Objects as History – The Elephant of Elephanta

The Elephant of Elephanta:



The Elephant of Elephanta is an enormous sculpture of an elephant. This stone elephant stood at the entrance of Rajabunder Jetty to Elephanta Island or Gharapuri. The Rajabunder Jetty was exclusively used by the Rajas. The Elephant was mainly symbolic of royalty, as well as mental strength, earthiness and responsibility. The Gharapuri Island houses the famous Elephanta Caves. A popular myth is that the caves were so named because the island on which they stood was in the shape of an elephant. However, they were named after this sculpture of an elephant which stood at the entrance of the jetty.[1]


The elephant was carved in the 6th Century out of a single piece of monolithic basalt rock. It is believed that the Elephant may have been carved by the same people who sculpted the Elephanta Caves.


In the early 16th Century, the Portuguese were so awed by the sculpture that they named the island after it. 150 years later, the Portuguese gave up their rights over the region to the British, who were so impressed with the Elephant, that they wanted to take it back home to England. However, it took them almost 200 years to put this plan into action.


In 1864, a crane was brought to the island, to lift the elephant, which would transport him to a ship that would then take him to England. The Elephant however, was so heavy that the crane could not take its weight. It snapped and broke, shattering the Elephant into several pieces.


The broken fragments, were then brought to Sir George Birdwood, who was the curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum of Bombay. The pieces were then reintegrated into the sculpture as can be seen today. One can still see the cracks and places The Elephant was joined together, along with some mortar. The original height of the Elephant before it broke into pieces, still cannot be estimated.


Today, The Elephanta caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Elephant of Elephanta stands in a fenced enclosure outside the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum Mumbai City Museum ( formerly known as Victoria and Albert Museum) at the Jijamata Udyaan (formerly known as Victoria Garden) in Mumbai.[2]



[1] Anuradha Shankar, “The Elephant of Elephanta,” A Wandering Mind; My Travels across India (blog), October 13, 2012, , accessed October 30, 2016, https://anushankarn.blogspot.in/2012/10/the-elephant-of-elephanta.html.



[2] “The Elephant of Elephanta,” My Favourite Things (blog), March 7, 2013, , accessed October 30, 2016, https://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-elephant-of-elephanta/.




  1. Shankar, Anuradha. “The Elephant of Elephanta.” A Wandering Mind; My Travels across India (blog), October 13, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2016. https://anushankarn.blogspot.in/2012/10/the-elephant-of-elephanta.html.
  2. “The Elephant of Elephanta.” My Favourite Things (blog), March 7, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2016. https://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-elephant-of-elephanta/.



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