Monday, February 13, 2012

Kanheri caves, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, Mumbai

We visited Sanjay Gandhi National Park last Saturday. For the first time I came to know that Mumbai held such a historic place as Kanheri caves. It was an hours drive from Thane via Ghodbunder Road. National Park has a nominal entry fee of Rs. 25 per person and one can take own vehicle inside it by paying for its entry fee (Rs. 30 for a motorbike). Sanjay Gandhi National Park is around 40 sq. miles of jungle, nature, flowers, birds, animals, hills and valleys. I was surprised to find that from many parts of the hills, I could hardly see a very small portion of the cement jungle outside boundary of the national park. Lovely greenery, lake, birds, different varieties of flowers, trees, birds made me forget that I was in the most populated city Mumbai.
Initially our plan was to spend some time in Canheri caves and then start with one of the walking trails inside the park.
Canheri caves are more than 3-4 km away from the main entrance of the park. It has parking facility and couple of food joints with basic snacks, mineral water and cold drinks available in it. It also has many roadside vendors selling fruits in season and spicy cucumber. There is an additional charge of Rs. 5 per person to enter the caves. After reading the brief information at the entrance itself, we realised that it demands much more time to see the caves, and we would have to choose between caves and walking trail. Promising ourselves to return for the walking trails, we carried on to wards caves. The caves are from 1st century BC. There are about 110 caves which are carved by buddhist followers. Kanheri comes from a sanskrit word Krishnagiri, which means black hill. The most remarkable thing about the caves is their water cisterns outside all the residential caves, rainwater harvesting for water collection and to keep the caves cool and stairs carved in stone. Many of the rainwater harvesting channels are still existent, and give us an amazing idea of how brilliant those early days people were.
We were intrigued by the cave used for worship. There is a big stupa at the end of this hall, with many pillars on both sides. This might have been used as a classroom for buddhist students. The stupa had 12 small boxes in it at waist level, each precisely equal distance from each other. There were three types of pillars in it. Most of these caves maintain symmetry, while the pillars in this particular cave were symmetrical in number, the left hand side pillars of this stupa were only of two types, and pillars on right hand were of three different types, marking clear asymmetry. I wonder whether these pillars marked different levels of students of position of students or teachers based on their seating location.
There are some caves with statues of Buddha which might have been chapels for prayers. There are residential caves typically containing 2 rooms, inner rooms have a bed cut out of stone while some of the caves have sitting benches cut out of stone in outside rooms. The courtyards have steps to access these rooms, water tanks (which automatically collects rainwater through all the channels carved in the stones above all these caves) and round shaped stones hollow inside about size of less than a foot in diameter (wonder what must have been the purpose of these, maybe they were used as burners to boil water or cook food using burning wood). Some of these caves also have asanas (chair shapes) or some large sofa look alike to be used as seating benches carved in stone, offering a splendid view of the valley. We wondered what those people might be discussing in evenings while seating on these benches, maybe some spiritual discussions, or some local gossip! Some caves had statues as well as sitting benches with a room inside small for one person only. We couldnt really understand the purpose of these caves, and especially the purpose of these small rooms which are big enough for only one person to sit.
I found this interesting video about history of these caves - All the symmetry maintained in the caves, shapes of the water tanks, perfect half circle just around the steps approaching the caves, made us believe that those people had good knowledge of geometry. Being an amateur in History, I am on my way to find out about all the intelligence these generations had in Ancient India, and where exactly we lost it.
On top of the hill there are some signs of caves, probably they were never completed or were destroyed with time. There are 3 massive water storage tanks, and some mid-size water tanks with steps attached to them. After spending more than 3 hours roaming through different caves and hills, we decided to return to the base. Strong sunshine tired us quickly than we had thought and shortage of water and food in our bags forced us to leave the caves with paintings unseen. I will surely return this place as it was exciting to visit these caves and try to imagine what the life must have been like in those times.

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