Kanheri Caves [Krishnagiri] | Buddhist Architecture

Kanheri caves are the earliest example of Buddhist caves having excellent rock-cut architecture. The Kanheri caves are 2000-year-old and are nestled among the tranquil beauty of western ghats in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali Mumbai.

Aspirants can also read about the following Buddhist caves for relevant details-

  1. Ajanta Caves & Ellora Caves

Details regarding the other monasteries and Cave architecture in Ancient India are available on the given link. 

Kanheri caves are important from the IAS exam (art and culture) point of view. 

Additionally, candidates can check the links provided below to assist their exam preparation – 

NCERT Notes: Art Of Indus Valley Civilisation NCERT Notes: Temple Architecture
Art and Culture During the Delhi Sultanate Period NCERT Notes: Indo-Islamic Architecture
Dravidian Architecture In India Art & Culture of Gupta Empire
NCERT Notes: Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art  NCERT Notes: Pallava Dynasty – Art And Architecture
NCERT Notes: Mauryan Empire: Art & Architecture Mahabalipuram: An Architectural Extravaganza

Kanheri Caves 

  • The ancient caves Kanheri is situated on the hills of the vast forest of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It lies 1500 feet above sea level. 
  • According to historians, the caves were carved between 200 A.D and 600 A.D. Kanheri was a large monastic settlement, probably spanning its establishment from the 1st century A.D. to 11th century A.D.
  • Kanheri, known as Krishnagiri or Kanhagiri in an ancient inscription, literally means black mountain (Krishna means black and Giri is a mountain) and is mostly named after its black basalt stone. 
  • There are 129 caves in Kanheri where the Buddhist monks lived, studied, meditated, and spread the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The caves were also used as shelters during the monsoon.
  • Kanheri constitutes a group of rock-cut monuments, the traditional art of western India. It also presents the iconography of the Buddhist art of later periods. You can go through the Buddhist and Jain Architecture in India on the linked page. 
  • Inside the Kanheri caves, there is a large Vihara (prayer hall) and stupas. The caves consist of about 109 Buddha Viharas, specially designed for the Bhikshus. There are magnificent relics of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas and pillared corridors of the prayer halls. 
  • Chaitya Griha serves the purpose of worship halls. Buddhist shrines featuring Buddhist paintings and carvings on them. There are more than 30 unfinished paintings of Buddha. 
  • A colossal Buddha statue (22 ft in height) and Chaitya Griha, depiction of a large Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva) with 11 heads, a painted ceiling and an evolved and complex water harvesting management system (indicated by the presence of water cisterns in almost every cave and huge water tanks) are a few of the highlights at the Kanheri Caves.
  • The inscription about the marriage of Satavahana ruler Vashishtiputra Satakarni with the daughter of king Rudradaman I also significant. Get details about Satavahana Dynasty – Facts about Satavahana Empire on the given link.

Aspirants can check out the related links given below to do comprehensive preparation of upcoming exams – 

Buddhism – Definition, Origins, Teachings Teachings of Buddha
List of Buddhist Councils and Buddhist Texts Differences between Buddhism and Hinduism
Sanchi Stupa and Lion Capital Difference between Buddhism and Jainism
List of Important Foreign Envoys Who Visited Ancient India Major Literary Works And Authors In Gupta Period
  • The Kanheri caves have the earliest images of the Buddha in South India and were made famous across the world because Chinese monk traveler Hiuen Tsang [602 CE – 664 CE] had visited the monastery in 7th century CE and is reported to have carried a wooden image of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to China along with numerous Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts.
  • The Chaityas and Viharas are created using the elements of wooden construction.
  • The Cave 3 is the most attractive encompassing a hall with 34 pillars and two tall, standing sculptures of Buddha. It gives clues to the Theravada (Hinayana) sect of Buddhism. (Candidates can read the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana on the linked page.)
  • The patronage of Kanheri caves can be associated with the Kushan Dynasty and Mauryan Dynasty from the 2nd to 9th centuries BC. Later, these caves were influenced by Gupta art also.
  • Kanheri caves have influenced the magnificent Elephanta caves as well.
  • Along with Kanheri caves, Magathane Caves and Mahakali Caves form a Buddhist Cluster. 
  • The caves of Magathane (6 km west to Kanheri caves) are famous for the beautiful Makara decoration in the main cave, though in a dilapidated state now. Some sculptures found in Magathane caves can be dated to the 6th century CE.
  • Mahakali Caves in Andheri (East) are a cluster of 19 caves towards the south of Kanheri caves. One of the Mahakali caves is interestingly known for its double-chambered arrangement.

Candidates can read in detail about the Buddhist circuits that include the most important pilgrimage destinations for Buddhist tourists. 

FAQ about Kanheri Caves


What is the importance of Kanheri Caves?

The Kanheri Caves emerged as a centre of learning in the ancient times. According to the archaeologists and historians, during their formative phase, they must have served as a temporary residence or ‘vasha vaasa’ (rain shelter) for the monks. The monks lived in these caves to live, study and meditate.

In which caves eleven headed bodhisattva image is depicted?

One of the important features of Kanheri Caves is that it depicts eleven headed bodhisattva image.

Aspirants of upcoming UPSC Prelims might encounter questions based on Kanheri caves under the Art and Culture section of the exam. 

Get the detailed UPSC Syllabus for the prelims and mains examination and start your Civil Services Exam preparation accordingly.

Related links for UPSC preparation:

IAS Salary UPSC Books
UPSC Previous Year Question Papers  Daily Current Affairs for UPSC
All India Radio Spotlight for UPSC 100 Difference between Articles
UPSC Notes PDF Comprehensive News Analysis
PIB Summary and Analysis List of Government Schemes in India
Topic-Wise General Studies Paper-1 Questions in UPSC Mains UPSC Monthly Magazine for Current Affairs

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