past, our future: Time for action in Elephanta
Grabbing headlines in Mumbai last week was Intach's benefit event for the
Elephanta Caves. Though heritage wasn't the abiding concern of the 300 guests,
they did leave with a very different view.
The reason was the heritage experience. Awesome sculptures, vocalist Shubha
Mudgal and danseuse Alarmel Valli's moving performances against the backdrop of
the lit caves, and the small site museum combined exquisitely to reiterate the
relevance of the past.
Elephanta, the world only island's caves, dates back to the 6th century and
boasts of some of the country's most magnificent rock-cut sculptures. Says art
historian Promod Chandra, "It's perhaps the most significant early Hindu monument in
India." Approximately 20 lakh people visit annually.
UNESCO declared the caves a World Heritage Site in 1987, but one adventurous lot
even happily perched itself on top of the magnificent three-faced Shiva statue,
the Trimurti – and plastic packets were strewn all over. Something, indeed,
had to be done in a hurry.
In order to bring Elephanta into greater focus, Intach, the Archaeological
Survey and UNESCO have held seminars, prepared plans and organised workshops.
involved with Elephanta's development, such as the departments of culture,
environment, tourism, water, etc, as well as ASI and local bodies have worked
towards creating a
plan to preserve the area and evolve community development initiatives.
The ASI custodian's cottage was restored to house the site museum, showcasing
the development of rock-cut sculptures in Mumbai and Maharashtra, the 16 World
Heritage Sites in India, the stupa and other Buddhist monuments in Elephanta.
Some of the money collected from the art auction and ticket sales at last week's
event will be used to redesign the pathway and ensure that the stalls present a
But a lot remains to be done. The mangroves on the island's shores are severely
affected by pollution from the Mumbai harbour. One mangrove species has already
been lost and
there is urgent need to rehabilitate the rest.
Elephanta is constantly threatened by the rapid industrial development in its
vicinity. A toxic chemical storage terminal has been planned just 400 m away.
Bilge from oil
tankers, waste from ship-breaking activities and plastic that is dumped in the
sea seriously threatens the marine and bird life of the area. Another threat is
the proposed move to put one leg of the eight-lane Sewri-Nhava Sheva highway
link on Elephanta. Intach has asked experts to assess the impact of such
The place will survive only if the community benefits. Intach is working with
an NGO, to provide loans and business opportunities to the unemployed
youth. It plans to involve another NGO to create income-generating avenues for
women. When all this comes to fruition, then the validity of last week's theme -
Past, Time Future - will be proved.