The Elephant of Elephanta

The aqua-tint of the elephant of Elephanta Islands
Few visitors who make it to Mumbai as tourists would possess the curiosity to pause and look for antiquities. In the absolutely time-starved rapid pace of Mumbai, there are many things we seem to ignore and fail to acknowledge the opportunity of observing many happenings around us. While many places in Mumbai have been described several times, the accounts of the lesser known places are hardly known.

The island of Gharapuri, which is nine nautical miles away from the Mumbai Harbour was renamed as "Elephanta" by the Portuguese from the life-size figure of an elephant built from an isolated mass of trap-rock, which formerly stood in the lower part of the island, not far from the present-day jetty. Many locals know that the elephant is no longer there and is often believed to have disappeared by the forces of nature. However, the elephant stood as a sea-mark and remained there till around 1864 when on the suggestion of Mr. W.E. Frere, it was to be relocated to a museum in London. The elephant was 13 feet 2 inches in length and about 7 feet 4 inches high when the crane that tried lifting it broke thus dropping its head and neck. Subsequently, the body of the elephant sunk down into a shapeless mass of stones and was pieced together by Dr. George Birdwood to save the relics from further destruction. 

The broken mortars of the elephant
What remains today is the figure of an elephant rudely cut in stone that is relegated to a corner near the present day Dr. Bhaudaji Lad Museum in Byculla from which the island that houses the now world famous caves that depict the nine important phases of Lord Shiva's face derives its name.  


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