Kanheri Caves whose period of establishment dates back to anywhere between 1st Century BC and 11th Century AD is one of the finest examples of the Indian rock cut architecture. Located in the heart of the beautiful green environs of Sanjay Gandhi National Park of Maharashtra, Kanheri Caves is about 10 km from the Borivali Station and 45 km from main Mumbai. These caves perhaps are the only symbol which depicts the rise and fall of Buddhism in Western India.
This history of Kanheri Caves is very ancient. The word “Kanheri” comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri which means Black Mountain. It is believed that Buddhist Monks of the Hinayana Faith started the excavation of the Kanheri Caves from the hills in the 1st Century. Later on, the Buddhist Monks of the Mahayana Faith also contributed to this excavation process.
Historical Kanheri Caves
The History of Kanheri Caves
By 2nd Century AD, the Buddhist Monks carved out the famous Chaitya Griha (Cave No 3). This cave was used for congregational worship and is huge enough to accommodate a large number of devotees. The Chaitya Griha has two huge figures of standing Buddha on each side of the entrance porch and was actually built in the form a gigantic rectangular hall with 34 proportioned pillars and semi circular roof. It contains a Buddhist Shrine called Stupa. On the facade of this cave different Buddhist sculptures can be seen which are beautifully carved out from the rocks. They include the figures of Lord Buddha in different postures or mudras. The Avalokitesvara incarnation is the most distinctive figure among all the figures.
There are 109 caves in all in this area and each of them beautifully portrays the rich art and culture of Buddhism and that is enough to make you spellbound. Some of the caves were used by the Buddhist monks of that time for the purpose of their study, living and meditation. They are known as the Viharas and contain a stone plinth for a bed. The majority of such rock-cut cells have a narrow verandah in front.
The remains of an ancient water system comprising of many cisterns and huge water tanks can be seen at the top of the hill. This was used to collect the rainwater and then channel it to the different cisterns located alongside the caves at lower altitudes via many small man-made canals. The highest cave is situated at an altitude of 1500 ft and it is always advisable to follow the rock-cut small footsteps to climb up this hilly terrain in order to reach the caves.
Inscriptions in Brahmi, Devanagari and Pahlavi Scripts
A large number of inscriptions inside the caves are in Brahmi, Devanagari and Pahlavi scripts. These ancient scripts are quite significant since they shed light on the history of that time. The serenity of these glorious caves are enough to take you to a world of peaceful isolation and needless to say, you will soon start feeling the historical charm and importance of this place.
A statue of Lord Buddha inside cave number 3
The famous Chaityagriha
Inscriptions on a wall of one of the caves
The cave numbered as 3, 11, 34, 41, 67, 87, 90 are the most historically important caves. In cave number 34, you will find the paintings of Lord Buddha on the walls and the ceiling. Cave 90 is the darkest of all the caves. There are many sculptures inside the caves and very few of them still retain some colours of that time. To see these sculptures you must carry a torch with you. Apart from these Buddhist legacies on stone, the images of Goddess Tara and Bhrukti are the other attractions in the caves. Kanheri was also a flourished university centre of that period. It was an important location not only for the Buddhist Monks but also for the traders who very frequently made use of these Kanheri Caves for staying.
Sculptures on the facade of cave number 3
Painting of Lord Buddha in cave number 34
Sculptures inside cave number 90
One of the Viharas
Sculptures inside one of the Viharas
Even if you are not a history buff, it is worth a visit to the Kanheri Caves for the wonderful views that you get on the way to the top of the hilly terrain and from the top. If you love photography then these caves will give you ample opportunity to capture the rich heritage of Buddhist rock-cut architecture. Apart from photographing the ancient art and culture of Buddhism, you have the scope of doing light and shade photography. So shoot as many pictures as you can.
How to reach Kanheri Caves
There are many trains that run between Mumbai CST and other parts of the country. From Mumbai CST Railway Terminus, take a local train to Dadar and another local train on the Western Line from Dadar to reach Borivali Station. Travelling by local trains is always recommended in Mumbai since by doing that you can avoid the horrible road traffic. Take an auto-rickshaw from Borivali Station to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Kanheri Caves Timings and Entry Details
Entrance Fees to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is Rs. 20. From the entrance of the park, you will get small buses for Kanheri Caves at every 1-hour interval. The one-way bus fare is around Rs. 20 and it is about a 6km ride through the lush green woods of the park. The entrance fee to the Kanheri Caves is Rs. 5.
The main gate of the Kanheri Caves opens at 7:30 AM and closes at 5:30 PM.
Lastly, don’t forget to carry drinking water and dry foods along with you since inside the cave premises there are no food stalls.
Places to Stay around Kanheri Caves
There are many hotels of various budgets in and around Borivali.