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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

Wayanad - Discovering a ruined gem

It was our second day at Wayanad, and we were driving to Kuruva Island, when our guide pointed to some ruins and asked us if we would like to see an ancient temple. It speaks volumes of our interests, when I say that we perked up at once, and hastened towards what, at first glance, appeared to be a pile of stones lying by the roadside.

‘Pile of stones’ might be an exaggeration, but most of the temple seems to have fallen apart at some time, and then put together in an attempt at restoration. There was no ASI board at the site, so unfortunately, I have no details whatsoever about it. From a book I picked up at Kalpetta and the internet, I think this must be the Janardhana or Vishnu temple near Panamaram.

Since I cannot give you any details about the temple or its history, let me instead give you a photo-tour of the temple itself so you can get an idea of what it’s like.....

We are welcomed at the door by this beautifully carved figure of Hanuman...

Peeping through the doorway, the temple is now visible. Nature has taken over. Left alone, in a few more years, the temple will surely disappear among the weeds and the trees.....

And yet, the erstwhile beauty of the temple shows itself... through these intricate carvings in stone...

Inside, there are more stones lying around. Some may once have adorned the walls, some, like this one, might have been used as a lamp...

Here is the sanctum itself....

Inside, it is dark... but thankfully, there are no bats inside... The only reminder of life is a fragment of a discarded snake skin on the wall....

These are the pillars inside, with various carvings on them...

And above the sanctum is this... an image of a goddess...

Right opposite the sanctum is the mandap, with 4 pillars still (sort of) supporting the roof, the interior filled with rubble. Though I had my qualms about climbing atop something which once was part of a sacred spot, Samhith had no such hang ups.

However, his antics did bring about something good. It gave him a closer look at the carvings, and he recognised one of the few sets of icons that he does know well – the Dashavatar, or the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. I wasn’t able to get decent pics of all, but here are those I did manage...

Narasimha and Kalki

Matsya (the fish) and Varaha (the boar) (?)

Kurma (the tortoise)

Vamana (the dwarf, holding an umbrella and water pot or kamandalu)


There are also a few couples, and this one could be Rama and Sita

While Samhith jumped about, trying to decipher more figures, I was intrigued by the pillars themselves. They reminded me of the monolithic stone pillars we had seen at Hampi, with the layered carvings, the inner rounded layer and the outer decorated one. Does this imply that the temple belongs to the Vijayanagara period?

There are many more beautiful works of art on the stones, each more interesting than the other.

Look at this one, for instance..... it looks like a monkey, but I doubt it is Hanuman. The posture and the hair look feminine, doesn’t it?

And then there is this one... a Yoga posture?

A dancing girl?

There is no separate shrine for Ganesha, but here he is, on a pillar...

Apart from the Narasimha on the Dashavatar pillar, here he is again, as Yoga Narasimha...

And here is another of Krishna, this time with the gopis...

This, I assume, is Garuda...

And I wonder.... is this probably the merchant who commissioned this temple?

And here is another monkey figure – with a musical instrument this time.

And another monkey couple, sitting back to back.... wish it was clearer!

Unfortunately, the condition of this place is pitiful. Look at this pillar with the carving of a devotee... it is practically covered with lichen!

These are what would once have been the outer corridor.... the roof is caving in, weeds are growing in every crack, and little remains of the floor.

And there are lichen everywhere!

We can see carvings on even the outer walls... though they have probably been placed there mistakenly as part of the attempted restoration.

As we leave, Samhith declares “I like old, ruined temples. They are better than new ones, and much better than crowded ones.” I cant help but agree, though I also wish such beautiful ruined temples would be restored properly, so we can really enjoy visiting them. After all, the effort which goes into building a temple is colossal. So much talent, so much labour, and so much money..... And all that is left of it are stones lying by the wayside. Terribly unjust, don’t you think?

Wayanad is known for its natural beauty, and had I as usual planned a trip there, I would have, in all probability, taken the well worn tourist paths, and missed such beautiful, but less known sites. It was only thanks to Thomas Cook’s well planned itinerary, and the guys from Muddy Boots who know the area inside out, that I was able to discover such hidden gems, and experience a completely different facet of Wayanad. It was such experiences which made our trip memorable. After all, it isn’t every day that you discover gems by the roadside!


  1. Amazing Anuradha! Simply mind boggling!

  2. I need to go back to Waynad for sure! Thanks a bunch

  3. Wow that i quite a find Anu.. Am yet to make my 1st trip to Waynad..

    1. Thanks Aarti! you should surely go. Its such a beautiful place!

  4. There are a few such temples in that area. We too had visited one of them. Some of them are taken over by ASI, I guess.

    1. Yes, Bindhu, we did hear of a few more.. visited only one more temple, the jain temple at sultan battery. that ones ASI. dont know of any others managed by them

  5. These are lovely carvings! Wish the authorities take care of them soon. There are many such neglected temples in Wayanad.

    1. Yes, Niranjan.I wish the authorities take care of them, or we will lose even these vestiges of our rich heritage. the other jain temple we visited was maintained by the ASI and it was really well maintained.

  6. This place seems to be so serene and wonderful!!! Thanks for this lovely post!


    1. It is, Kanthi...plan a vacation with your mom soon!!

  7. Discovering less known and ancient ruin places is always an amazing experience.
    Wonderful photos and post.

  8. Looks like it must have been a lovely temple! Pity that it is in this sad state now.

    >>Does this imply that the temple belongs to the Vijayanagara period?

    More than the pillars, the sculpture of Veera Anjaneya in the second photo is a strong indicator that this temple structure belongs to the Vijayanagara period, since it was during their time that Veera Anjaneya was carved everywhere. Also the sculptures of dasAvatArs became popular during their time only.

    1. Yes it was, Aparna. And sad to see in its present state. unfortunately, not only is the temple ignored, but there is absolutely no information... neither there nor on the net.. at least as far as I could see. yes, the veera anjaneya is a good indication, but again, some of the monkey figures were really different. it would be nice if we could find out more

  9. Anuradha, your post has brought the temple alive from the ruins!

  10. I am so awed by the pictures. So many of them and each one saying a different story. I would love to visit a sight as old as that and take the experience.
    Its however sad that many important historical sites suffer huge damage and neglect before authorities take the notice of it.
    Why doesn't tourism deptt take it upon themselves to take up the matter with ASI and restore the sight in a scientific manner?
    Thanks Anuradha for sharing the pics. Its one way of preserving them and making people be informed about them.

    1. Thanks so much, Kirri!!! It is always a pleasure to visit and share info about less known places... and even more so when the readers enjoy the experience and write back like you. Yes, it is sad that such places are neglected, but then there are always various reasons, such as the land being owned by someone else, staffing problems, etc. i really wish the ASI took more interest in such places, and we can only try our best to highlight these issues.

  11. This Jain temple is on the tourist maps but not many people visit it (only very serious travellers, ie.:)
    This temple is very close to my place and I must say, not much work has been done on this one. The ruins have been pretty much like this in the last 3 decades. I'm sure it's been certified as a Jain temple and wild plants growing around it has been cleared. And they've put up a little board.

    It's amazing that it has survived the ages. But then again, as you must have noticed, it is a quiet place and it lies within a plantation. I guess that's why quite intact. :)

    1. first, i had no idea u lived anywhere near there!!!! would have loved to meet you! second, i was also told that its a jain temple, but its certainly not one. no jain temple would have Hanuman or Dashavatar carvings... so its obviously a vishnu temple. and there was certainly no board when we visited. and yes, this was in a plantation, which is probably why it has been preserved, even though in a sad state. i also heard that there is another one like this, though we didnt go there.

  12. Inspiring and motivating piece on the region. I hope to visit this part of the globe soon.

    1. Thanks so much, bnomadic!!! hope you get to visit soon!

  13. Replies
    1. Its truly an awesome place, Bhavesh! You should surely go there. would love to see how you view it through your lens!!

  14. I am unable to assess its antiquity. Very interesting spotting. The first photograph itself is awesome.

  15. Wow, a great heritage site of sculpture! the temple looking ancient and amazing. really, Great photographer. Nice post Anu!

  16. Oh Anu, how I wish I was with you exploring this temple and its nooks and crannies. What a beautiful temple and so desolate and lonely too.

    I wish the ASI would take it under its control, but being so short-staffed and with lack of funds, I don't see that happening. And then again, how much will the ASI do? Ours is such an ancient country and every place has something that needs to be protected.

  17. Thanks Anuradha ji for this awesome post.
    These temples in Wayanad is assumed as built in 12th century by the Hoysala dynasty who were Jains untill the king Vishnuvardhana adopted vaishnavism. 2 temples named "Krishna gudi "and" janardana gudi'. This temples also tells tales of Ramayana: Sita, Lava, Kusha. Vaasthu sasthra at its best , with Bharathamuni's karana postures demonstrable in each pillar, Dasavathara of a rare type which includes Avathara like Hayagreeva and Mohini as well are seen here.The pictures here also show the rare Lajjagouri Sculpture with a slightly erotic tempo, which is not seen in other Kerala temples .This figurine has Mudra of hand and feet which resemble IVC/Harappan dancing girl.IVC/Harappan scripts are also seen scattered.
    Thankfully, ASI has decided to protect the site.

    1. Thank you so much, Anjali, for this information! Its really good news and I hope the temple is now maintained properly without spoiling its inherent beauty.


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