The easiest way to Buddhist caves in Maharashtra goes through 109 caves grouped in Kanheri, near Mumbai (40 km). Spread at a stretch of 104 km forested green hills of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, these Buddhist caves display the splendid viharas (monasteries) and chaitya (temple) carved during the 2nd and 9th century period.
Chaityagrihas in Buddhism refer to the place of worship and viharas are based on single or multiple celled monasteries where the Buddhist monks resided. Podhis or water cisterns are another remarkable structure of the caves excavated resourcefully to store rain water for longer periods of time. The Kanheri Caves tour also introduces a tourist to another unique structure of the Buddhist era, i.e. rock-cut benches and seats. Also, the cave tour displays the elaborate use of carved sculptures, reliefs, pillars and stupas for worship.
Uniquely spread over a single hillock, Kanheri is also accredited for hosting the largest number of cave excavations.
Tourist Attractions around Kanheri Caves
Carved during 1st- 9th century period, these caves present the growth and advent of Buddhism in the region. Cave 1 here is an unfinished chaitya hall, planned with a double-storeyed verandah and a porch, apart from the pillared hall, but the ambitious plans didn’t materialize. The sculptural finesse of these extraordinary caves can be seen in the Caves no. 2, 3, 41, 67, 89, 90, etc. these caves feature the image of Lord Buddha in standing or seated posture. Some of the caves even feature different Bodhisattvas with their consorts, which is a rare feature of Kanheri.
One bodhisattva is given huge prominence in the caves here i.e. Avalokitesvara, the compassionate Buddha. Caves 2, 41 & 90 present this compassionate Buddha delivering his devotees from the eight great perils namely shipwreck, fire, wild elephant, lion, snake, robber, captivity and demons. In Cave 41, another unique portrayal of Avalokitevara in the form of four armed eleven faced entity can be seen. This is only of its kind in India and was borrowed from Chinese influences of the religion in 7th – 8th centuries A.D.
Cave 11 is a ‘Darbar Hall’ featuring a huge hall with a front verandah, having a shrine of Lord Buddha in Dharmachakrapravartana mudra on its back wall. Caves like 33 and 38 here also host small structural stupas built on the floor. These stupas have a large number of 10th century clay tablets inscribed by Buddhist creed. Another notable feature of this cave is the existence of a cemetery located on a secluded terrace. Here, stone built and brick structural stupas built over the mortal remains of revered monks can be found.
Another attraction of visiting Kanheri Caves is Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This is a protected tropical forest filled with wild treasures of lions, leopards, flora, birds and butterflies to name a few.
Excursions Tour from Kanheri Caves
The money capital of India and the soul of Indian Film Industry, Mumbai is 40 km away from Kanheri Tour. This is a splendid treat for travellers hosting a number of tourist attractions, including The Gateway of India, Elephanta Caves, string of beaches and markets to name a few.
This is an elegant hill station of Maharashtra known for its beautifully landscaped environs. The environment is preserved beautifully by prohibiting the entry of vehicles, including bicycles as well. It is reachable through another exotic experience based on a toy train tour from Neral to Matheran.
This is the historic suburb that saw the first iconic journey of Indian railways from Bombay to Thane. Now, it is a bustling town with lively and modern surroundings. Thane also hosts around 30 lakes, the prominent one here being the Masunda. Other important attractions here include the visit to an amusement park called Essel World and Water Kingdom, besides the presence of Yeoor and Mama-Bhanja Hills.
How to reach in Kanheri Caves
Mumbai airport is both a major airport and the most convenient one to reach these caves.
Borivali is the nearest station but for major trains Mumbai CST is preferable.
It's a 10-minute Journey from the Borivali railway station; however buses are available from Mumbai also.