The majestic caves in Mumbai are a popular tourist attraction site for the localities as well as the tourists. These caves near Mumbai are dated back several centuries and are a real architectural masterpiece. Most of the man-made caves are carved out of a single stone and were used by ancient Buddhists as a place of worship and shelter. Here is the list of 5 spectacular caves near Mumbai that you should definitely visit:
Beautifully carved out of black basalt rock, the Mahakali caves just outside Mumbai are one of the few places in the world to see ancient cave dwellings within the borders of a bustling metropolis. These rock-cut caves have existed since the ancient Ashoka empire, used by Buddhist monks as dwellings and meditation chambers as much as 2,000 years ago.
There are 19 caves in total, believed to have been carved between the first and sixth centuries. There are also several cisterns cut from the same rock. Most of the caves are simple and small, with minimal carvings or ornamentation—stark chambers were used as dwellings for the monks and a place to meditate. The exception is the chaitya, the main Buddhist shrine and prayer hall, which is adorned with stupas and large carved statues of Buddha idols. Some of the cave walls have scriptures carved in pali, a language considered older even than Sanskrit.
Strangely, the modern name of these Buddhist caves, Mahakali, refers to the Hindu goddess kali. This is something of a misnomer and likely comes from the fact that there is a Hindu temple to kali nearby. The site is also known as the kondivite caves, after the nearby kondivite village. Interestingly, one of the stupas originally erected as a Buddhist monument is now revered as a Hindu lingam statue.
The Mahakali caves are located in the Andheri East suburb of Mumbai. From Mumbai, take the train to Andheri railway station or Jogeshwari railway station, or several bus lines will drop you close by. The site is open every day from 9 a.m. From 4 p.m.
Many of the low-lying rock caves have collapsed over the centuries or have been poorly maintained and are in a state of disrepair. The archaeological survey of India and the committee on caves are making efforts to protect the caves from encroaching on human development.
The local Marathi folks popularised this island as Gharapuri, but Elephanta became common parlance after the Portuguese took over the land from the Gujarat Sultanate in 1534 and named it so after the massive rock-cut elephant statue that stood sentinel over the sea. The colonizers identified the structure as a landmark to dock their boats and to also tell it apart from the other smaller islands on the Arabian Sea. You can no longer find this monolithic elephant statue here as it was damaged in an attempt to move it to England. In 1914, it was reassembled by Cadell and Hewett and placed in the Jijamata Udyaan, a zoo, and garden in Byculla, Mumbai, where it stands today.
While the artwork in the historic Elephanta Caves owes it to the various religious texts, spiritual philosophy, and Hindu mythology, not to mention, the Puranas and the epics, the sculptures and the panels are also considered a veritable commentary on the Hindu culture and society in mid-1st millennium CE.
Here’s a definite guide to exploring the Elephanta Caves:
Cave 1 or the Great Cave: After disembarking from the ferry, you can either walk the one-kilometer distance to the cave site or take a toy train from the pier to the base of the hill. Further, you need to ascend a fleet of 120 steps to the hilltop on which the Great Cave is perched. The architecture of the cave seems to have been borrowed from that of a typical Buddhist Vihara (monastery), with a central court and several pillared cells. For a depth of 39 meters from front to back, it has a remarkably small main entrance. Although, there are two side entrances each from the east and west. An ode to Shaivism, the temple complex celebrates the various forms and manifestations of Shiva with some larger-than-life sculptures. The centerpiece of the Grand Cave is the Trimurti, and also the most intriguing. Facing the north entrance is the Trimurti sculpture carved in relief on the cave wall depicting Shiva with three heads, also called Sadashiva.
The three heads each are symbolic of the holy trinity, translating into creator, preserver, and destroyer. The Gangadhara is another depiction of Shiva just to the right of the Trimurti. Here, in extreme detail, Shiva is shown bringing the Ganges down from the heavens to serve mankind, while Goddess Parvati looks complacent standing beside him. The carving of Ardhanarishvara to the east of the Trimurti is in a dilapidated state. It portrays the coming together of energy and power by showing the unification of Shiva and Parvati with the upper half as a feminine form and the lower, masculine. Nataraja, Yogishvara, the wedding of Shiva, and Parvati are among the other popular themes Cave 1 delf into.
Cannon Hill for Caves 2 to 5: Cave 2 was ravaged and restored in the 1970s. It has four square pillars and two small cells. Cave 3 carries on the mandapa architectural legacy with pillared recesses and inner chambers. The central door holds a damaged shrine, believed to be that of Shiva. Next in line is Cave 4 also in a ruinous state with a rambling verandah bereft of pillars. Though, there is a lingam in the shrine at the back of the structure. Cave 5 simply exists with no discernible reference to any tenet in history.
Stupa Hills for Cave 6 and 7: Cave 6 on the eastern hill across from Cave 1 is also called the Sitabai cave temple. The porch has four pillars, three chambers, and a central shrine. No adornments from the times gone by remain in the cave, barring a frieze with some lion figures carved on it. Cave 6 is significant historically owing to its conversion and use as a church during the Portuguese rule. There isn’t much left of Cave 7 save for a small verandah that probably accommodated three chambers. The dry pond beyond Cave 7 was probably a Buddhist water tank due to the presence of Buddhist cisterns on its shores. Close to the cistern is a huge mound identified as a Stupa that dates back to the 2nd Century BCE.
The Ajanta Caves are approximately 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments dating from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state in India. The caves include paintings and rock-cut sculptures described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly expressive paintings that present emotions through gesture, pose, and form.
They are universally regarded as masterpieces of Buddhist religious art. The caves were built in two phases, the first starting around the 2nd century BCE and the second occurring from 400 to 650 CE, according to older accounts, or in a brief period of 460–480 CE according to later scholarship. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ajanta Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 75-meter (246 ft) wall of rock. The caves also present paintings depicting the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha, pictorial tales from Aryasura’s Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities. Textual records suggest that these caves served as a monsoon retreat for monks, as well as a resting site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient India. While vivid colors and mural wall-painting were abundant in Indian history as evidenced by historical records, Caves 16, 17, 1, and 2 of Ajanta form the largest corpus of surviving ancient Indian wall-painting.
The Ajanta Caves are mentioned in the memoirs of several medieval-era Chinese Buddhist travelers to India and by a Mughal-era official of the Akbar era in the early 17th century. They were covered by jungle until accidentally “discovered” and brought to Western attention in 1819 by a colonial British officer Captain John Smith on a tiger-hunting party. The caves are in the rocky northern wall of the U-shaped gorge of the river Waghur, in the Deccan plateau. Within the gorge are several waterfalls, audible from outside the caves when the river is high.
With the Ellora Caves, Ajanta is one of the major tourist attractions of Maharashtra. It is about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from Fardapur, 59 kilometers (37 miles) from the city of Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India, 104 kilometers (65 miles) from the city of Aurangabad, and 350 kilometers (220 miles) east-northeast of Mumbai. Ajanta is 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Ellora Caves, which contain Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist caves, the last dating from a period similar to Ajanta. The Ajanta style is also found in the Ellora Caves and other sites such as the Elephanta Caves, Aurangabad Caves, Shivleni Caves, and the cave temples of Karnataka.
Aurangabad Caves are twelve rock-cut Buddhist shrines, located around 20km northwest of Aurangabad. These caves date back to the 6th and 8th centuries and should not be confused with the Ajanta and Ellora Caves which are also located close to Aurangabad. Carved out of Soft Basalt Rock, these are considered one of the most spectacular caves in India. Bibi Ka Maqabra and Soneri Mahal are located quite close to the Aurangabad Caves, and they can be covered on the same day. From the top, a panoramic and breathtaking view of the city is seen. If you are fond of heritage, then you will love this place of attraction. The Aurangabad Caves are also considered ideal for trekking.
The stunning caves were mostly Buddhist Viharas and are now under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. The Aurangabad Caves are divided into three separate groups depending on their location the First group: Cave 1 to Cave 5, the Second group: Cave 6 to Cave 9, and the Third group: Cave10 to Cave 12. The first two caves have a distance of 500 meters between them, and the third one is slightly further to the east. The definite attraction of the Aurangabad Caves is its sculptures. They are artificially rock cut. Caves I and III of Aurangabad and the last caves of Ajanta co-existed as is apparent from striking parallels.
Ellora Caves, Ellora also spelled Elura, is a series of 34 magnificent rock-cut temples in northwest-central Maharashtra state, western India. They are located near the village of Ellora, 19 miles (30 km) northwest of Aurangabad and 50 miles (80 km) southwest of the Ajanta Caves. Spread over a distance of 1.2 miles (2 km), the temples were cut from basaltic cliffs and have elaborate facades and interior walls. The Ellora complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
The 12 Buddhist caves (in the south) date from about 200 BCE to 600 CE, the 17 Hindu temples (in the center) date from about 500 to 900 CE, and the 5 Jain temples (in the north) date from about 800 to 1000. The Hindu caves are the most dramatic in design, and the Buddhist caves contain the simplest ornamentation. Ellora served as a group of monasteries (viharas) and temples (chaityas); some of the caves include sleeping cells that were carved for itinerant monks.
The most remarkable of the cave temples is Kailasa (Kailasanatha; cave 16), named for the mountain in the Kailas Range of the Himalayas where the Hindu god Shiva resides. Unlike other temples at the site, which were first delved horizontally into the rock face, the Kailasa complex was excavated downward from a basaltic slope and is therefore largely exposed to sunlight. Construction of the temple in the 8th century, beginning in the reign of Krishna I (c. 756–773), involved the removal of 150,000 to 200,000 tons of solid rock. The complex measures some 164 feet (50 meters) long, 108 feet (33 meters) wide, and 100 feet (30 meters) high and has four levels, or stories. It contains elaborately carved monoliths and halls with stairs, doorways, windows, and numerous fixed sculptures.
One of its better-known decorations is a scene of Vishnu transformed into a man-lion and battling a demon. Just beyond the entrance, in the main courtyard, is a monument to Shiva’s bull Nandi. Along the walls of the temple, at the second-story level, are life-size sculptures of elephants and other animals. Among the depictions within the halls is that of the 10-headed demon king Ravana shaking Kailasa mountain in a show of strength. Erotic and voluptuous representations of Hindu divinities and mythological figures also grace the temple. Some features have been damaged or destroyed over the centuries, such as a rock-hewn footbridge that once joined two upper-story thresholds.