After having injured my knee while mountain biking in Germany, I was advised to avoid cycling or trekking for three weeks. I was wondering how I would spend two monsoon weekends without trekking or cycling. Luckily one weekend was spent in our IIT Kanpur reunion at Naukuchiatal. But this weekend there were no other plans, and I was itching for some activity. I did manage a nice swim in our club pool at Matoshri Sports Club, and on the way back, I walked over to the nearby Mahakali Caves.
Mahakali Caves, also called Kondivite Caves are located on the top of the Mahakali Hill next to the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR). You can drive up to it by taking a right turn at the signal just after you pass the Matoshri Club with the petrol pump on the left.
While walking on JVLR towards Mahakali Caves, met with Rony Bill and Yoshita Patil of the OCLA Riders who were returning from Vihar Lake
You can climb up the Mahakali Hill from JVLR using these steps that also lead to the pedestrian bridge over JVLR after the SEEPZ flyover
Fortunately, the entire hill top where the caves are located is cordoned out with a stone and iron fence, thereby keeping out miscreants. A gate and a round-about at the end of Mahakali Caves Road leads into the caves compound
As soon as you walk into the gate, you are greeted with a lovely sight of a green garden with the caves located on the left
Kondivite or Mahakali caves, as they are known locally, were built between the 2nd to the 6th century A.D. It consists of four caves on the northwest face and a group of fifteen caves at the southeast, carved in volcanic trap breccias, prone to weathering. The entire surrounding was originally an old settlement, including Marol village, Mulgaon and had several fresh water tanks that have over the years disappeared. The most interesting cave at Kondivite is the Chaitya cave no. 9, which has a peculiar plan layout, and is one of the oldest in the group. The inner shrine and stupa are enclosed in a curved wall, not typical to most chaitya caves. This 8 inch thick wall around the stupa has a central door with a latticed window on either side and over the right window is a two line Pali inscription recording, “Gift of a vihar, with his brother by Pittimba a Bramhan of the Gotamas gotra and inhabitant of Pachi Kama”. A carved panel of the Buddha with attendants and other figures called the Buddhist litany is cut on the right, which is a later insert.
– Archeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle
This is the first group of caves as you enter the cave complex. Of the three caves, the middle one is the main cave
You enter the cave through a pillored portico that leads to a hall with a pedestal for an idol at the far end. A stupa has been carved on the back wall behind the pedestal
The fourth cave is the Vihara cave which has an entrance through a verandah with four octagonal pillars
On the right wall outside the verandah there is a carving of a Cobra
From the verandah, there are three entrances leading into a central hall
On all three sides of this hall, there are chambers supported on two pillars
Between cave 8 and 9, there lies this large rock that has a circular carving on the top, which looks like it may have been a worn out stupa. Aligned with this stupa there are steps that are cut into the rock face that lead to the other side of the hill
Cave no 9 or Chaitya cave is the main cave of the group and probably the oldest excavation at the site. It faces east and entrance is provided from a rectangular hall. Surprisingly, there are no pillars at its entrance, and only has a wide open entrance
The inner shrine and stupa are enclosed in a curved wall, not typical to most chaitya caves. This 8 inch thick wall around the stupa has a central door with a latticed window on either side and over the right window is a two line Pali inscription recording, “Gift of a vihar, with his brother by Pittimba a Bramhan of the Gotamas gotra and inhabitant of Pachi Kama”
A carved panel of the Buddha with attendants and other figures called the Buddhist litany is cut on the right wall
There was an old man who sat praying with Buddhist chants and affirmations. He seemed to truly belong to this place, a peaceful oasis in the midst of a chaotic city
The next three caves are quite non descript. Cave no. 12 has a staircase leading to a pillared entrance to an empty hall
There is not much left of cave no 13, except a geometric pattern carved on top of the entrance
In cave no 14, a flight of five steps leads into a enclosed courtyard where a further flight of four steps leads into a pillared verandah. A stone bench is provided on the right side of the courtyard.
There are three entrances into the main hall. In the center of the hall is a raised platform. The hall is supported on four central pillars, each with a round base and octagonal shaft turning circular going up, topped with amalaka pattern abacus. This raised platform inside the hall allowed space all around the platform
Cave no 15, the last cave on this side, has a verandah supported on two pillars. A single entrance leads into a rectangular hall. There is a cell in center of the back wall of the hall. The door of the cell is decorated with similar patters seen on other doors at the site. A cell is provided on the right wall of the hall, the left wall is plain without any cell
A small path leads around the hill to the opposite side where the first 4 caves are located
As you walk around the hill, there are four caves on the northwest face of the Mahakali hill
The area outside the caves is now well maintained with a garden and a neatly laid stone path. There is a group of people appointed by the ASI who maintain the place and keep it clean
There were very few visitors to the place. It is not very well known and till recently was a big garbage dump. This father and his two little sons were the only other visitors apart from me
As you look down from the garden, you can see the JVLR wind its way from Jogeshwari to Powai, with the SEEPZ flyover that climbs up the Mahakali hill
The cave complex is maintained by ASI and has no entrance fee. However, the team that is maintaining it is doing an excellent job! I was pleasantly surprised to find the place in such a good condition.
Just outside the caves complex there are shanties on the hill side, where I found this bunch of kids playing, and forming a tower, seeming like a great way to prepare for the Gokulashtami celebrations where people form a tower to break a pot tied on a rope high up in the air
Highly symbolic of Indian roads, a cow finds a place right in the center of the road, where it sits unhindered by the vehicles passing by
Also located outside the caves complex is a very old studio of a reputed sculptor – Mr. Shirgaonkar. He specializes in making statues of various leaders. His studio is full of such giant sculptures of historically famous leaders who seem to be calmly watching the world of today around them
After admiring the sculptures made by Mr. Shirgaonkar, I headed back home, satisfied by the excursion as the caves turned out to be much better than I had expected. Hats off to the Archeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle for having turned around this garbage dump into a peaceful haven in the midst of the busy city.
I have picked up historical details of the caves from this article by Saurabh Saxena.
For cyclists who wish to cycle to these caves, a perfect itinerary would be to combine a visit here with cycling in Aarey Milk Colony, which is on the other side of JVLR.