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Elephanta caves

Archaeological Survey of India and Mumbai collegians celebrate World Heritage Day at Elephanta Caves

April 21, 2023

Ronita Torcato

College professors in tandem with government officials urged students to take note  of the importance of conservation, enhancement  and protection of India’s rich cultural heritage at the Archaeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle’s celebration of World Heritage Day at the Elephanta Caves, a World Heritage Site, about 7km from the city’s Eastern Waterfront. 

It was a first time treat for  students of St Xavier’s College, Patkar College and Konkan Gyanpeeth College,who had just completed their exams.

The convention of World Heritage Day was launched in 1983  by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and has been  celebrated every year since then  on  April 18 across the globe. 

This year, the ASI marked the Day with a photo exhibition, a seminar,  a special  tour for students  led by Dr Anita Rane-Kothare,Head of the Dept of Ancient Indian Culture and Archaeology, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and a lively quiz on the site of the ancient caves at Elephanta aka Gharapuri Island. 

Dr. Usha Vijayalaxmi, Professor, Dept. of History, Patkar College in  her keynote address,said that our ancestors built temples, tanks, forts etc, for  public use with a keen  sense which needs to be understood and appreciated.  Monuments teach us our past socio cultural history,she said.

Dr. Anita Rane-Kothare,Head of the Dept of Ancient Indian Culture and Archaeology, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and Dr. Kurush Dalal, Director, Schóol of Archaeology INSTUCEN Trust, delivered lectures on “Elephanta caves- Architectural Marvel” and “History of Elephanta Caves and Surroundings” respectively.

Archaeological remains excavated from the site reveal evidence of occupation from as early as the 2nd century BC and  subsequently from the 16th century Portuguese period, as witnessed, respectively, by Buddhist stupas buried towards the eastern side of one of the two hillocks and a Portuguese canon located at its top. 

Gharapuri was first occupied around the year 2 BC by Hinayana Buddhists, who erected a large stupa to the Buddha with seven smaller stupas around it.. 

The rock-cut temple caves were sculpted from the  mid-5th to the 9th centuries AD.

The complex consists of five large caves embellished with huge Hindu sculptures ( notably of the Hindu god Shiva ) and two small Buddhist caves. 

When the island was ceded to the Portuguese by the kings of Ahmedabad in 1534, it ceased to be a place of worship. Some of  the caves and sculptures were damaged by Portuguese soldiers or ravaged by natural causes, Dr Rane-Kothari said. 

In 1661,  the marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal, placed Bombay in the possession of the British Empire, as part of Catherine’s dowry to Charles, along with the North African city of Tangier.

The island itself was named by Portuguese navigators  as Ilha Elefante (“Elephant Island”) in reference to the massive monolithic basalt sculpture of an elephant that was found there and later relocated  to Victoria Gardens aka  Rani Baug (now Jijamata Udyan), at Byculla in central Mumbai.

Dr. A. V. Naganoor, Assistant Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Mumbai Circle, spoke on the significance of the World Heritage Day and the  role of youth in preserving  heritage. 

Prof Dalal said Mumbai has “more heritage and archaeological sites than any other place in the world” (from pre-historic, Rashtarakutas, Shilaharas,a 14th century solitary king, medieval Kannada inscriptions from time of the Emperor Aurangzeb, and ” the most amazing Portuguese fortifications including one in Thane jail, and a host of  British monuments” including Fort St George, which was built in honour of King George III,  in 1769 as an extension of the  Bombay Fort, a  remnant of which forms a part of the Eastern boundary wall of  St.George’s Hospital on P.D’Mello Road.

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