The Iconography and Ritual of Śiva at Elephanta

By Charles D. Collins

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies
Paperback : 9780887067747, 331 pages, November 1988
Hardcover : 9780887067730, 331 pages, November 1988

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Table of contents

List of Figures

I. Historical Background of Elephanta
Before and After the Kalacuris
The Kalacuris

II. Previous Descriptions of Elephanta and Its Sculptures
Early Descriptions to ca. A.D. 1800
Nineteenth-Century Descriptions of Elephanta
Modern Scholarship on Elephanta

III. Mythological Sources for the Elephanta Sculptures
Vedic Antecedents
The Epic Literature
The Puranic Literature
Secular Literature

IV. Iconographical Analysis of the Elephanta Sculptures
Ravana Shaking Mt. Kailasa
Siva as Ascetic: Lakulisa
Siva Dancing
Siva Slaying the Demon Andhaka
Marriage of Siva and Parvati
Siva as Supporter of Ganga (Descent of the Ganges)
Sica as Half-female
Siva and Parvati on Mt. Kailasa
Siva Mahadeva: Mahesamurti

V. Artistic Sources and Parallels of the Elephanta Sculptures
The Narrative Reliefs
Siva as Ascetic: Lakulisa
Siva Mahadeva: Mahesamurti

VI. The Elephanta Sculptures and the Lakulisa-Pasupata Sect
The Pasupata Sutra
The Ganakarika
Elephanta and the Ritual of the Lakulisa-Pasupatas
Other Ritual Aspects at Elephanta
Other Ritual Aspects at Related Monuments

Appendix A: Evidence for a Dedication Panel at Elephanta
Appendix B: The Saiva Aiduka and a Motif at Elephanta


The beautiful rock-cut Siva temple on Elephanta Island in Bombay Harbor is one of the finest monuments of Indian religion and art. Until now, interpretation of its magnificent sculptured scenes has been neglected.

In this book, Collins systematically surveys the pertinent Vedic, Epic, and early Puranic literature as well as the contributions of India's foremost poet and dramatist, Kalidasa, to reveal sources for and interpretations of the subjects of the relief sculptures. This survey shows strong associations with areas formerly controlled by the classical Gupta dynasty in northern India. This book provides the first detailing of this link, intimated by others before, which helps to explain the grandeur of style found in the colossal reliefs.

By applying certain aspects of ritual texts of the Lakulisa-Pasupata, the sect that probably used Elephanta originally, exceptional clarity is revealed for the worship of the sculptures in a counterclockwise sequence, quite unusual in India, but appropriate to this particular sect. Lakulisa-Pasupata texts are invoked in Collins' theory of how the cave-temple at Elephanta was used. This area of investigation has been virtually untouched by other scholars for any early Hindu shrine in India.

Charles Dillard Collins is Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology.


"Collins develops a theory about the layout of the reliefs in the cave that is innovative and important, and which he makes credible, even if not absolutely conclusive, in his argument. " —Walter N. Spink, University of Michigan