Caves of Mumbai


Melissa Fernandes explores the city of Mumbai and finds a hidden treasure

When you think of Mumbai, the first thing that comes to mind is the pollution, traffic and noise. But have you ever tried exploring the city? The city has a lot more to offer besides these negative aspects.

One such example is Kanheri caves. It is considered to be one of the gems of Mumbai's heritage structures. The cave is located in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali. A 15-minute-long ride from the park on a battered bus takes you to the caves. These caves date back to between 1BC and 9AD. The earliest in the lot are the 109 tiny rock-cut cells carved into the side of a hill.

My journey to the cave began early in the morning with a group of friends. I chose to walk to the cave instead of taking the bus. I didn't want to miss the chance to watch the monkeys and capture their silly moves on my camera. I walked 7kms to reach my destination, but it was well worth the effort. The deserted railway track, the tree house and the enormous trees standing tall on both sides of the road made for an interesting walk.

The monkeys by the roadside amused me with their silly tactics, but once I entered the cave and opened a packet of chips all the amusement ended! The naughty monkeys pounced on me, grabbed the food from my hand and ran away. I later saw them, up on a tree! This was the most horrifying part of my trip as I was terrified by the monkeys' behaviour.

Once we reached the caves, we saw that the entrance of every cave has a brief note about the cave inscribed on a stone. The note includes the history and the heritage value of the cave. The huge dark caves have hefty pillars and carvings of the names of donors who financed the caves. All the rock-cut caves have elaborately carved sculptures and also the seal of Buddhist monks. The caves have many sculptures of Buddha in different poses. When we picked our way up the hill we also found channels and cisterns that are remnants of an ancient water system that channeled rainwater into huge urns.

It is said that the term 'Kanheri' has been derived from the Sanskrit term 'Krishnagiri' which means 'black in colour'. This is because these caves have been chiselled out of a gigantic basaltic rock which is black.

Every cave is numbered and has a different story to tell on the art and culture of Buddhist monks. The huge caves are easy to reach as there are steps leading to each cave. The most intriguing feature of the caves is the variety of inscriptions on the walls. The caves have more than 100 inscriptions revealing names of donors and patrons of the cave. The unusual inscriptions in every cave are written in the Brahmi, Devanagari and Pallavi scripts.

Besides this, there are prayer halls for worshippers known as 'viharas'. They are supported by huge pillars and contain Buddhist shrines. Most of the caves are Buddhist viharas meant for meditation, which is something Buddhist monks are known for. The Kanheri caves are perhaps the best link to Buddhism and its existence in western India.

It was an incredible experience to visit the caves and explore facts on Buddhist monks and their style of prayer and life. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get set to explore your city and find exciting places like Kanheri.