It’s about an hour by boat from Bombay Harbour. Or Mumbai Harbour, depending on what you prefer to call that city. The city itself is not, to put it kindly, very picturesque, but just an hour’s boat ride away, we enter quite another world: the caves of Elephanta Island.
But these aren’t ordinary caves: these aren’t caves created by the workings of nature. These caves, like the much larger Ellora on the Indian mainland, have been carved out, quite insanely, by human hand. The whole edifice is one vast sculpture, sculpted directly into the rock face itself, some fifteen or so centuries ago.
I was there last weekend. After disembarking from the boat, we walked along a pier, and then up the slope of a hill, on steps flanked on both sides by bustling cafes and by souvenir stalls. And then, we were faced with the “cave” – a large, man-made, pillared opening into the rock.
Coming inside from the bright sunlight, all seems dark at first. But then, as the pupils dilate, there emerges slowly from the darkness a vision – a vast, magnificent vision of Divinity, of the Trimurti, the Trinity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the three faces of the God Shiva.
One does not need to believe in Hinduism, or indeed in any religion at all, to find oneself overawed. After all, even many an atheist has been overawed by the vision of Sistine Chapel, or of Chartres Cathedral. And here, too, one is brought face to face, if not with Divinity itself, then, at least, with a human vision of Divinity, that is no less splendid for being human. It is a vision that overwhelms with its magnificence, and with its serene grandeur.
There are times I think God is the noblest work of Man.