The Elephant of Elephanta

Elephanta Elephant, Mumbai, Bhau Daji Lad MuseumIn a fenced enclosure outside the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (formerly known as Victoria & Albert Museum) at the Jijamata Udyaan (formerly known as Victoria Garden) in Mumbai, is an Elephant. Not a flesh and blood elephant, mind you, but a stone elephant with a long and interesting history to share.

Carved in the 6th century from a single piece of rock at one of the many entrances to the island known as Gharpuri, the Elephant saw many a king come and go for over a 1000 years. Then one day, in early 16th century, the Elephant saw the first European colonisers — the Portuguese — to the region. The Portuguese were so awed by him that they promptly named the Gharpuri after him — the Elephanta Island, a name it has been known as since then.

When the Portuguese relinquished their rights over the region to the British 150 years later, the Elephant was witness to this as well. The new colonisers were also impressed and awed with him. In fact, the English were so impressed with the Elephant, that they wanted to take him home to England. But this was no easy task and it took them nearly 200 years to put their wish in action.

On a sunny day in 1864, a crane was brought to the Island to lift the Elephant from his rocky home and transport him to ship that would then take him to a new home at a museum in England. This was no easy task and the local people and the English Officers directing this operation watched with bated breath as the crane huffed and puffed, and finally managed to lift the Elephant.

And as the arm of the crane swung around with its elephantine cargo, disaster struck. The crane snapped sending the Elephant crashing down and breaking him into pieces.

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The clock tower at Jijamata Udyan

It’s quite amazing, you know, of the things one notices, but does not really see. Take for instance the subject of this post. I must have passed it a countless number of times, glancing at it idly but mostly ignoring it. You might have noticed it too, if you are travelling on the Lalbaug flyover towards Byculla, which looms up about 100 metres before the exit on your left.

That day, when I was passing by this structure I felt I was seeing it for the first time. And indeed I was for the slender and elegant clock tower glowed in the mid-morning winter sun in spite of the very obvious look of neglect that it had and stones blackened due to pollution.

Clock Tower, Rani Bagh, Victoria Gardens, Mumbai, Jijamata Udyan

The Clock Tower at the entrance to Jijamata Udyan and photographed from the Lalbagh flyover

Situated at the entrance to the Jijamata Udyan (formerly known as Victoria Gardens and also known as Rani Baug) and among trees, this beautiful clock just begs to be explored. When I attempted to do just that, I found that it is closed to the public with a several “Keep Out” signs placed all around. There is no information board on the clock tower and I had to be content walking around the barrier erected and look at the details through my camera lens. And what did I find? Continue reading