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Kanheri

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Kanheri caves: quick facts

Location (modern)Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, Mumbai, Maharashtra State.
Location (ancient)Krishnagiri in the Aparanta region
Period1st - 9th c. CE (Gokhale 1991, 1)
Kingdom/dynastySatavahana, Traikutaka, Shilahara (under Rashtrakutas), Western Vakataka, etc.
No. of caves104 (Gokhale 1991, Foreword)
Religious affiliationBuddhism

The site. A picturesque location with rich flora and fauna of the national park in the midst of a busy metropolis like Mumbai. These edifices were created in many phases begins with 1st century CE and the site was active till 16th century CE.

Architecture. These rock-cut monasteries have almost all varieties of architectural types such as cetiyaghara, leṇa, maṭapa, poḍhi, āsanapeḍhikā, and koḍhi. Water management system and rock-cut channels were designed to store rain water into cisterns. It has also a cemetery consist of 64 stupas of various ācharyas called as ‘Nirvāṇavithi’.

Painting. Only Cave 34 has an unfinished painting of the seated Buddha in bhumisparsha mudra. Some other caves have traces of plaster but it is hard to confirm if they were painted.

Sculpture. Kanheri is known for its sculptural reliefs. An exceptional high relief image of eleven-headed Avalokiteśvara (Cave 41), many forms of goddess Tārā including a unique wooden sculpture of Tārā which suggest the presence of Vajrayāna cult at the site and its polytheism. The site also bears a large number of intrusive images.

Epigraphy. Around 100 inscriptions which include approximately 26 epitaphs are reported from the site. These inscriptions have records of various donations received by the Sangha, presence of different sects of Buddhist schools, hierarchy of monks, and names of acharyas etc. The epigraphy makes it clear that the site received patronage from all classes of society including kings and merchants.

Module curator: Sandeep Joshi. Photographs: Dr. Rajesh Kumar Singh with permission from the Archaeological Survey of India.