Elephanta Island is home to one of the finest rock-cut temples in India, and any visitor to this small island of great scenic beauty is likely to focus their attentions on the main cluster of five temples located on the western hill. But for those wishing to dig a bit deeper into the antiquity that this island has to offer, a quick look at any map of the island will give you some pointers as to where to go next.
Caves 6 and 7 are located outside the main temple complex on the opposing eastern hill, known as ‘Stupa Hill’. My previous blog post on the Elephanta Caves details how to find these two much less visited caves.
Having successfully found them, I decided it was time to get a little more adventurous and try and locate the stupa that the hill is named after. Some maps show two stupas on Elephanta island; Stupa 1 on the crest of the hill and labelled as ‘unexcavated’, and Stupa 2 down by the shore of the island labelled as ‘unexplored’. With limited time, I decided to only try and locate Stupa 1, which is dated to the 2nd century A.D.
So this blog picks up the trail from Cave 7 in my previous blog, heading north-east following a stone/rock lined path that was rapidly becoming lost in the undergrowth.
This pathway is clearly very old and soon headed into thick woodland of palms, tamarind and mango trees. I decided it was best to try and stick to the path as much as I was able to, as in all probability would take me to the location of the stupa. A modern water pipe runs parallel to the ancient path for some of the distance.
Before long I passed on my right what is marked on the map as a pond, but on other maps it is labelled as a tank. This doesn’t appear to be man made but it is a huge, and although when I visited it was dry it must have possibly served as a source of water for the inhabitants of the island in the past.
Shortly after passing this pond, the stone lined path seemed to come to an abrupt end in front of three stone cut tanks. These are also marked on the map right next to the location of the stupa. One of the tanks was home to a rotting drowned dog, so I’m afraid there are no photos of that tank !
From the tanks, if you look up you will in fact be staring straight at the Stupa 1. Although completely overgrown, the distinctive shape of the dome (anda) is plainly visible despite being untouched for some 1,700 years.
As the monument is in the declared “core archaeological zone” of Elephanta Island I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as overgrown as this. There doesn’t appear to have been any attempts to clear the stupa of vegetation or trees for many years (if ever) and this does pose a threat to the monument.
Removal of trees from archaeological sites is not always necessary, particularly if the trees are stable and relatively mature. However, for a site such as this it is utterly essential. The root growth with young trees can be rapid and quickly damage archaeological remains, especially masonry or brick built structures such as this. In addition, the act of a tree throw (when a tree blows over) can pose a significant risk to archaeological sites, as it can throw up massive root plates that damage any structures the roots have entwined themselves into.
Encircling the stupa is a band of very rough stones, from a distance I was hopeful these may be the fallen remains of a balustrade, but I couldn’t see any evidence that the stones had been worked to any great degree. Instead they appear to be the remains of a revetment, now in ruins but certainly forming a distinctive band around the monument.
I searched the area around the stupa looking for any signs of worked stone. A few rough bricks were lying around, hardly surprising as the monument is described as a brick stupa, but the only other piece of worked stone I could find was an isolated carved column not far from the stone lined path.
If you have the time and energy reserves it is well worth exploring the eastern ‘Stupa Hill’. It’s certainly a bit of an adventure, far removed from the hoards of people enjoying Caves 1-5 on the western hill, and in many respects you may feel like you’re the one discovering these monuments for the very first time.
I must admit the theme music to Indiana Jones was going around my head as I ventured into the thickly wooded hill on my quest for the Elephanta Stupa 🙂
You’re welcome to ‘Like’ or add a comment if you enjoyed this blog post. If you’d like to be notified of any new content, why not sign up by clicking the ‘Follow’ button.
If you’re interested in using any of my photography or articles please get in touch. I’m also available for any freelance work worldwide, my duffel bag is always packed ready to go…