Nicholas Michell

But near Salsette a fairer island blooms,
Where vassal winds do nought but waft perfumes;
Where painted shells adorn the sea-worn cave,
And stately palms are mirrored in the wave.
So lone the hills, so green the tufted trees,
Such health and freshness in the musky breeze,
So cool each glade, each grot within the isle,
Ocean and sky all withering heat the while,
It well might seem the small and bright domain
Of Eastern fay, or nymph-queen of the main.
Land at the cove, and climb the bowery steep,
Where rocks are clothed with moss, and rivulets weep;
Then midway rest, to gaze around, below,
And watch old ocean's everlasting flow.
Once more ascend — wide opening in the hill,
Carved from the rock with all surpassing skill,
Pillar on pillar, niche and lofty hall,
Statues that seem to speak from every wall,
Lo! Siva's mighty temple! — scene more grand,
More darkly wondrous, boasts not India's land:
Hath some enchanter dug, in gloomy pride,
His gorgeous palace in that mountain's side?
No rock-cut shrines with Elephanta's vie,
Taste, beauty, couched 'neath Horror's haggard eye.

And is this temple by the rolling wave
Revered no more by monarch, priest, or slave?
No, Desolation claims these mountain cells,
And pulseless silence in each chamber dwells:
Pilgrims from distant regions come no more,
No kneeling zealots tremble, and adore.
The swallow builds within the roof of stone,
The prowling fox hides here, secure and lone;
And when night's planets gem the Indian deep,
Waves, yellow sands, each shrub and flower asleep,
Phantoms, 'tis said, beneath the pillars glide,
While Siva's blood-stained sword is waving wide,
And many a god, whose form the eye appals,
Nods on his throne, or moves along the walls.
And yet time was when white-robed Brahmins here
Worshipped their god, and taught their creed of fear;
When jewels sparkled, incense-fires burned bright,
And gong and cymbal stunned the ear of night.

Author's notes:
The little island of Elephanta, which rises, covered with trees and plants, to a considerable elevation above the water, is situated between Bombay and the Mahratta shore, about six miles from the former place. It obtains its name from the figure of a black elephant cut out of the solid rock, near the landing-place.

The rock-temples of Elephanta are, without question, the most striking of their kind in India. They were dedicated exclusively to the Brahmanic worship, since no inscription to Buddha, or image of that Hindoo reformer can be found. Siva, the Destroyer, is evidently the presiding Deity. Conflicting opinions have been held by writers, some assigning to the Elephantine caves a very ancient, and others a comparatively modern date. From our utter ignorance of their original author, and the absence of all written records, the question will probably never be decided.

Main Location:

Elephanta Caves, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Elephanta Caves, near Mumbai, Maharashtra, India