Coordinates: 19.1303 N 72.8736 E
No:105        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Buddhist shrines, Rock cut architecture
Values:Art, Architecture, History, Archaeology
Rank:9
Address:Asia, India, Maharashtra, in the western suburb of Andheri in the city of Mumbai, some 500 north-east from the former village of Kondivti
Writing in Hindi:महाकाली गुफ्फा
Alternate transcriptions:Kondivita Caves, Kondivite Caves, Kondivti Caves
Age:1st century BC - 6th century AD
Religion:Buddhism
Mahakali Caves, Cave II
Cave II in south-eastern group, entrance.
Jeevan Balwant, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Mahakali Caves
Mahakali Caves.
Wikimedia Commons, user Nichalp, CC BY-SA 3.0
Mahakali Caves
Mahakali Caves.
Wikimedia Commons, user Nichalp, CC BY-SA 3.0
View from the top of Mahakali Caves
View from the top of Mahakali Caves.
Elroy Serrao, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Suburbs of Mumbai hide several groups of unique monuments - ancient rock-cut temples. One of such monuments is the ancient Kondivita Caves - nowadays more often called Mahakali Caves.

"Kondivita" is more exact name - it comes from the nearby village. Name "Mahakali" in turn comes from the Hindu temple nearby - thus it is somewhat misleading regarding this ancient Buddhist monastery.

Rock-cut Buddhist monastery

Mahakali Caves are 19 rock-cut caves, built between 1st century BC - 6th century AD. They are cut in black basalt. Unfortunately this material here has not been too persistant and many of caves have collapsed.

Most caves are in a low lying hill, rising just a few metres above the surroundings. Site contains also several rock-cut cisterns.

Caves form two rows - 4 caves from 4th 5th century AD on the north-west face of long hillside and 15 caves in the south-east face.

Caves are small and for most part - very simple. Ancient dwelling of monks - viharas and cells are devoid of ornamentation what helps in meditation. Exception though is the main shrine - chaitya - Cave IX in south-eastern group.

North-western group

Cave 1 has multi-tiered entrance part. It served as a dwelling and probably was used also for meditation. Consists of verandah with two square pillars and two pilasters. Hall with two cells behind verandah.

Cave 2 has two doors and two windows, without pillars and adornments. Possibly used as a dining hall - it has a bench around the hall.

A door connects cave 2 and Cave 3. Cave 3 has a courtyard with four steps leading up to verandah with a central door and two eight-sided pillars. Behind the verandah is a hall with cells in side walls and an ornamented doorway in the rear wall. Behind this door there is a shrine where was located image.

Cave 4 was used as a dwelling. It has a long verandah with 10 round pillars. Hall behind the verandah has a recess in the back wall, perhaps used as a shrine. This cave contains also recent constructions by makers of illegal liquor.

Between both groups of caves there are several broken tombstones. There are several more interesting rock-cut monuments including small auditorium for teacher and his disciples. Further west several broken stone steps lead down to southern group of caves.

South-eastern group

Most of the 15 caves in this group are small, unsighty and in bad repair. These caves are numbered from west to east.

Cave I contains verandah with two pillars and two pilasters, connected to Cave II.

The verandah of Cave II has low front wall, some 1.2 m high with four square pillars rising from it. Most likely made in 5th - 6th century AD. Rear wall of verandah is adorned with a belt of checked carvings. Behind the verandah is chapel without adornment with an altar at rear wall. Side walls of chapel have sockets for wooden poles - these now are favourite sleeping berths for snakes.

Cave III - dwelling for a monk.

Cave IV is a chapel. Outside it, at the entrance there is roughly hewn cobra with seven hoods. It is possibly connected to the Sarpala or Snake pond at the foot of hill. Chapel is entered through verandah with four eight-sided pillars. Veerandah to the left is connected to Cave III. Behind verandah is hall with side aisles, two pillars and three cells. At rear wall is shrine. This cave is possibhly made in 3rd - 4th century AD.

Cave V is small dwelling of monk, consists of verandah and cell.

Cave VI consists of verandah and small cells at it.

Cave VII consists of verandah with side cells and shrine at rear wall.

Cave VIII is small cave which is entered through from Cave VII.

Largest cave - chaitya - is Cave IX. Locals sometimes call it Anasicha Kamara - granary - due to semicircular shrine which resembles granary. Most likely it is the oldest of Mahakali Caves and certainly the most interesting one. Cave consists of partly ruined verandahwhich leads into 7.6 m long, 5.3 m wide and 2.74 m high hall. Right wall of hall is adorned with mutilated figures. Feft wall though contains remnants of later Buddhist sculptures, possibly from 6th century AD, including seated Buddha teaching two attendants. Above him is seen a row of six smaller Buddhas. Also these sculptures have been damaged.

Rear wall has entrance in a semicircular shrine with hemispheric dome, divided by a cleft in the rock. Dome rises up to 4.42 m height. It resembles similar halfdomes of rock cut shrines in Barabar Caves.

In the centre of the shrine stands relic - 2.34 m high dagoba with four holes on the top for umbrella.

Outside the shrine in earlier times there were two lines of Pali inscription - now it is barely visible. Letters of inscription are from 3rd century AD.

Inscription reads: "Gift of a Vihar, with his brother, by Pittimba a Brahman of the Gotamas gotra, an inhabitant of Pachi Kama.".

it contains mutilated sculptures - seven depictions of Buddha and other figures of Buddhist mythology. It contains shrine with stupa now erroneously considered to be a lingam. Shrine has hemispheric dome. Most likely Makahali Caves started with this structure.

Cave X is dwelling for monks.

Cave XI consists of small, ruined verandah with two simple pillars and chambers - dwelling of monks and passage cut in the rock.

Cave XII is in bad condition, nearly ruined. It consists of verandah and opening in the eastern part - earlier here were three cells and a chamber to the left. Cave is adorned with a belt of ornament.

Cave XIII now is united with Cave XII. It consists of courtyard which by a flight of five steps leads to verandah. Verandah has outer and inner parts with two pillars and two pilasters. After the inner verandah is accessed rather large hall - 8.84 x 8.74 m large. It contains three cells. In the centre of the hall there are four large eight-sided pillars with rounded capitals. Rear wall contains central shrine.

Cave XIV is just a small cell.

Cave XV is blocked by a large block of basalt rock. This cave had a verandah with two pillars, inner and outer chambers.

Neglected and saved

The ancient Kondivita monastery recently were endangered by neglect. At some time these caves were used by illicit liquor distilleries and sex workers but recently here started certain protection of these caves. Caves are encroached by shanty town, but they are bropught in order too.

Map

See Mahakali Caves or Kondivita Caves - rock-cut Buddhist temples on the map of India!

References

  1. Lyla Bavadam, In a shambles, Frontline, Volume 26, Issue 15, Jul. 18-31, 2009. Accessed in 19th June 2010
  2. Grgeater Bombay District, places, Maharashtra State Gazetteers. Accessed in 19th June 2010

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