Ancient Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai

When I got information about Kanheri caves, I had neither read nor heard about these amazing ancient historical caves located within Mumbai before. The information about the existence of these Kanheri caves was first received during the British period. There are well-maintained roadways to reach these caves located within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park of Borivali. Trains can reach the starting point of these caves. From here, after climbing a few steps, you will reach the ticket window, then enter the cave.

Huge statue of Buddha engraved in the stone

Kanheri Caves – A popular tourist destination in Mumbai

Like the famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the Kanheri caves are excavated in 1 BCE. It was done from 11 AD to 11 AD. These caves are related to Mahayana and Hinayana, both these paths of Buddhism. These caves give evidence of this fact, where in some caves Buddha is depicted with signs like Stupa and Charan Paduka, some caves have their anthropomorphic images.

Kanheri Caves Mumbai
Kanheri Caves Mumbai

The name of Kanheri caves is derived from the name of the mountain on which they are located, Krishnagiri. It is a volcanic mountain. There are a total of 110 caves on this mountain, which makes this group the largest cave group. Although some caves appear to be incomplete. In ancient times, these caves were on the trade route that connected Sopara, Nashik, Paithan and Ujjain.

The well-crafted steps on the rock are extremely visible.

Chaitya griha

These caves have a chaitya griha or prayer hall. There is also a large dining hall, which has long height shilapats on either side to dine inside. There are many underground cisterns. There are many viharas as the residence of monks whose meetings are also in the outer courtyard. It is said that by the 3rd century Kanheri caves had become a permanent colony of Buddhist monks.

Cave no. 3

Cave no. 3 or Chaitya Griha is located near the present entrance. The carvings on its roof are similar to the wood carvings. Just like that, Karle is located inside the caves near Lonavla. There is a huge stupa in the middle of this huge chamber. It has some inscribed columns on the lateral side with figures of gauze. This room is of at least two floors but it is now difficult to find the way to reach the upper floors. Outside the cave, on the porch, are huge, embossed statues of Buddha. The front reefs have images of the donors who sponsored these caves. Outside the cave you will also see some other stupas. One of those stupas is completely covered but the other stupas are relatively few open around which you can walk.

Here are all the typical raft-like rams that are usually built around the famous stupas. Such as the stupas found in Amravati, Sanchi, Bharhut and Mahabodhi temples in Satna district. The shapes on them are typical cross-sloping lines on which the lotus flower symbol is engraved. These caves were converted into Christian churches between the 16th and 14th centuries. Currently, no signs of this change exist.

The vihara

The outline of the Vihara is also similar to that of the Chaitya Griha. In front of them there are meetings to sit in the courtyard. After them there are chambers for the monks. This is also the outline of the upper floor. There are rock beds within the chambers. Generally, there is a system of cisterns on both sides of the caves. According to the literature, many seekers from southeastern countries used to study in this vihara, due to which it became an important center of study.

Cave no. 11 is also called Maharaja or Durbar Cave because it appears to be a gathering room.

Cave safety instructions

Some of the stairs leading up and down from inside the caves are in a very broken state. Follow extreme caution when using them. Otherwise there may be a possibility of accident. Apart from a notice board located outside the caves, information about the caves and the carved figures has not been given anywhere else. There is no information book or literature providing information at the ticket house. If you have seen Buddhist caves somewhere before this, remember the information obtained from there. This can make it easier to understand these caves and carved figures.

Kanheri Caves Water Management System

A very excellent and interesting element of these caves is the water management system here. Many tubes and streams carry rainwater to a huge underground reservoir. This may be the best example of the early rainwater harvesting system of ancient times. This is an excellent example of how water was managed carefully.

Touring the caves, you can see how the roofs of the caves carry rainwater to the ducts located outside the cave. Subsequently, these tubes connect with the ponds at different levels in such a way that water is not wasted and pure water can be available in the entire cave system. This integrated water management system can be the main reason for the habitat of these caves. It is currently a matter of research as to how such self-sufficient water management systems were built into these excavated natural cave systems.

I saw a similar water management system in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. They were also excavated in natural rocks.

Inscription

You can see many inscriptions on the reefs of the cave but there is no way to understand them. A total of 51 inscriptions and 24 citations in Brahmi, Devanagari and Pahlavi scripts have been discovered in Kanheri caves. Most of the inscriptions bear the names of the kings and emperors who patronized these caves. One inscription mentions the marriage of the Satavahana king Satakarni Vashishtiputra, seated on the throne.

Some copper plates were also found in Kanheri caves which are now preserved in the British Museum. According to the information plaque of the Archaeological Survey of India, a cave has frescoes similar to the caves of Ajanta. But I could not find that cave. There was also no means or information available to find him.

Filming

While I was visiting these caves, at that time, a picture of Yash Raj Films was being picturized above a cave. This was my first interview with the fact that how much effort, energy and resources are required in the pictorialization of a screen. While viewing this screen, perhaps that scenario did not come to the attention of the audience, but to realize it, at least 100 people were mobilized. There were electricity generating vehicles, toilet rooms for actors, food vehicles, furnishings and many appliances.

Filming in Kanheri Caves
Filming in Kanheri Caves

Several security personnel were stationed who were prohibiting the common man from going to the site of Chitrakara. They surrounded a wide area for pictorialisation. This is not fair. It is a public place. All tourists enter inside by paying an entrance fee. They have the freedom to visit and visit all the places.

Gandhi Memorial

When you come here to see the Kanheri caves, you can also see the Gandhi memorial. Gandhi Smarak is a pavilion built on the top of a hill which was built in memory of Mahatma Gandhi. From there you can see the landscape of 360 degrees of the entire city.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park

You can roam in this national park and enjoy the pure air here. There is a small lake here in which you can enjoy boating. A small train takes you through the entire hill. Tiger safari can also be enjoyed here. Overall you can spend an entire day here. The park is not as lush as other dense national parks. Yet it is like the lungs of a congested metropolis like Mumbai.

Mandapeshwar Caves

A few kilometers from here are the Mandapeshwar Caves, which are a small group of caves. The difference of these caves is that they are Hindu caves. There is a huge statue of Lord Shiva in a dance posture on a mural. It is said that there was a huge Shivling here. But where that lingam is now, it is not known. A new Linga is now worshiped in his place. For a long time these caves were also used as a church. It is now a sacred place for Hindus. Here we saw a large group of women doing puja. But the irony is that these caves are located in a very somber environment.

Must Read: Various forms of Shiva in Elephanta Caves

Now my next goal is to discover other pre-British historical elements of the city of Mumbai, such as Banganga Kund. Some of those historical sites are mentioned in this podcast wherein we are discussing with our friend Bharat Gothoskar ji about Mumbai.

Translation: Madhumita Tamhane

About Peter Rhody

"Loving India is a passion of mine. I have enjoyed several long journeys to all corners of the sub-continent, completed my B.A and M.A in Asian studies, studied languages such as Hindi, Urdu, and Sanskrit, written on the Hari Krishna movement, lectured on Indian culture and history in university, advised others on their trips to India all the while preparing my next visit to India. There are so many places in India I love and want to always go back to but my favorite destination has to be the holy city of Varanasi. Here you can feel the living pulse and the beating heart of the center of religious India with its overwhelming spirituality and history and just for being a true microcosm of India itself "

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