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Kanheri Caves, Maharashtra
The word 'Kanheri', which literally means the black mountain, proves its name as it lies in form of black caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, 40 kilometers from Mumbai - the city of dreams. These caves, situated at a height of 1500 feet above the sea level, give a panoramic distant view of the vast Arabian Sea and Vasai Creek as well.
The Kanheri caves, which have been dated from the 2nd century BCE to the 9th century CE, were built during the reign of the Mauryan and the Kushana emperors. Originally constructed as a place of rest for the travellers on the way of Sopara-Kalyan, the Kanheri caves, 109 in numbers, soon turned into the Buddhist viharas, used by the Buddhist monks as their residential and meditation purposes. Its location in the midst of a dense forest en route of the ancient cities of Kalyan, Nasik, Sopara and Ujjain further made the place more popular among the Buddhists all around, and soon became famous as the 'Buddhist caves'.
Initially, the Kanheri caves were used by the Buddhist monks in their natural form itself, and the monks used stone beds to sleep and cisterns to store water without harnessing the originality of these natural substances. But in due course of time, everything started changing. The monks started carving halls, temples and images of the Buddha and other Bodhisattvas out of huge rocks, so much so that the Kanheri caves turned into an important Buddhist settlement on the Konkan coast by the 3rd century CE.
The Kanheri caves, alike other Buddhist shrines, symbolises the austerity of the ancient and early medieval Indian architectural style. All the 109 caves, carved into a hill, depicts the Buddha into numerous forms.
The most important of all these caves is cave number 3 belonging to the 6th century CE, which comprises a columnar hall(28 x 13 m) with 34 pillars and two standing figures of the Buddha(Both 6.5 feet tall), thereby reflecting the Theravadin sect of Buddhism. Likewise, cave 11, the Durbar hall or the Assembly hall, which includes a statue of the Buddha occupying the central place among the Hindu and other Buddhist monks. Cave number 34 is a dark cell having the Buddha's paintings on its ceilings. Cave 41, which besides other structures, also constitute an image of 11-headed Avalokiteshvara, is a large cell. The Cave 67 is a also a huge cell and comprises the figure of Avalokiteswara in the form of a saviour flanked by two female figures in the verandah. Some images of the Buddha have also been carved depicting His miracles in Sravasti.
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