Caves tell a tale of an ancient trade route

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Caves tell a tale of an ancient trade route

Post Number:#1  Postby Whyte Eagle » Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:46 pm

Caves tell a tale of an ancient trade route

Mumbai: Few would know that the Elephanta, Kanheri, Mahakali, Jogeshwari and Mandapeshwar caves are all connected by a trade route that existed in and around Mumbai nearly 2,000 years ago.

"These caves were used by traders and Buddhist monks who traversed down these stretches while on their way to Konkan or Sopara. In fact the Dahisar river running adjacent to the Mandapeshwar caves was earlier used for navigation. They would go from here towards Gorai and onward to their further journey," says Anita Rane-Kothare, professor, ancient Indian culture, St Xavier's College.

Each cave has a distinct feature which sets it apart from others. One important factor being -- the Kanheri and Mahakali caves are Buddhist caves while the Mandapeshwar is a Shaiva cave.

Kanheri and Mahakali date back to 2nd and 3rd century AD while Mandapeshwar dates back to 6th and 7th century AD.

"The Challya hall in Mahakali is similar to the plan of the Sudam caves built by king Ashoka for the Ajivaka monks. It is a rectangular hall with a circular cell and a hemispherical roof," says Rane-Kothare.

She adds, "Kanheri was the biggest educational centre in western India. There are 125 caves here and there is also a big cemetery. There are ancient paintings in these caves too. However, if you see the Mandapeshwar, it is a small cave because of the rock structure and its entrance shows equality of gender in the form of sculptures of donor couples."

The interesting fact is that every cave has a distinct form of architecture and art that also depicts the life that existed in that era.

There are also water resources that indicate rainwater harvesting was prevalent, as can be seen in the Kanheri caves. Nowadays locals come to feed the fish and turtles in these waters.

"I come here every day to pray to Shiva and feed the fish. I follow my mother in this. There are catfish and turtles here," says 19-year-old Mitesh Bhuptani.

"We should study the rainwater harvesting system used by the monks so many thousands of years ago. In fact during the rains, one can follow the stream paths at Kanheri and Mandapeshwar caves. These cooled the area and were also natural habitat," says Rane-Kothare.

There are facts that can actually fascinate locals if it is made popular. Right now the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has declared the Mandapeshwar, Kanheri and Jogeshwari caves as national heritage monuments. The repair works have begun since last month at the Mandapeshwar caves.

"Right now we are clearing the path and making the steps. We will build a compound and enclose this area. We have some of the most beautiful caves here but not many know of them. These are ancient ones dating back to the 2nd century AD," says GS Narasimha, superintendent archaeologist, ASI.

The caretaker informs that on major Shiva festivals like Mahashivratri, Navratri and Diwali the caves are lit with lamps. Devotees come here, or, many wouldn't even know of these caves.
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