As the most enduring remnants of India’s treasured past, the caves in Mumbai, otherwise known as the commercial capital of the country, present a rich legacy of spiritual thought, faith and the culture of those times. But where, you may well ask, can caves be found in the cheek-by-jowl congestion of Mumbai? Rest assured, there are many! But it takes the spirit of an explorer to discover them, absorb the ambience that continues to linger over the years, and marvel at the religious icons they are.
Belonging to a period much before the Portuguese took over the reins of the city, there are 175 such caves in and around Mumbai. These are divided into five groups, mainly Buddhist and Hindu. Elephanta, which is not far from Mumbai and involves an exciting boat ride over the ocean waters, is an integrated part of the same cave cluster in the region.
Now if you do decide to put the Mumbai caves on your tourism itinerary, the one basic thing you need to know is the starting point of this cave architecture. And as the historians will tell you, the first of such caves can be traced to Virar. Chronologically assigned to the Satavahana period and resembling open rooms excavated in rock and with or without water cisterns, they are absolutely simple and basic with no visual lineage of their sacred nature.
The Kanheri caves have the earliest images of the Buddha in South India and were made famous across the world because Chinese monk traveller Hiuen Tsang had visited the monastery in 7th century CE and is reported to have carried a wooden image of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to China along with numerous Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts. The biggest attractions here are the 22-23 feet high Buddha figures in Cave 3; the 11-headed Avalokiteshvara in Cave 41; and the panel of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Caves 2, 41 and 90, where Avalokiteshvara is shown helping his devotees to solve various problems.
The final chapter in the history of cave architecture in Mumbai is dominated by ‘Shaiva’ caves at Borivali. Known as Mandapeshvara, the caves were almost destroyed by the Portuguese rulers but the sanctity of the shrine that was worshipped here was restored by the Maratha Hindu rulers under the command of Chimaji Appa who defeated the Portuguese in the famous battle of Vasai in 1739 CE.
Some of the caves are at the outskirts of Mumbai but are well-connected by road. You can even take a ride on a local train and then hire an auto rickshaw or a taxi to reach the caves. The caves at Elephanta are reached by boat, the starting point for which is the Gateway of India.
Location of caves
Jivadani caves are located in Virar.
Kanheri caves are located in Borivali, behind Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Magathane caves are hardly 6 kms to the west from Kanheri caves in Borivali.
Mahakali caves are also known as Kondivate. These caves are located in Andheri.
Jogeshwari caves are located in Jogeshwari East, very close from Mahakali caves.
Mandapeshvara caves are located in Borivali.