A cultural tour to Kanheri Caves
The word kanheri is a term used from a Sanskrit language ‘Krishnagiri’ which means black mountains. The Kanheri Caves is group of caves and mountains cut out of rocks within the forests of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It stands on the western verge of Mumbai upon the Salsette Island. The rock contains inscriptions of Buddhist sculpture starting from first century BCE to tenth century CE. Created out of Basalt rock there are 109 caves in the cave complex. The design is adorned and simple being a very old cave as compared to other highly decorated elephant caves. Each stone pillar in the cave contains a Buddhist shrine. By the end of 3rd century Kanheri Caves became a Buddhist settlement with Buddha carvings on the walls of the cave cum monastery.
The most part of the caves were basically used for Buddhist teaching, living, meditating and studying. The large ones carved intricately with Buddhist stupas are meant for worship. Usually this religious place was formed with a purpose of teaching the moral values we should follow. Monastic used to produce lecture on religion texts. These caves were the house of the monks who strictly maintained discipline and lived a simple life, the purpose being salvation. There were so many Buddhist viharas who had trade connection with Ujjain, Nashik, Sopara, Kalyan and Paithan. Because of this, Kanheri is regarded as the most valuable centre for Buddhist education.
The kanheri occupied a huge area and each and every cave is the living room of a monk. There is stone podium in each of the cave that is used as bed by the monks. The huge hall houses a Buddhist image ‘Dagoba’. Group worship and religious meetings are held in this hall. Spiritual nature is modified when we come close to nature and kanheri gives us the opportunity to get in touch with nature.
In cave 3 there is a colossal Buddha statue and Chaityagraha. There is a large Avalokiteshvara (representing compassion) in cave no. 2. The ceiling of cave 34 is painted. Some of the inscriptions are without dates but donations from kings’ names revealed the period os such inscriptions. There are 51 inscriptions along with 26 epigraphs. Devanagari, Pahlavi and Brahmi inscriptions could be spotted here.
The entry fee to enter the cave for Indians is 5 INR and for foreigners it is 100 INR. The visiting hours starts from 7:30 in the morning till 5:30 in the evening. Photography is allowed and most are seen to take pictures of the inscriptions and stupas. The caves are opened on all days of the week except Mondays.
How to reach
The Kanheri Caves are located towards the northern Mumbai. The nearest railway station is Thane. You can reach there if you board the train from Churchgate going to Borivali. That will take maximum one hour. Auto rickshaws are available direct to the park. You can drive your own vehicle or else walk to the cave. Otherwise buses and cycle rides are available to reach the cave from the national park gate. The bus charges 66 INR for a two way journey. You need to get 5 km inside from the main entrance of the Sanjay Gandhi national park.
What to see
There is much to see in Kanheri caves. You would be spellbound to view its natural beauty and you would feel like you have come to a totally different world. The surrounding is made in such a way from the city life into the caves of jungle. The life inside the cave is something you would like to experience. Trekking and trap zing are done by the tourists. The cave enclosed by the forest stands on a hilly terrain, due to which you can spot some minor waterfalls nearby. The location is perfect for a small picnic with natural water bodies and rivers around.
When to go
The best time to visit the Kanheri Caves is from September to March. The climate during this period is very pleasant and cool which is suitable for going for a tour in Kanheri caves. Some nearby hotels to stay are Taj Sanctacruz, Trident Bandra Kurla and Zara dormitory.