Mahakali Caves

Kondivite Caves - Kondiviti Caves - Mahakel Caves - Kondiwte


Useful Information

Location: Mahakali Caves Rd, Andheri East, Mumbai. Jogeshwari-Pawai (Vikhroli) Link road, turn right opposite the Kamalistan Studio.
(19.130103, 72.873515)
Open: no restrictions.
All year daily 9-16.
[2021]
Fee: no restrictions.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: bring torch
Dimension: 19 caves, A=70m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: S R Wauchop (1933): The Buddhist Cave Temples of India, Caves listed as Mahakel caves.
James Fergusson, James Burgess (1880): The Cave Temples of India, Munshiram Manoharlal. New Delhi. ISBN 8121502519.
Dr. Dulari Qureshi (2010): Rock-cut Temples of Western India, Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 978818090202.
Address: Mahakali Caves, Sunder Nagar, Andheri East, Mumbai, 400093, Maharashtra.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1st cty first cave created.
6th cty youngest cave created.

Description

Mahakali Caves are 19 ancient rock-cut Buddhist caves located on the outskirts of Mumbai, in the eastern suburb of Andheri. As they are located at the village Kondiviti they are also called Kondiviti Caves. The caves were carved out of black basalt rock by Buddhist monks during the ancient Ashoka Empire almost 2,000 years ago. The caves were intended as retreats for meditation and as dwellings for the monks. Several cisterns cut from the same rock are a sign that they actually lived here. The caves form two groups, four caves in the northwest face of the hill and 15 caves in the southeast face of the hill. The caves in the southeast are older.

The chaitya, the main Buddhist shrine and prayer hall, contains stupas and large statues of Buddha idols carved from the rock. In total there are seven depictions of the Buddha and figures from Buddhist mythology but all are mutilated. On the walls are scriptures in Pali, a language which is much older than Sanskrit. It was probably the language used during Maurya dynasty. The chaitya is cave 9 of the southeastern group.

All other caves are Viharas, cells for monks. They look minimalistic, probably because they were intended for meditation and had little ornaments. Or probably the original carvings are just destroyed by weathering.

The name Mahakali derives from a temple nearby, but it is a Hinduist temple while the caves are Buddhist, so it is obviously not very helpful. The name originates probably from the book The Buddhist Cave Temples of India by S R Wauchop in 1933. He refutes the name Kondiwte previously given by Fergusson. However, we use the today commonly used name for our listing.

There are numerous caves in the area of Mumbai, most of them in a very bad shape. The problem are illegal buildings and slums which tend to overgrow the historic sites. At one time, the >Mahakali Caves were a den of illicit liquor distilleries and sex workers. The destruction of the historic monuments is almost inevitable. Mahakali Caves are probably the best preserved of those caves, but still the pressure by illegal barracks is high. Indian law would require a 100m buffer zone between the cultural site and any buildings, but actually even the compromise of a 25m zone was impossible to hold up. People tended to built on the buffer zone anyway. Finally some money was invested and the area surrounded by a wall. There is a court decision that buildings on the ground of the cave are illegal and may be demolished without further notice, but it seems it is not enforced. They are know for locals defecating at the entrance, so be very careful. Its a good idea to visit early in morning, between 7 and 10, for better photographs and to avoid the local crowd. However, some sites give open hours, but we think they are not enforced.