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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

Badami Cave Temples Part 3

My main worry while on our tour of Badami and surrounding places was how Samhith would react to seeing just sculptures and temples all day long. He had tired of temples after Aihole and Pattadakkal, but Badami was interesting because of the caves. Besides, the beautiful work on the rough stone, made over a thousand years ago seemed to excite him. However, by the time we had climbed up to the third cave, his enthusiasm was flagging, especially seeing all the other visiting children clambering all over (something I wouldn’t allow him to do!) I hoped there would be something in the third cave to keep him attentive, but I needn’t have worried! He was all agog, because, by now, he could identify some of the figures by himself, something which impressed our guide, and this made him feel extremely proud of himself!

The third cave is also dedicated to Vishnu and is the most beautiful one with the most intricate of sculptures.

Varaha is seen again, his feet on the ocean bed, lifting Bhudevi with one hand. Here, she is not even touching the tusk, but seems to be supporting herself by holding his shoulder. Varaha seems to be a predominant figure here, since he was their main deity. Varaha figures even on the emblem of the Badami Chalukyas. (To read the story of Varaha, click here)

This figure of Vishnu shows him with all his weapons. We were told that this one might be a Vaishnavite door guardian.

The next figure in this cave is yet another incarnation of Lord Vishnu – Narasimha. To read the story of Narasimha, click here.

Interestingly, the figure of Narasimha is shown in a standing posture. He is usually depicted as seated, or more often than not, he is shown in an angry form, disemboweling Hiranyakashipu with his bare hands! Here, on the other hand, he actually appears to be smiling (by a stretch of my imagination at least!), and is depicted in a stylish way, leaning on a club (part of which has broken off). There are various figures around him, among which the one on the left appears to be Prahalada.

The next figure is another one of Harihara.Here, the details are somewhat clearer, in spite of the wear and tear of the rock on which the figure has been carved. The differences on the Shiva and Vishnu sides are more apparent here.

We now come to another figure of Trivirama  - Vamana.Again, the details are exquisite – see the story depicted at the bottom, though not much remains of the details on the side. To read the story of Vamana, click here

While each figure here has many interesting points, the main figure here is certainly the most interesting. This is Vishnu in the Lalitasana pose (posture of royal ease), seated on Adishesha. Now, Vishnu and Adishesha are inseparable, and Vishnu is often depicted sleeping or leaning on Adishesha. However, this one seems to be one of the very few (and probably the only one, but am not sure of that) depictions of Vishnu seated on Adishesha in such a pose.

This cave was particularly overcrowded, but our guide bade us to wait for a while, saying that there was something we HAD to see. Once the children had moved, this is what we could see……

The long line of pillars in the hall seemed to flank the image of the Lord, and none of the other sculptures were visible. It is believed that this depicts the court of the Chalukya king, and the Lord is depicted in the same posture that the king is seen in, at court! Interesting, isn’t it?

This cave is special not just for these carvings, but for the amount of details on the pillars and ceilings…. Here is what we saw on the ceiling…

This shows Kubera – the God of wealth….

This one shows Indra, the king of the gods, riding his elephant – Airavata. He is surrounded by eight figures, who might be the ashta dikpalakas, or the guardians of the eight directions.

This one shows Shiva and Parvati riding the bull, surrounded by the Ganas… on the right are Ganesha and Karthikeya

Even the brackets have been beautifully carved! Each one has a pair of yakshas (divine couples) in various postures and garments. Here are some of them.


Interestingly, this cave would have once been covered with paintings. Today, we can barely see a trace of them, if you look close. Go over some of these photos and see if you can spot the colours!

The third cave is the last of those here dedicated to Hindu gods. The fourth and final cave is a Jaina cave, which you can look forward to seeing in my next post. 

Badami Factfile
  • Location: Badami is located in Karnataka, 30 Kms from Bagalkot and 589 Km from Bangalore
  • Nearest Airport: Belgaum, 190 Km
  • Nearest Railway station: Hubli, 100 Km
  • Accomodation: There are plenty of options for staying in Badami, but most of them are lodges and low to medium end hotels. The best is certainly the Karnataka Tourism hotel Maurya Chalukya
  • Around Badami
    • Bijapur – 125 Km
    • Aihole – 46 Km
    • Pattadakkal – 29 Km
    • Hospet – 190 Km


  1. beautifully covered . Just love this place .

  2. great pictures and write-up. Makes me wanna go there again. 

    Looks like you guys had a great time there. BTW, did you meet the rowdy monkeys of Badami? and did you climb the fort that is opposite the Badami cave temple?

  3. Your images are wonderful. Yes, Badami is a beautiful place.

  4. How much planning and architectural skills have gone into the temples. Loved the one especially where the Lord is presiding over his court seated on his snake throne.

  5. Wonderful photographs. I am also coming across Vishnu in a seated posture for the first time. Usually he is seen to be resting all the time unmindful of what is going on in the World. He was our Nero.

  6. Lovely clicks...esp the one where Lord depicted as in the court scene. As I read about each cave, it makes want to go there.

  7. Thanks!!! it s a really beautiful place! one I would love to visit again and again!

  8. Thanks! Oh yes, we did meet them! mentioned them in the previous post too :) but thankfully, they didnt trouble us so much, or rather, they didnt seem too troublesome compared to the kids around! yes, we climbed the fort too.. that was a real treat! we all loved it! hey, u have to catch up with my last few posts !! :)

  9. You hit it on the head!! just imagine the kind of planning, the kind of skill needed! we had so much, but so little remains! and worse so few of us are aware of this!

  10. Thanks!! me too! and we were told that this was the only such carving....

    LOL about the comparison! never thought of it that way! but yes, he does seem to be amused all the time at the antics the gods and mortals get up to....

  11. THanks Jayasree! u shd really go sometime! its a beautiful place!

  12. Wonderful shots those marvelous sculptures.

  13. Amazing! On my must visit list!

  14. You have taken such wonderful pictures, very well presented.

  15. Yes, Deepak! you should def go.... would love to see this place thru ur lens too!

  16. thanks for such endearing has been skillfully documented and presented... kudos!

  17. Beautiful beautiful Beautiful ,
    Your photos and write up on Badami caves 1, 2, 3 is exceptionly good . I liked it very much. Please keep giving pleaure to all.

  18. Beautiful,Beautiful,Beautiful,
    Your write up and photos of Badami Caves 1,2,&3 is exceptionally good and I liked it very much . Keep on giving pleasure to all


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