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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

The Pillars of Tadoba

“They used to light a torch right on top of that” insisted our guide. “How do you think they climbed up?” I asked, amused at the thought of someone clambering up the smooth pillar without even a hold of any kind. “They must have carried a ladder” replied our guide, his tone implying that he had never been questioned before. “Or maybe they rode elephants, and stood atop it to light the torch” added my husband, and the guide gleefully jumped at the idea, satisfied that the discussion was over. It looked like only I had caught the underlying sarcasm in my husband’s voice, and we shared a smile, just between ourselves.

Such were the moments which made our trip to Tadoba memorable.

The pillars we were talking about lined one side of the road in the Moharli section, and, I was at once diverted from our quest for tigers, and more interested in this glimpse of heritage I hadn’t quite expected in the wilderness.

Our first guide wasn’t as enthusiastic about them as I was, and he shrugged it off, saying that some king had built them as a marker for the road. He himself was far more interested in showing us a tiger and claiming his baksheesh!

Our second guide was a bit more enthusiastic. He was the one who propounded the torch theory, adding that these were the work of the Gond Kings, about half a century ago.

It was our third guide who told us that these pillars were used for communication purposes when the king traversed this road, and he was the one closest to the truth.

The pillars indeed were the works of the Gond Kings, who ruled this region in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No one seems to know when the pillars were actually built, but they stand at regular intervals on the road which then connected Nagpur to Chandrapur, both of which held strategic importance. Very interestingly, the distance between two pillars is almost exactly the same, and the pillars also stand in a straight line. The present road curves, according to the routes now laid within the sanctuary, so the pillars only accompany us part of the way, but we can catch glimpses of the row of pillars standing tall amidst the trees as we follow the road.

Finally, coming to their purpose, they evidently were built for communication. It is most probable that the ring atop the pillar was for a rope to be passed through, which would be connected to a bell. The rope could be pulled from any point for the bell to ring, and the ringing pattern could have helped transmission of the message. It would indeed have served as an efficient means of communication, especially when it came to huge armies and royal processions.

It is, however, most impressive that these rulers, who are today relegated as tribal kings, worked with such forethought, planning and efficiency, something we find sorely lacking today even with modern technology and the best minds!

We saw the pillars every now and then as we wove our way through the forests, hoping for the tigers to show up. They reminded me of all the men who had come here before us, of those who had first created this path through the forest, braving all its dangers, and ensuring that others didn’t have to. I also rued the thought that they had made it a lot easier for the destruction of the forest; of not just its animals and its trees, but the very earth, for this is one of the most coal-rich areas in the country.

It is a bittersweet thought indeed that the men who built them are no more, but the pillars stand erect in their memory, some, proudly, newly painted, along a well laid road, some crumbling, some overgrown with creepers, used as a perch by animals and birds. The tiger prowls among them again, and travellers pass by them too, while only a few even notice them.

This is the first post in my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here

This post was featured in the Tangy Tuesday Picks on Blogadda, on June 2, 2015!! 


  1. These pillars also made me very curious.. and the same story was told.... but more with reference to the Gond King visiting the temple so there was a rope going through the top of the pillars that announced the arrival of king to the temple priests ..

    1. Guess the story varies from guide to guide, Prasad, as is expected :D and btw, i realised when I was searching for more info that you were the only other person to have written about it,,, unfortunately, there is so little information available, that we dont really know how they used it... its all simply speculation.... but thats what makes the story interesting, doesnt it?

  2. Tadoba has always made me very curious. With the pillars, the curiosity has been heightened. Hope to travel there soon. Meanwhile, I am happy to get a teaser of your exciting #summertrip2015. Missed reading your words :)

    1. Thank you Amrita. I had longed to visit Tadoba for years before it actually happened. And it was worth the wait! there were so many wonderful experiences... as for the posts, its truly been difficult to decide what to write about, and how, cause there were just so many!

  3. Interesting stories. Sometimes, you have no other option than to believe the guide.

    1. Yes, Niranjan. But its these different versions which make the stories more interesting!

  4. I want to watch Tadoba Tiger photos?
    How much the jeep safari cost including online booking?
    What about accommodation? The cost?

    1. Look out for the next few posts, Tushar. Information on Tadoba will be in the last post on the series, as to cost, that depends on many factors

  5. Lovely image... And chuckle at the conversations :d

    1. Thank you Aarti! As usual, the conversations made the experiences more interesting!

  6. Many learned people from Chandrapur opine that these pillars were actually made by the Britishers and not the Gond kings (The workmanship is not too good). Chanda fort was a major bastion of the British and this road is the shortest road from Chandrapur to Nagpur. In fact it was always a state highway. The pillars towards Moharli are made in Sand stone and those towards Kolara are made in bricks. In some areas, as the road turned into today's jungle, pillars cannot be seen. The real significance - other than guiding travellers in those days, is not known. The orientation of these pillars as well as the gap between them in very unique.
    As some one has mentioned - probably rope was tied on the top of the pillar with bells hanging from it - to announce the travel of some dignitary, asking the people from the villages then to come and pay respect ;-)


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