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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

Fort Kochi - Part 3: Indo Portuguese Museum

At first sight, it is just one among the many grand houses lining the road. It is an unassuming structure, which gives no hint of the treasures displayed within. From intricately carved teak wood altars, to silver plated crosses, remnants of an old fort, to recovered bits of ancient churches – the Indo Portuguese Museum at Fort Kochi has all these and more!

Can you see that structure where the car is parked?
That is the museum. Doesn't look like one, does it? 

The Museum is located within the compound of the Bishop’s House – at one time, the residence of the Governor of the Fort, and in later times, the seat of the Bishop of Cochin Diocese. The house is thus an apt place for a museum like this, having such a strong connection to the Portuguese history of Fort Kochi. In fact, Portuguese Bishops held the seat here, well past independence, till 1950, when the see was handed over to the Indian clergy. It was the second Indian Bishop, Bishop Joseph Kureethara, who laid the foundation for the setting up of this museum, in collaboration with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Portugal.

The Bishop's House. I would have loved to go in, but it is off limits for visitors

The museum is built over the remains of the original fort which gave the town its name. The ruins aren’t very impressive, though I appreciated that they have been preserved. Very little remains of the fort today, and this is one of the few portions which is accessible to the public. I believe that there are more, and better preserved ruins in other parts of Fort Kochi, but they are part of heritage resorts, and thus inaccessible to most visitors. This is, therefore, the closest we could get to the original fort.

Remnants of the fort. Not too impressive, are they?

Not many people seem to visit this museum, hidden as it is, among the other houses, but the sole caretaker is an enthusiastic man, juggling the roles of ticket vendor, guide, and guard, with ease! He took us around happily, along with another foreign couple who turned up on cycles just after us, showing off the treasures with pride. Photography isn’t allowed inside the museum, but when we asked, our guide brought out some postcards of the artifacts, hidden deep within a cupboard. To our greatest surprise, he said there wasn’t any fixed price, but that we could pay whatever we liked! Obviously, the cards don’t see the light of the day very often!


Interesting as these artifacts were, showing us just how elaborate and rich the Cochin Diocese was, since ancient times, we were most fascinated by this – an ancient lock, typical of Kerala. It is said that this lock, seen on many doors in this region symbolized their welcoming attitude to all religions. Hidden within the intricate details are symbols of various religions. How many can you see?

I could only spot 4, though there are probably a few more hidden away… here are the ones I do know… firstly, the shape is like that of the Om, the sacred symbol of Hinduism. Then, it also displays a trident, which could either also symbolize Hinduism, or the local Devi worship, which is so prevalent in the area. Islam is represented by the crescent moon and Christianity by the cross just over it. Zoroastrianism also finds its place, in the decorative elements above the rod, which seem to depict fire. We were told that there is also a Jewish symbol somewhere here, but I was unable to find it. If you can, please do leave a comment below!
Also located within this complex is the Vasco Da Gama Research Institute, which fosters research into the Portuguese history of the city, as well as conducts Portuguese language courses. I came across an interesting article talking of the courses held here, and the efforts being made to revive the Portuguese culture in the city. You can read it here.  

  • Location: The Indo Portuguese Museum is located within the grounds of Bishop House, which is a well known landmark in the area. It is within walking distance of the beach as well as other tourist places.
  • Timings: 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.; 2:00 to 6:00 P.M. 
    • Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays
  • My suggestions
    • Ask the caretaker for the Postcards. The quality is not too great, but they surely need the encouragement to print more and better ones!  
    • The wooded grounds of the museum are home to various birds. We were told that a pair of peacocks were frequent visitors, though we didn’t see them, as it was raining all the time. 


  1. Nice one Anu! I absolutely love the lock...gorgeous!

    1. Thank you, Sid!! Its truly something, right? and apparently is seen all over Kerala. surprising that i never saw it before!

  2. We visit so many places where history plays a great role and this museum is a perfect example for this.Thanks for sharing it,it was really informative.

  3. The Jewish symbols are depicted as 4 candles that run along the top of the trident. I visited Bishops house a few months ago and enjoyed seeing the Manichitrathazhu lock as I believe its called.


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