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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Diwali Tour Part 13 – Sirkazhi

An ancient 3 storied temple, which has its roots in the great deluge and the creation of life, where the goddess herself appeared to feed a child who would grow up to be one of the greatest of the Shaivite saints, Sirkazhi has everything you would look for in a temple – legend, beauty and history, and more than anything, one is absolutely awed by this temple.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The first thing you see when you enter this temple is the pond. This is the sacred pond on the bank of which a small child was left by his father when he went to bathe. The child was hungry and began to cry. Shiva recognized his future devotee and asked Parvati to pacify the child. Parvati appeared on the banks of the pond, and fed the child with her own milk of knowledge – gynaana paal – and the child was hereafter known as Thiru gynaana sambandar, who sang songs in praise of Shiva even as a child. Even today the image of the saint in this temple is fed sweetened milk, which is given to devotees as prasadam.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The archway of the sacred pond

There are other temples also associated with Sambandar in the vicinity of Sirkazhi – West of Sirkazhi is Tirukkolakka where Sambandar was blessed with a pair of golden cymbals, south of Sirkazhi is Tirunanipalli the home of his mother, and north of Sirkazhi is Aachaalpuram where Sambandar attained beatitude.

The story of the Sirkazhi temple is much older than that – it is believed that during the great deluge, Shiva and Parvati appeared in a boat carrying the seeds of all species. Brahma started the process of creation after worshipping Shiva at this place. Hence, the main deity in this temple is known as Brahmapureeswarar. This is a 3-tiered temple, and the sanctum of Brahmapureeswarar is on the ground floor. This is the traditional form of Shiva as a lingam.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

On the first floor, accessible by steps on the right side of the ground floor sannidhi is the sanctum of Uma Maheshwarar or Thoniappar. Here the lord and his consort are depicted in the form of huge images, seated in a boat, as they appeared in this place. The ancient Tamil word for boat – thoni – leads to the name – Thoniappar. When we visited this temple, there was no electricity, and all was dark. On the ground level, the priest showed us the lingam in the light of the oil lamp, and we climbed up to the first level, and awaited him, but to no avail. It was completely dark, and rather eerie, for we couldn’t make out a thing. We climbed up to the last level and returned, when suddenly, the lights came back, almost giving us a shock! I was standing right opposite the sanctum when the lights came on and right in front of me were these huge images of the lord, more than life-like, I could almost say- giant-like, and startled me. It took me quite some time o get used to the size of the images, before I could appreciate the finer details.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

The third and uppermost level houses a sanctum which is closed all week long. It is opened only on Fridays at midnight, when prayers are offered to this deity. He is Sattanathar – a fierce form taken by Shiva to curb the ego of Vishnu when as Trivikrama (Vamana) he took control of all the 3 worlds. Shiva is believed to have quelled Vishnu in this form, and wears his skin as clothes (Sattai means clothes in Tamil). He is an angry deity who has to be appeased with sacrifices and the like, which probably explains the odd timings. However, that does not mean you cannot look at the deity. When you climb the steps to this level, at one point just before the gallery, there is notice mentioning that one can have darshan of Sattanathar from this place. Of you stand there, no matter what your height, you can see the image of the lord though a window placed strategically. I expected that I would have to lift Samhith to see the deity, but to my surprise, he saw the deity as easily as I did. Truly, wonderful architecture!

There is an entry fee for climbing the stairs to these upper levels, available just near the approach to the staircase. It is truly worth it, not just for the darshan of the deities, but also for the bird’s eye view of the temple that can be had from the gallery on top. Here is something to encourage you to visit the temple – some photos I took from this gallery.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip


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