A master piece of caves in the rock cut architectural style, covering an area of 60,000 square feet, housing the Chaitya Stupa which is largest in India and one of the World Heritage Sites — The Elephanta Caves are an artistic treasure. The UNESCO had identified it as a World Heritage Site but we Indians hardly care to preserve it.
The Elephanta Island, located on the arm of the Arabian Sea is an hour-long ferry ride from Mumbai. It consists of two groups of caves. The larger one is a group of five Hindu caves which has rock cut structure dedicated to Lord Shiva. The smaller group has two Buddhist caves. These caves date back to 7th century. The entire complex of Elephanta Caves is carved out of a single rock.
The Chattri of Chaitya Stupa is made up of wood and is around 2000 years old. Considering the historical assets, a 100 year old wood structure too is precious — but this is left to decay.
There are various Acts and Laws passed to preserve the Elephanta Caves but none are effective because the vested interests of middle-men won over the presevation of the caves. After declaring the caves a World Heritage Site in 1987, UNESCO granted $100,000 to document the site’s history and draw up a site plan. A part of the grant was utilized for conservation of the caves.The Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage came into action only when UNESCO threatened to delist it from World Heritage Site because it was so neglected.
Many of the priceless sculptures of these caves were destroyed by the Portuguese. It appears we gave our word to them for continuing the destruction. The Elephanta Caves are a great tourist attraction. The plastic bags, cellophane garbage of visitors and, of course, the amourous “Raja loves Rani” are engraved everywhere.
We crib about the fact that Britishers took away our priced possession, the Kohinoor. We are demanding it back but what would we do after retrieving it? Probably, leave it to decay as we have done to out other historical sites. We have failed to take care of the heritage which is already with us, but we still claim for the lost one.
If the Indian Government is serious about saving the picturesque cultural heritage, then both the State and Union government should collaborate with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to preserve the Elephanta Caves or we would cut a very sorry figure in front of the world when the caves would no longer be a World Heritage Site. This would be a result of our sheer negligence towards our heritage.