The Elephanta Caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, that show syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. Except for a few exceptions, much of the artwork is defaced and damaged. The main temple's orientation as well as the relative location of other temples are placed in a mandala pattern. The carvings narrate Hindu mythologies, with the large monolithic 20 feet (6.1 m) Trimurti Sadashiva (three-faced Shiva), Nataraja (Lord of dance) and Yogishvara (Lord of Yoga) being the most celebrated.
Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to Hindu god Shiva. They are located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") in Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the east of the city of Mumbai in the Indian state of Mah?r?shtra. The island, located offshore about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, consists of Shaivism caves and a few Buddhist stupa mounds.
The island is 2.4 km (1.5 mi) in length with two hills that rise to a height of about 150 m (490 ft). A narrow deep ravine separates the two hills, and runs from north to south. On the west, the hill rises gently from the sea and stretches east across the ravine and rises gradually to the extreme east to a height of 173 m (568 ft). Forest growth with clusters of mango, tamarind, and karanj trees cover the hills with scattered palm trees. The fore shore is made up of sand and mud with mangrove bushes on the fringe. Landing quays sit near three small hamlets known as Set Bunder in the north-west, Mora Bunder in the northeast, and Gharapuri or Raj Bunder in the south.
There are five rock-cut caves in the western hill and a brick stupa on the eastern hill. The eastern hill has two Buddhist mounds, and is called the Stupa hill. Close to the five western hill caves, are Cave 6 and 7 on the eastern hill. The most visited and significant cave is on the western hill and is called Cave 1 or the Great Cave, located about a kilometer walk up a steep graded uphill. The Elephanta island is a protected monument area as per the requirements of UNESCO, A notification was issued by the Government of India in 1985 declaring a buffer zone that includes "a prohibited area" that stretches 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the shoreline.
The island has two groups of caves in the rock-cut architectural style. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. The larger group of caves, which consists of five caves on the western hill of the island, is well known for its Hindu sculptures. The primary cave, numbered as Cave 1, is about 1.0 km (0.62 mi) up a hillside, facing the Mumbai harbour. Caves 2 through 5 are next to Cave 1 further southeast, arranged in a row. Cave 6 and 7 are about 200 m (660 ft) northeast of Cave 1 and 2, but geologically on the edge of the eastern hill.
The two hills are connected by a walkway. The eastern hill is also called the Stupa hill, while the western hill is called the Canon hill, reflecting their historic colonial era names, the ancient Stupa and the Portuguese era firing Canons they host respectively.
All Caves are a rock-cut temples that cover an area of 5,600 m2 (60,000 sq ft), and they include a main chamber, two lateral chambers, courtyards, and subsidiary shrines. Cave 1 is the largest and is 39 metres (128 ft) deep from the front entrance to the back. The temple complex is primarily the abode of Shiva, depicted in widely celebrated carvings which narrate legends and mythologies of Shaivism. However, the artwork reverentially displays themes from Shaktism and Vaishnavism traditions of Hinduism as well.