Elephanta Festival of Maharashtra is one of the elite events of India featuring classical music and dance performances by maestros and artists. Celebrating the cultural heritage of India, this festival is the result of the noble initiatives taken by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and is held every year in either February or March.

Where does the Elephanta Festival take place?

Only an hour away from the coast of Mumbai, the Elephanta Island is a site of immense historical importance. It is one of the world heritage sites in India and plays host to this annual event. This island is taken care of by the Archaeological Survey of India for having five ancient caves with each having magnificent stone carvings and sculptures that date back to the 6th century A.D. One can easily go to this island availing the numerous launches and boats from the India Gate.

However, it was a two day festival till 2012, but from the next year the MTDC has taken a decision to make it a grand three day long music, dance and food carnival. The venue till this year was the island itself, but from 2013 the Elephanta Festival will be held at the Gateway of India.

Legends behind the Elephanta Festival

In the ancient times, the island of Elephanta was known as Puri or Ghorapuri and was one of the proud capitals of a coastal kingdom. Later, during the 17th century colonial conquests in India, Portuguese explorers came to this island and discovered a monolithic basalt sculpture of an elephant and so they gave it the name.

The festival takes place in order to celebrate the spirit of diverse cultures of India. The three faced Maheshmurti sculpture of Lord Shiva, 1500 years old, becomes the center point of celebration. This part of the cave is lit up at night and provides an ideal backdrop for the stage.

According to the Puranas, Lord Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) failed in his attempt to create Human race as he generated only the male species. When he realized this he sought help from Lord Shiva. To solve the problem Shiva transformed half of his body into a woman and became Ardhanarishwar (Ardha meaning half and Ishwar meaning God). This made human procreation possible. The Maheshmurti that is the centre of attraction during the festival represents this image of Ardhanariswar.

Customs and Traditions behind the Elephanta Festival

The Elephanta Festival started in 1989. Since then the Elephanta Festival has celebrated the vivid forms of performing cultures from different regions of the country. Traditionally the tourists and the visitors are welcomed with a folk dance performance put up by the fishermen residing in the island.

The event is followed by charismatic performances by the maestros like Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ravi Shankar and the greats of the commercial music world like Hariharan and A.R.Rehman.

Cultural Importance of the Elephanta Festival

The Elephanta Festival is one of the few events in India where all the masters of performing arts viz. classical to folk vocal and dancers assemble. Thus the festival presents a rare opportunity, to the national and international tourists, to get a feel of the cultural affluence of India. It is under the initiative taken by the Maharashtra government to promote the issue of national integration by unifying all the people through the common cultural heritage shared by all Indians.

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