Being able to finally see Cave 1 at Elephanta was so helpful in understanding all of the plans I came across in my research. I was interested in understanding what art historians were discussing in regards to circumambulation in Cave 1. This topic struck me as interesting because we understand circumambulation as a clockwise motion around a temple in which the deity is always at the center; however, at this cave, devotees circumambulate counter-clockwise and the deity is off-centered. This motion is opposite of mangala, meaning auspiciousness, which confused me further. One scholar that I believe provided a strong argument for this unusual motion is Charles Collins. He gave detailed descriptions of each relief and explained how certain ancient texts and stories supported the understanding of the reliefs in a counter-clockwise manner.
Another scholar who studied this cave is Hirananda Sastri. Sastri created a plan of the cave in which he labelled the reliefs in a counter clockwise fashion however didn’t explain why he did this. In this plan, Sastri wrote “pradakshina patha” and “circumambulatory passage” around the main linga shrine in this cave and the smaller linga shrine to the east, but didn’t include either of these phrases around Cave 1. Other scholars I came across explain the reliefs at each entrance and how they relate to each other. For this reason, I concluded that devotees can circumambulate anyway around the cave and find ways in which each relief relates with the one before and/or after it.
After seeing the cave, the size of the cave was way larger than I thought. The reliefs were so tall and the columns were colossal! I also hadn’t realized how set back the sculptures are in the niches they are carved into. This allowed the sculptors to add much more detail and really bring the stories to life. I wish we had more time to explore the cave because I wanted to take Professor Hingorani’s advice to look closely at each of the sculptures and see if there are any signs of continuity or discontinuity in the artists’ depictions. Despite the lack of time, it was amazing to see the skill that these artists had. They were able to see this masterpiece in the face of a rock! We think we are so much more “advanced” in our technology today, but after seeing such artwork and detail, I think we have back tracked. Elephanta was so much more than I expected.
You can find out more information about the scholars’ research that I studied here:
Collins, Charles. “Elephanta and the Ritual of the Lakulīśa-Pāśupatas.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, no. 4 (1982): 605-617
Sastri, Hirananda. A Guide to Elephanta. Dehli: Manager of Publications, 1934.