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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

Storming Sewri Part 4 - Uncovering hidden secrets

It has been a hectic week, and I am so glad it is over! My computer had crashed, and then the internet did, and by the time they both got back, I have had loads of work piling on. Catching up with my posts has been a priority, so, in an attempt to at least complete one set of posts, here is the final in the Storming Sewri series....

The paved path leads us uphill, but the hill is scarcely visible. All we can see are tiny tenements lining the path on either side. As we climb further, the road (if I can call it that) gets narrower, and the houses more colourful. It almost feels like we are in a village, not in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.

We are on Golanji Hill in Sewri. At one time, this hill was used as a firing range by the British soldiers, which earned it its name, from the Marathi word for bullets – goli.

At that time, the view from this hill would have been gorgeous, with the city stretching on one side, and the sea on the other. All around would have been other tiny hillocks, each with their vantage views. Today, we can barely make out any hillocks. The skyline is dominated by concrete..... each structure competing with the others to touch the sky. As to the sea, we have to strain to catch a glimpse of it. All we can see are broken tiles on the tenement roofs – a stark contrast to the modern towers.

Turning into a tiny, almost-invisible alley, we find ourselves right at the top – a bare patch of land, once the summit of the hill, now used as a playing field. A group of boys are busy playing cricket, and they stop to watch us. Evidently, outsiders like us are rare in this close knit community of the hill. 

I wonder why this patch has been left alone, instead of being encroached by hutments like the rest of the hill. It takes me a while to realise that what has kept this patch bare are in fact, two huge electricity towers or transmission towers – right at the top of the hill. It turns out that these electric towers, or rather the original ones, were among the earliest to be installed in this city, bringing current over from the mainland, to light up this tiny island. Here is yet another nugget of history, which lies forgotten beneath the fast moving pace of the city.

I think I have seen it all, and yet, as we continue our walk, the surprises mount. We forget that we are in the middle of a crowded city. The old styled houses with their Tulsi plants take me back to another era. 

We are reminded that this was once part of ‘Parel village’, 

and here, in an unimposing structure, is what we have come to see.

It looks like a temple, but isn’t. Its simply a room, with a collapsible door, which is bolted tight. At first, I can barely make out what is inside. 

The board outside tells me that its one of the oldest, and biggest monoliths of Shiva in Mumbai....

but I cannot see any details till I walk inside a tiny gate, and peer through the collapsible doors. And here is what I see –

This is the ‘Parel Shiva Heptad’ – a monolithic statue of Shiva, with seven faces, believed to date back to the 5th or 6th century AD. The image was found when the area was dug for road construction in 1931. While scholars wanted to display it in the Prince of Wales Museum, the locals refused to part with it. The museum eventually got a replica, and the image was installed in a shrine near where it was found. It is believed to represent Maheshamurthi – the full manifestation of Shiva.

There are a total of 11 figures in all – a central figure from whom 6 others emerge. Together, the seven represent Shiva in all his forms. At the bottom are 4 kneeling figures, representing the Ganas, his devotees, playing various musical instruments.  Interestingly, though there are 11 figures, the image is locally called ‘Baradevi’ (12 goddesses).

A nearby temple where the image was originally placed after discovery. 

We turn back at last, having finished our quest for the day. As we pass yet another hillock covered with hutments, I learn that this is the Sewri water reservoir. Yet another bit of history I have been ignorant about. Heading back home, I can’t put the trip behind, and tell everyone I meet about what I have seen.

Weeks have now passed, but as I sit and write this post, I am still consumed by the sense of wonder I felt at discovering the hidden bits of history at Sewri. And I cant help but wonder -   what other secrets lurk beneath the surface of this city? Will I ever learn it all?

And now, having finally finished with the Storming Sewri series, a hearty ‘Thank you’ to the wonderful people at Travel-Logs, for introducing me to a part of the city I never knew existed.

For more details about the Parel Shiva Heptad, check out these links.


  1. have missed the other parts of your post --but this one is so interesting and with such lovely pics that will try and catch up with the others too

    1. Thanks so much, Rajni! I would love to read what you think of the other posts in the series...

  2. beautiful pictures. loved the description.

  3. That barred gate with flowers on it is a strangely lovely picture. Thoroughly enjoyed your narration.

  4. Very interesting write up with lovely photos. I enjoyed this excellent post. Best wishes,Joseph

  5. Nice post with lovely shots!

  6. Many thanks Anu. The Shiva is really unique. I would not have known about this but for this post of yours.

  7. For those who say, Bombay has no history should read posts like yours. I love to keep reminding them that Bombay's history stretches back to a good 3000 years back and yes, it is difficult to imagine that history hidden away behind today's modern avatar

  8. There are five gana figures at the bottom with three on the left and two on the right hand side as one sees it from the front. There are six images of Shiva above the main one in the centre and hence it is called the Shiva Heptad. Nice to read your article here.

  9. Lovely pics and description of the area, I have been born and brought up. In fact our familiarity was more with the Sewri naka where we lived and the surrounding area to the eAST OF Golanji Hills, esp market, mill area on Tokarsi Jeevraj Road, Labour camp area on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, and the timber yard and mudflats of sewri around the old fort to the east of station.

  10. I actually discovered your site while searching for directions to the Parel Heptad. I came across someone elses image today on Insta and then read more details on IGNCA's website, then started hunting for real directions from someone who's actually been there! Yours pics and apt descriptions give a good idea about finding the Baradevi temple in Parel gaon. Did you go from Elphinstone Rd? Cant wait to see this beautiful ancient relief.


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