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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

Grishneshwar Temple, Ellora

“Madam, itna jaldi jaake kya karoge? Mandir mein aapko kuch bhi nahin milega!” ( Madam, why are you going so soon? You will find nothing in the temple now. ) were the words we heard from our driver as we drove to the Grishneshwar temple near Ellora. He had protested the day before, when we suggested leaving early, but we were adamant. We hadn’t come to Aurangabad to sleep or relax. We wanted to visit the temple and then head over to the Ellora caves and later, if possible, visit Daulatabad Fort before catching our train back to Mumbai. The driver didn’t seem to share our enthusiasm.

According to him, visitors to Aurangabad fell into two categories – tourists who came to visit Ajanta, Ellora and Daulatabad; and pilgrims who came to pray at Grishneshwar. The first category mostly consisted of foreigners. Of late, Indian tourists had increased, but they were clearly identifiable – young, wearing jeans, carrying huge cameras. These rarely visited the temple, and if they did, did so cursorily, without much interest. The second category were mostly Indian families, which meant more elders than youngsters, clad in Indian clothes, performing a pilgrimage to the Shiva temple, and adding a visit to the caves as an attraction for the kids. And here we were, a family, looking so typically Indian, dressed in Indian clothes, carrying puja materials, but also carrying a camera, insisting on visiting the temple, but also wanting to spend more time at the caves. He was obviously flustered, and it showed as he chattered continuously about all the people he had taken to Ajanta and Ellora.

It wasn’t as early as you might imagine. It was past 7 AM, and the temple had already been open for at least an hour or more. But our driver was right. There was not a shop in sight, and neither were the pilgrims. Obviously, life began late in these parts. Of course, to us, that was a blessing. It didn't matter that we didn’t get milk to pour on the Lord or flowers to bedeck him with. All that mattered was that we didn’t have to stand in a queue or jostle with people to get into the sanctum. The sanctum itself was rather deserted – a solitary priest tried to get us to pay him some money for ‘special’ pujas, but the early hour and the absence of his normal crew seemed to have rendered him less enthusiastic than usual, and we got away much easier than we would have, a few hours hence!

Grishneshwar is the last among the Jyotirlings – the 12 super scared abodes of Lord Shiva. As with many of the shrines, this one too has multiple stories associated with it. One of the oldest legends speaks of Parvati born as a tribal woman wooing the Lord and being united with Him here. It is said that one day, as she ground vermillion and saffron with water to apply on the parting in her hair ( a symbol of the married woman), Shiva, in the form of light, appearing in her palm. This light turned into a lingam, which she called “Grishneshwar’, as it was formed by the friction (Grishna) between her finger and palm.

Another legend speaks of a devout woman, Kusuma, the wife of a learned Brahmin, Sudhama, who lived in the area. Kusuma used to form and worship a lingam each day and then immerse it in the river. Sudhama’s first wife, Sudeha, was jealous of her rival, especially since she did not have any children of her own. In a fit of jealousy, Sudeha one day drowned Kusuma’s only son. Kusuma, though racked by grief, continued her prayers as usual, and immersed the Shiva lingam in the river. Shiva appeared in front of her, and brought her son back to life. He is thus also known as Kusumeswar – the lord of Kusuma.

The temple was rebuilt in the 16th century by Maloji Bhosle and later by Ahilyabai Holkar in the 18th century. Unfortunately, photography is strictly not allowed anywhere inside the temple complex, so I can not show you anything of the temple other than the spire, that too from a distance.

Fact file:

  • Location: Grishneshwar is located about 27 Km from Aurangabad and 11 Km from Daulatabad, near the Ellora Caves.
  • How to Reach:

    • By Air: Nearest Airport is at Aurangabad
    • By Train: Nearest Railway Station is Aurangabad, which is connected to Pune, Mumbai and Hyderabad. On other routes, the nearest railway station is Manmad, which is about 100 Km away.
    • By Road: Aurangabad is well connected by buses from Mumbai and other cities in Maharashtra, and also from Hyderabad.
  • Where to Stay: There are a few small hotels and lodges near the temple and caves, but it is a better option to stay at Aurangabad, which has plenty of hotels to fit all budgets.

It is best to make a day trip from Aurangabad, covering the temple, Ellora caves, as well as Daulatabad, and  some other places of interest en route. 


  1. This might be your short but memorable trip!! Nice...

    1. thanks this is naren from andhra pradesh your post is lot of useful information .

  2. This post was my memories in 2012. This temple is the most peaceful among all the twelve jyotirlingas. I was fascinated here. I have written a detailed post on Grishneshwar . For reading this click the link below.

    1. I visited Aurangabad in 2011 Jan, Vishal... so this is a much, much, delayed post... and just read your post too.. nice one,

  3. Well, Superb post. It is now on my list. There are third cateogory as well - travelers. They drop in without any plans :) . I will have a plan though :P


    Himanshu Nagpal | Being Traveler

    Being Traveler

    1. Thanks so much, Himanshu! Nice to see you here. And I so agree. there is indeed a third cateogry - travellers like us! we may or may not have plans, but we always travel and we travel anywhere and everywhere :D

  4. I had very similar experience with our car driver on our trip. :) This temple wasn't in our itinerary but when he told us about this temple, we asked him to take us there. He was taken aback & was reluctant with excuses.

    Poor guy, must be thinking why on earth he showed us his gyan. :P

    1. i guess drivers at tourist places arent used to ppl like us who like to go anywhere and do everything.... even at shimla, the driver was surprised at the places i wanted to see... he seemed surprised that i wasnt too interested in the regular tours!

  5. We have seen car drivers are also of two types. The ones who know some regular tourist places and just refuse to explore new places and even discourage us saying that no such place exists. We had many such experiences. There are also the other kind. Who gets your taste within 1 day of travel and start suggesting places which we might like. One of the driver from Mumbai who did a few trips with our group belongs to the second category.

    1. Absolutely right, Unny! most drivers at tourist places are indeed the first kind. Its rare to get anyone of the second kind at most of the places we go to.. but then we do sometimes stumble upon one at the most unexpected of places, and that is what makes a trip interesting! we found one such chap at Kumbakonam when we were visiting temples.. we already had a long list with us, but this chap took us to places which we hadnt even heard about, and these were the most beautiful and wonderful ones we visited on that whole trip! and next time i am going to take ur drivers number when i am planning anything from here :D

  6. I plan to visit Aurangabad sometime soon. Thanks for sharing this info.

  7. Very interesting post!

    Actually, the percentage of those drivers is very less; who think about the convenience and interests of tourists.

    I am planning a trip with my family in July'13 to Nasik (Trimbakeshwar), Shirdi, Shani Shinganapur and Aurangabad (Ellora). These special addons would certainly be a jewel in the crown. If you have any suggestions regarding my trip, please share!!

    1. Thanks so much!!!! glad to hear you are planning such a long trip... i have been to all these places, but never at once... while at trimbak, try going to the origin of the river godavari. we havent been there yet, but have heard its beautiful.... and at aurangabad, go to daulatabad fort for sure.

  8. Hi Anuradha, next time if you visit Aurangabad, do visit shri Pardeshwar Mandir. Here's a link for reference

  9. superb post, we enjoyed each and everything as per written in your post. Thank you for this article because it’s really informative, I love reading your blog and I hope that I will read some more about this stuff, it’s really
    informative and very entertaining. Thanks a lot and have a great day.
    Ghum India Ghum
    Travel Agency in Delhi
    tour operator in Delhi


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