as we left the harbor  –  our hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, and the 85 foot high Gateway to India.  It was very hazy so I did take advantage of Photoshop so you could actually see something.

A visitor checking out our boat – an Indian house crow.

You can get an idea of the thick air in this photo.

Getting to the caves is not a simple task.  As we docked we were met by a rather adorable open car train:

This train brought us to the cave complex entrance site and it had some energetic four-legged conductors who ran along side with us the entire way:

More about the dogs of India in a later post.

Once at the foot of the entrance to the caves we were met with a series of uneven stone steps – according to someone there are 120 steps – not sure about that number but it did take about 15 minutes to climb.  Since the steps are very uneven, broken at parts and very slippery as the locals continually wash them, there is alternate way to get to the caves:

They may look a bit rickety but these sedan chairs proved to be quite safe. A relay of carriers took the climb with relative ease – and my dear friend Peggy had a blast being the Maharani of Elephanta Caves:

The walk for the rest of us:

Very smart marketing – it was very difficult for those who took a rest at intervals during the climb to resist the trinkets being sold all along the steps.

The Caves – While archeological remains on the island date back as far as the 2nd Century AD the caves themselves were constructed between the mid 5th to 6th Centuries AD. We entered Cave 1 pictured at the top of this post, which measures almost 130 feet from the front entrance to the back.  It appears to be a place where local Hindus worshipped until the 1500’s when Portuguese marauders took it over and defaced many of the stone sculptures.  A far too common occurrence.

One of the carvings that  did survive is a 23 foot high sculpture that according to the                UNESCO.org  site depicts the three faces of Lord Shiva:  the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer:

Who is Lord Shiva?  A brief primer is offered here but understand that there are over 33 million Gods of Hinduism, and I am not sure if “gods” and “deities” are interchangeable so forgive me, Vishal if I inadvertently err.

Lord Shiva is one of three deities that form the  trinity or “Trimurti” of Hinduism:  Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  But I am already confused.  Brahma represents the personification of the cosmic function of Creation, while Vishnu is the Preserver and Shiva is the Destroyer.  So how can this three-faced statue represent Lord Shiva but also the other cosmic functions of the trinity?

The UNESCO site also says that this carving is also called the “Sadashiva.”  Okay, so I looked that up and got this definition:

Sadashiva is one of the forms of Shiva, which, by some, is considered the highest form. He is usually depicted with five faces, representing the five elements and five powers of Shiva, and his 10 arms and hands.

 

In other words, this:

 

 

Still with me?  Shiva is part of another trinity.   Shiva is the husband of Parvati who had a son Ganesha.  Parvati was bathing one day and told Ganesha not to let anyone in the house.  When he obstructed Shiva, the god became incensed and chopped Ganesha’s head off.  Parvati was heartbroken and in an effort to mend her son, replaced his head with that of an elephant:

In this trinity, Parvati is the universe, Shiva is its God and Ganesha is all of us. Oh my.

I think this is at the heart of the philosophy of Hinduism  –  one cosmic force – the Brahman.  It has no form, but it is divided into three stages of existence – Creation, Preservation and Destruction (sound familiar).  These phases do have forms and are known as Brahma (who, by the way had five heads) Vishnu and Shiva.  Shiva, incidentally also had an altercation of the head removing kind with Brahma. So we are back full circle.

I am so muddled, but I will make another attempt to talk about Hinduism as well and Buddhism later in this series of India posts and have a specific personal story about Ganesha.

For now back to the caves as I end this post with these  photos – enjoy!

The above statue is called Ardhanarishuavara which is half male/half female representing Shiva and his wife Parvati

The above statue is Shiva in the form of the cosmic dancer, Nataraja.  It seems that the gods have different forms to represent different attributes.

I will continue my studies and hopefully will report back much more informed in my next post on religion and faith.

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