Ian Lockwood


Elephanta: A Pilgrimage

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Mahesh Murti in Elephanta. Taken at ground level with a Canon G11 and edited with Photoshop Plugins from Nik Software.

Mahesh Murti (Trimurti) in Elephanta: a sublime and colossal example of6th-8th Century Hindu cave architecture in western India. Taken with a Canon G12 and edited with Photoshop Plugins from Nik Software.

In the last week of February I had the opportunity to participate in the bi-annual ASB Unplugged, a series of technology-oriented workshops and talks aimed at international educators. The visits to Mumbai, after a long nine-year gap, offered a chance to reconnect with cultural aspects of the Sahyadris (northern Western Ghats) and explore paradigm shifts in the way we use technology in schools.

Before the conference began one of my Sri Lankan colleagues and I took a day trip into the city to revisit Elephanta Island. This is a special, albeit popular, place that most good tourists visiting Mumbai see. I got to know Elephanta in 2001 when I spent a month in Mumbai exhibiting my Western Ghats Portrait and Panorama exhibition. These 6th Century temples are some of the most exquisite examples of cave-excavated sacred spaces and are on par with the more extensive Ajanta and Elora caves in central Maharashtra. The Elephanta cave temples are mostly dedicated to Shiva and are of the Gupta-Chalukyan art style (Harle 124). I’ve been intrigued with these cave temples and others in the nearby hills near Lonavala and Pune because of their cultural connection to the physical geography of the Western Ghats. The rock that the temples are cut from is basalt, associated with the Deccan Traps (see H.C Sheth’s scholarly article link below for a fascinating exploration of volcanism in the Deccan). Their estimated date of roughly 65 million years makes them relatively young when compared to the pre-Cambrian horsts of the Southern Western Ghats ranges.

The caves are set into a wooded hillside that overlooks Bombay harbor (see linked Landsat map in next post for location). Being caves with deep recesses they have subdued, exquisite lighting conditions that help create an ethereal experience for pilgrims and visitors. For photographers it is a challenge to do justice to the interior spaces and carvings without using artificial lighting. On my visit in 2001 I had used a Mamiya 6 medium format 6cm x 6cm film camera to try to document the Elephanta caves. Remembering back, it was a somewhat frustrating photographic experience since I had not been allowed to use my tripod by the ever-vigilant Archeological Survey of India guards. Thus I was forced to shoot hand held using a strobe to light up the deities. This time, I was travelling light and armed only with a small Cannon G12. The versatility of digital cameras is something that I appreciate though I really would like to return with a tripod and higher end DSLR. The pictures here are the result of the latest hand held experiments using the G12.

Mahesh Murti composite panoramic image.

Mahesh Murti composite panoramic image.

Nagaraja at west entrance to Elephanta caves...a series of view including one showing Portuguese (?) graffiti from the distant past.

Nagaraja at west entrance to Elephanta caves…a series of view including one showing Portuguese (?) graffiti from the distant past.

Dvarapalas (guard figures) at Elephanta with Siva (Andhakasura Vadh) in the back lett.

Dvarapalas (guard figures) at Elephanta with Siva (Andhakasura Vadh) in the back left.


Harle, J.C. The Art &  Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Sheth, H.C. “Plume-related regional pre-volcanic uplift in the Deccan Traps: Absence of evidence, evidence of absence.” MantlePlumes. August 2006. Web and PDF.

Sahyadris: A Photographic Gallery. See High Range Photography.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-03-06 at 3:37 pm

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