The caves at Elephanta are believed to date back to the sixth century, to the reign of the Konkan Mauryas, who were vassals of the Chalukyas. The island was then known as ‘Sripuri’. Unlike the caves at Badami, which were built for the kings, or those at Ajanta, which were built by monks, the caves here - according to the ASI booklet – were patronized by merchants and traders! The caves apparently looked so impressive, that the Portuguese, who captured the islands in 1540, couldn’t believe that these were the work of human hands! There are various stories told about why the caves and the sculptures were defaced – while some say it was done because the Portuguese thought them to be the work of demons, some say that it was simply an attempt to destroy the Hindu influence in the area. However, it no longer matters WHY the caves were defaced and sculptures destroyed. What is important is to ensure that we do no more damage.