A Divine Place in The Middle of the Bay Of Mumbai
Maybe you have been there. Maybe not. It seems like a remote place, out on an island in the middle of the Bay of Mumbai, cut into the side of a mountain out of solid rock 1200 years ago—perhaps more. ELEPHANTA is a classic Indian “rock-cut temple” that houses some of the most powerful stone murtis in the world of the Vedic Deities and heroic figures from India’s great past. It’s got a history. And I have a history with it myself.
This is my Teacher, Tara Singh, on the hill of Arunachala, the mountain next to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvanamalai. He and I went there in the year 2000. Ramana Maharshi was the sage of Arunachala, and he was fully enlightened. Taraji knew the people there at the Ashram, so we spent some special days at Ramana Ashrama in January of 2000.
The Detour of My Life
But before we went there, we took the “detour” of my life. Taraji said, “Let’s first land in Bombay, and go see Elephanta!” What the heck is that, I thought. But if my teacher suggested it, it must be important. I had no idea.
So we first landed in Mumbai (back then still called Bombay) in the early morning, and we headed strait for the Taj Mahal Hotel near the waterfront. Taraji had stayed there years ago, and this was the upscale part of Bombay to which he was accustomed. We found a less expensive hotel nearby, but we ate our meals at the Taj Mahal Hotel. This way we had the best of both worlds—a very spacious and wonderful room overlooking the vistas of Bombay on the top floor of the Goodwin Hotel (at a very affordable price), and the very elegant surroundings and good food of a world class hotel where we had our meals at the Taj Mahal Hotel just a few blocks away.
The next day we went down to the waterfront to book our tickets to ELEPHANTA Island. It was a thirty minute boat ride out into the middle of the Bay of Mumbai. We hopped on the boat a couple hours later, and away we went amidst all the Indian families and tourists. I think I was the only Westerner there. Mothers were holding their children affectionately, and I said to Taraji, “Nothing like an Indian Mother!” He agreed. There is deep meaning in this observation.
We arrived at the dock on the Island. It was hot. We were a bit dizzy from the heat. There was a little train that took us up to the top of the mountain, where the temple entrance emerges after a long climb up hundreds of steps. We were relieved we did not have to walk the long distance to the foot of the Entrance to the cave.
The Entrance to ELEPHANTA is powerful. Mind you, the whole temple is literally carved into the side of the mountain. It is not “put together” like cathedrals in the west with carefully fit pieces of carved stone in a structural conglomeration of masonry. ELEPHANTA is all ONE PIECE of stone, carved as one piece, like a sculptural singular form. It is a Temple carved into the side of a mountain of solid rock.
This creative feat has some implications that are remarkable. The first being that there were no “mistakes” made in its construction. No room for error. If a wrong chisel stroke was made in the formation, and say the arm of a deity was “knocked off,” there was no means of putting it back on. So the form had to be conceived and executed in one Godlike Gesture of Perfection. The other remarkable implication is that the temple was made in a time when electricity and modern tools of stone cutting were not available. Its hand-made quality is transcendent, as if to imply a holy intervention was guiding the people who created this thing. It is as if the Gods themselves constructed this Temple of remarkable proportions miraculously into the side of a mountain.
A Meeting with Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva!
The most powerful focal point inside this Rock-Cut Temple is the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who form the Triumvirate of the Vedic Pantheon—The Creator, The Sustainer, and the Destroyer, respectively. Some call this the Head of Shiva, with his three qualities of creation, maintenance, and destruction. Put together in one colossal “Head” with 3 faces, the different aspects of the Divine Creator tower above the spectator seven meters, or over twenty feet tall. One is taken aback, to say the least, to be in the Presence of this most Holy Icon. I could feel I was in the Presence of a divine gift the likes of which I had never known.
Tara Singh did not say much when we were inside of the place. We were in an altered state. This was his world. I was best served by keeping my mouth shut and just appreciating the miracle of this visitation. I listened attentively, and looked even more acutely, at the divine experience unfolding before me.
After a few minutes in front of the Trimurti, which seemed like an eternity, we wandered around to other parts of the Temple. There were even more wondrous encounters.
Shiva and Parvati in Bliss
The sculpted scenes had one thing in common. Though most were dynamic, with a lot of movement and physical action, the faces of the characters were all serene, mostly with eyes closed in a state of meditative detachment. One could say they were all focused on Divine Bliss—or Sat, Chit, Ananda. At one point Tariji exclaimed, “Look, they are all in a trance.” Meaning, they were all in a state of Divine Absorption. They were “focused on God, and on God only.”
This Grouping of Shiva, Parvati, and a Royal Family of other deities shows all of them in a state of samadhi. Most of the figures in the cave at ELEPHANTA have on their countenance this otherworldly gesture of Divine Absorption.
Giant Shiva Lingam
There is a small “temple in a temple” at the center of ELEPHANTA. This is most likely where priests and holy men performed their pujas, or rites of divine worship. The main object of these rites is a Shiva Lingam and Yoni over which offerings are made. It is inside of the “temple within a temple.”
Flanking the doorways to this inner sanctum are standing sentries, Gods of the highest order also in Samadhi. One is taken aback again. How could it be that a whole temple culture could produce such a thing? Primitive they were not. Highly evolved they were, perhaps even more so than us in modern times. Probably the sculptors themselves were absorbed in a trance of holy focus.
We circumambulated the inside of ELEPHANTA for another thirty minutes or so, and then the heat was getting the better of us. Soon we found the tourist canteen restaurant and went for a little lunch and a beverage. We were still in an altered state, and could barely speak. It is as if the actuality of what we had just seen—the level of Holiness depicted in the various elements of the Temple—had entered into our very Being. We would never be the same after this encounter with this ancient darshan of the highest order. Who would have thought something carved out of mere stone could transmit such a living Presence? Well, it did. The rock was alive with a tremendous Power of Divine Certainty. And we were the beneficiaries of this Power of Goodness.
Another Day in Bombay
This meeting with the brightest and the best of what Ancient India has to offer was breathtaking. I owe it to my teacher, Tara Singh, for this great gift. Thousands a day flock to ELEPHANTA and may not even fathom the Holiness and impact of what they are seeing. But with a person who already has received the Shakti of these great and Holy places, one can also enter through the portal to an other-worldly place of supernatural Beauty. Love came on strong on that day back in January of 2000. I had my “meeting with the guest” that so many beings on the path toward enlightenment mention. This Holy Spirit of the ultimate Love came to me in the form of ELEPHANTA, the events of my life that took me there, and of the great generosity of my friend, teacher, and confidante, Tara Singh.
We spent one more day in Bombay before taking our flight to Madras and to points in Southern India. I was almost in a trance. It was a journey back to the heart of my own Holiness, back centuries, perhaps even eons. I took it with my outer teacher, Tara Singh, to discover that inner teacher within myself. I took it to a place of acknowledgment from beings long gone, yet ever present in what they left behind. I received them into me.
The legacy of any Art Look is how much our own vision of what we are seeing impacts our life. How much not only enters the memory of lofty experiences, but also takes us to regions of our Holy Self we did not know before? It opens doors to this inner Self we always have had, but have previously closed off in our sleep of forgetfulness to realize our own Divine Nature. ELEPHANTA woke me up. It truly was an encounter with Who I am as God created me, and who everyone else is as well, for that matter.
The Impact on My Painting
Seeing the Trimurti had a palpable impact on my painting. I painted my own version of the “Head of Shiva” that is shown here:
Other influences as well, not as obvious, but deeply ingrained into the way I work came forth as a result. It is the responsibility of any artistic creator to lift up the souls of those who come to observe, read, or listen to a work of art. If we as creators are not lifting up souls, then what are we doing? Indulging in some kind of hedonistic play is not the highest thought when it comes to these serious actions of Life.
I took this visit to ELEPHANTA quite seriously. It was a Gift God Given. It transformed my life into a new responsibility. The Holiness of its Atmosphere traveled with me. Tara Singh and I flew off the next day to Madras, and I have not been back to Bombay since. And I may never get back there physically. But the heart of this rock-cut cave travelled with me, and took me to a realm of the sublime that never left. I am as if in a constant puja in my heart to these Higher Forces which are perpetually lifting humanity and me into the Divine Regions of our own True Heaven on Earth.
THANKS for reading.
This painting is titled “Valhalla”