About Kanheri Caves
Created by Bhuddist monks between the 2nd and 9th centuries AD, the Kanheri Caves are a collection of rock cut monuments, prayer halls and buildings and are now a popular tourist attraction.
History of the Kanheri Caves
Carved in a single hill of basalt known as Krishnagiri (meaning ‘black mountain’ in Sanskrit), a total of 109 caves were carved from the dense basalt stone of the hillside – meaning that the Kanheri site features largest number of caves carved in to a single hill.
Most of the caves were used as living quarters or monasteries by the monks who created them. Known as Viharas or Chaityas, some of the larger caves were carved for collective prayer. The monks also carved cisterns within the site to store water for daily usage while a huge Chaitya window was also created to provide natural light.
The walls of many of the Kanheri Caves are sculpted with huge images and statues, including one of a standing Buddha and another image of Bodhisattva, which was carved somewhere around 5th to 6th centuries AD. It is believed that these caves represent some of the earliest evidence of Buddhism in India, and this is why the Kanheri Caves are well known as an important Buddhist site.
Originally the Kanheri Caves site would have been connected with the rest of the Buddhist community in the area, such as the port of Sopara, Paithan, Nasik, Kalyan and Ujjain. The Kanheri site itself has been known by a number of names through the ages, including Krishnagiri, Kanhagiri and Kanhasela. During the eras of the Maurya and Kushan Empire, Kanheri was used as a university centre.
Kanheri Caves today
The caves are a popular attraction and it’s easy to spend several hours exploring fully. Some of the walking is quite steep, so it’s worth bringing comfortable / sturdy footwear and photographing or taking a map with you so you can plan a route as the caves can be something of a labyrinth.
Getting to Kanheri Caves
The caves are located in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, about 20km north of Mumbai. Buses and tuktuks are the best way of getting there from the city.