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Kuda (Raigad)

The caves at Kuda which are quite close to Murud Janjira overlook the Arabian Sea and are among those that provide the dual pleasure of being set in beautiful and natural surroundings and of academic interest in terms of their architectural design. Kuda, a sleepy village in district Raigad, 21 km southeast of Mangaon and 130 km from Mumbai on the Mumbai-Goa highway, has a group of 26 caves carved in a low hill on the sea coast, thereby making them caves with a view.

The Kuda caves are among the few Buddhist caves excavated during the 3rd century CE, and make for an interesting study. They were first reported in 1848 but had largely remained unknown to the outside world because of the creek of Rajapuri which one had to cross to visit them. Now that communications have improved and there are buses from Mumbai to Kuda, the caves are visited more frequently. The caves are quite close to Mandad, which can be identified with ancient ‘Mandagora’ referred to by Roman writers as a port on the west coast. Ancient bricks and pottery have been found at Mandad, indicating its 2,000-year-old antiquity. It was probably the headquarters of the Mandava family, the Mahabhojas of the Satavahanas. The Kuda caves have been excavated in two levels; 1-15 in the lower and 16-26 in the upper level. They belonged to the Hinayana faith when stupa worship was in vogue. The images of Buddha were added later in the 6th century CE.

The 26 Kuda caves consist of four chaityas (prayer halls), a close examination of which reveals their evolution. Epigraphs and inscriptions on the walls and pillars give details of donors. The Chaitya 1 marks further development and resembles a temple with a hall (mandapa), vestibule (antarala) and the stupa shrine (garbhagriha). The new feature is the vestibule joining the wall with the stupa shrine. The vestibule has benches along its walls. The record engraved on the back wall of the verandah states that the donor was Shivabhuti, the son of Sulasadata and Utaradata. He was a writer to Mahabhoja Mandava Khandapalita, son of Sadageri some Vijaya, together with his wife, Nanda. It is noteworthy that the donor himself was the writer, which explains its beautiful calligraphy. Chaitya 6 is the largest and the best chaitya at Kuda, and is also finished properly. Stylistically the sculptures at Kuda are in the Satavahana tradition typified by the Karla examples, but are rather coarse in treatment. Yet they are marked by elegance, and are not as earth-bound like those in Kanheri’s Chaitya 3. This chaitya was the last to be excavated at Kuda.

Apart from the Chaityas, among the other caves one is a mandapa, while the remaining 21 are viharas. They are altogether different in conception than the earlier viharas comprising rooms on all sides of a square hall or open space. The reason is not far to seek. The political instability and economic decline owing to loss of long distance trade with the West resulted in decrease in patronage. The new vihara was therefore a modest structure consisting of one or two rooms with a verandah at the front and a cell in the wall for meditation. They were small single room units, devoid of any ornamentation. But all said and done, Kuda caves stand as a mute testimony to the flickering glory of the Satavahanas.

Distance from Mumbai: 130 kms