Monday, October 26, 2009

Kanheri caves

At the northern tip of Mumbai, in Borivili, lies the magnificent Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
It is the breathing space for stressed out Mumbaikars who wish to go birding, or just a walk in the forest!
Nestled in the green environs are the glorious Kanheri caves. These caves date back to 11th century AD and beyond. As per the records work on these caves began in 1st century BC and carried on right through 11th century AD. It is 6 km from the National Park Main Gate. Kanheri comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri generally meaning black in colour. They were chiseled out of a massive basaltic rock outcropping.There are 109 rock-cut cells, carved into the side of a hill. Each cave has a stone plinth for a bed. A congregation hall with huge stone pillars contains the stupa, a Buddhist shrine.
Farther up the hill are the remains of an ancient water system, canals and cisterns that collected and channeled the rainwater into huge tanks. Most of the caves are the Buddhist viharas meant for living, study, and meditation. The larger caves were chaityas, or halls for congregational worship, are lined with intricately carved Buddhist sculptures, reliefs and pillars, and contain rock-cut stupas for congregational worship.
The large number of viharas obviously prove a well-organized existence of Buddhist monks' establishment. Kanheri was a University center by the time the area was under the rule of the Maurayan and Kushan empires. It is credited with the largest number of cave excavations in a single hill and it thrived due to its proximity to ancient sea port towns like Sopara (Surparaka, the Supara of Greek; Subara of Arab writers; the ancient capital of northern Konkan), Kalyan a thriving port. It is generally believed that Buddhism first arrived in Aparantha (Western India) at Sopara which is very close to Kanheri. The caves were mentioned by early visitors like the Portuguese in the 16th century A.D. and other travellers and voyagers of Europe. Of the numerous donor inscriptions found here mention of ancient cities like Suparaka (Sopara); Nasika (Nasik); Chemuli (Chemula); Kalyana (Kalyan); Dhenukakata (Dhanyakataka, modern Amaravati in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh) are found. The donors were from all class of the society, from the members of the royal families to the commoners.
The most prominent among the excavations at Kanheri is the Cave 3, which is a chaityagriha which was excavated during the period of Yajna Satakarni (c. 172-201 A.D.) On plan it consists of a large rectangular hall with an apsidal back, a verandah and a spacious court in front, the dimensions of the hall being 26.36 X 13.66 X 12.9 m (l x b x h). A row of 34 pillars divide the hall into a central nave and flanking aisles. The roof of the nave is barrel vaulted while of the aisles are flat.
There are evidences of provision of wooden rafters to the vaulted ceiling of nave which are gone now.
The pillars of the hall are not uniform and of different styles and shapes and devoid of symmetry.
A stupa is provided at the apse of the hall which measures 4.9 m in diameter and 6.7 m in height.
The fa├žade of the hall is pierced by three doors with two groups of two couples, each group
carved in the oblong recesses between the doors. A huge chaitya window bereft of any ornamentation was provided for the passage of light.
The side walls are sculpted extensively with two massive images of standing Buddha in varada
mudra and other Bodhisattva images. These sculptures are of later additions and are datable to around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. Cave 1 is an unfinished chaityagrha, originally planned to have a double-storeyed verandah and a porch, apart from the pillared hall. The cave is dated to 5th – 6th centuries A.D. as the pillars with compressed cushion or amalaka top appears generally during this period. Cave 11 which is also known as ‘Darbar Hall’ consists of a huge hall with a front verandah.
The hall has a shrine on its back wall and cells on two sides. The floor of the hall two low stone benches resembling Cave 5 of Ellora.
Buddha in dharmacakrapravardana mudra adorns the shrine.
The cave has four inscriptions of different periods, one dated in Saka 775 (A.D. 853) of the reign of Rashtrakuta King Amoghavarsha and his feudatory the Silahara prince, Kapardin. The inscription records the donation of various gifts and funds provided for the purchase of books and repairs to the damages.Even if you are not a history buff, it is worth the visit for the
wonderful views that you get on the way to the top and from the top. It is an invigorating trip that one would not mind, whether one has interests in history, culture or just plain adventure.
Nearest Railway Station: Borivili on the Western sector.
Entrance fee to the Park: Rs20/-per head and Rs.50/-per vehicle.
Entrance to Kanheri caves: Rs.5/-per head.
Timings: 0730hrs to 1730hrs.
Buses available from Main entrance to the caves at regular intervals at Rs.30/-per head.


  1. What an incredible place! When you live in a country where 300 years is considered ancient history, your mind is boggled by these dates and what incredible things were created/accomplished!

    Thanks for your marvelous photos and for the history! Fascinating post! Almost feel as though I've been there!



  2. Know what. I am one big stupid to have missed it when I went to Borivili Park..
    Still. No regrets. I loved Manori Beach very well on that day. Would make it to Kanheri next time for sure...
    My Travelogue, Savoir-Faire

  3. I've always been astonished by the rock cut caves at Ajanta, and elsewhere, but this is the first I've heard of these. They're amazing! I'm looking at Cave 11 and wondering what's holding the roof up?

    So many things to see there... I really must get there at some point.

    Wonderful that they allow photography inside. They don't in a lot of these places I'm told. Thanks for bringing these to us!

  4. look very very interesting,the post deserves a good reading...will be back to read it.

  5. Very interesting. I had only barely heard about something called Kanheri caves but knew nothing about it. These seem to be some really large and elaborately build structures with lot of effort gone into construction. The insides look beautiful. Are the pictures of cave 3 taken in natural lighting?

  6. @Arun.. all pictures taken in natural light.

  7. that was simply great!

  8. A wonderful post, full of references historical and architectural features and beautiful photographs and very interesting in the details!
    An incredibly beautiful trip
    in the history of Buddhism...

  9. This is such a wonderful article, with unbelievable photography. Thank you so much for doing it. I hope so much to visit Kanheri caves when I am in Mumbai. Spectacular scenery and so much history.

  10. This is such a wonderful article, with unbelievable photography. Thank you so much for doing it. I hope so much to visit Kanheri caves when I am in Mumbai. Spectacular scenery and so much history.

  11. And I did learn more....what an amazing and informative post and blog. I have read now I must learn. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. very detailed, thanks for sharing

  13. oh this looks a fantastic place...a lovely photo-ride!

  14. Wow, it looks great! really a good place for leisure.

    Thank you for the information.

  15. wow, neat pictures, looks like a fun place to visit. I love the picture with the sun flare!

  16. Kind regards from Germany where I am for a short trip!

  17. wow! nice post and i totally loved the images of the huge hall with pillars.
    Very beautifully taken.
    Must have been an awesome place.

  18. this is soo good.....nice pics....always want to visit places like this......hope can make it one day.....\,,,/

  19. Nice post. This post provided very useful and important information.

    Great Barrier Reef Hotels

  20. ... am wondering about the Darbar Hall (cave no. 11). The photo that you have put up here as cave no. 11 must be cave no. 2, is it not ?
    As such, the cave no. 2 is multi-celled vihara ... please correct me if I am wrong.

    Many thanks for sharing photos and information.

  21. Hi, it was a beautiful virtual tour through your blog...i had been to the Kanheri caves, but what I would have liked is having a guide, a historian who could have explained the significance of the various ancient scriptures and sculptures and bring to light the historical marvel that is amidst this modern day concrete jungle....are there such hostorians or archeological experts available at Kanheri caves?

  22. I went here today the caves were awesome.. Monkeys and Languors ruled :D

  23. I and my family visited this place yesterday. I live very close in Malad i.e 20 km from here. The National Park itself is also a beautiful place to visit...

  24. i just went there today and the experience was fantastic.. the history, art and culture attached to the place is of emmence value and importance. however it only left me wondering as to why such a place has not got any proper advertisements from the government. once the tourists are in mumbai, the elephanta, anjanta and ellora caves become the main highlight and a beautiful place like the kanheri caves are pushed to the background waiting to be discovered only by a few inquisitive lot..

    1. You are right and it is so sad that people are missing out on viewing these!