Part 3: Elephanta Island
A great little day trip from Bombay is found in Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hopped a ferry directly in front of the Gateway to India and an hour later we were on the long, sunbaked walkway from the dock to Elephanta Island.
A quarter mile staircase, leading past a couple dozen trinket booths, finally crested near the entrance to the Elephanta Caves. It appears that about 1000 years ago (between 9th and 13th centuries) the Silhara Kings wanted to build an appropriate home for Shiva (one of the Hindu trinity) and so hollowed out several caves and carved pillars and statues out of the bare rock. These are just some of the fantastic carvings that result:
This one, the Trimurti Sadasiva statue, is about 20 feet high, depicting three faces of Shiva.
As I’ve mentioned before, monkeys are holy because Hanuman the monkey god helped Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the Hindu trinity) rescue Sita in the Ramayana, a Hindu holy book. I have always been a bit perplexed by the contrast of blatant sexuality in Hindu theology with the extreme conservatism of Hindu practice. Many gods are popularly depicted in a sexual pose
and Shiva’s lingam, a clearly phallic symbol, is widely worshipped. Most Hindus, however, are very conservative in dress and sexual openness. There seems to be a clear distinction about what is sexually allowed for the gods versus the mortals. The monkeys on Elephanta clearly wish to remind us of their divine status:
In all places where monkeys are holy (generally in and around temples), these hallowed hominids tend to run rampant. Here is a picture of two monkeys.
The small one is looking to steal the banana from the big one which is clearly, childishly, withholding the banana he just freaking bought 2 minutes before.
What is not pictured is how, later, a rogue monkey literally climbed up me like a tree to get the banana I held aloft in my hand. The monkey became increasingly agitated after I bodily threw him off me. After landing a good five feet away, he immediately bared his teeth and began charges and feints. Being a big fan of bananas that I freaking bought for a reason, I decided to not let him have the banana. Thus began a kind of holy war between the sacred monkey and the guy who wouldn’t let this celestial primate thieve his meal. I don’t really know how offensive it is to physically fight an incarnation of divine deity but the onlookers didn’t seem so amused. In the end though, I kept my banana and the monkey ran off. I then promptly gave it to a beggar woman, I don’t need that bad karma following me…
Soon to come, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the jewels of Rajasthan!