Elephanta Reliefs in Person

Presenting my research in front of the reliefs that I have read for months about has been an out of body experience. It was amazing seeing the Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash and Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash in person because I could see a lot more details in the work that the pictures I have been looking at didn’t pick up. Being there enhanced my understanding of the reliefs because I could clearly see the evidences scholars used to support their works and ideas. My research focused on which myth variations can be seen on the reliefs and how these different myth interpretations illustrate the power dynamics of Shiva and Parvati’s relationship.

The most popular variations in interpretations of the reliefs either depict Parvati as Shiva’s equal or gives Shiva all the power in the relationship. There are many scholars that support either side with clear evidence which makes it hard to clearly state which interpretation of the myth the artists portrayed in their work. On Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash, you can see Shiva cheating while gambling with Parvati. In the relief, Parvati has her back turned away from Shiva and is using her right hand to hold a servant as support for standing up off of the ground. Neema Caughran interprets Parvati’s back to Shiva as an action of disdain. She is fuming with so much anger about Shiva cheating and not owning up to it that she can not stand to be in his presence. Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash shows Parvati embracing Shiva while he roots the mountain with his toe, trapping Ravana. George Michell states that she is clinging onto him because she is terrified and he assumes the role of the protector by pressing down the mountain. In this interpretation, despite Parvati being a powerful deity herself, all the power is seen in Shiva as he protects her from Ravana.

There are many more interesting points from the reliefs that scholars use to prove that the reliefs are either meant to glorify only Shiva or portray Shiva and Parvati as equals. Seeing the reliefs in person reignited my passion for this topic. I would love to continue researching the topic by starting to compare interpretations said to be depicted in these reliefs to others with the same myth, such as Ravana Shaking Kailash at Ellora Cave 16.

Recommended readings for more information include:

Neema Caughran, Shiva and Parvati: Public and Private Reflections of Stories in North India (American Folklore Society, 1999), 514-526.

George Michell, and others . Elephanta, the Cave of Shiva, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).

Don Handelman and others, God Inside Out : ‘Siva’s Game of Dice, (Cary, US: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash          
Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash

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