|The Vihara in the cave|
The study by archaeologist and Rabindranath Tagore National Fellow Dr MK Dhavalikar has suggested that followers of three different Buddhist sects lived and prayed at the complex between 2nd and 12th century AD.
Dhavalikar, who revealed preliminary findings from the study on Friday during a lecture at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, said the cave monument which was inhabited for nearly a millennium, with only a century-long break in between, witnessed the transition from Hinayan to Mahayan, and from Mahayan to Vajrayan Buddhism.“Hinayana and Mahayana Bhikshus (monks) stayed there together despite theological differences,” said Dhavalikar.
Work came to a halt around 350 AD and according to Dhavalikar, this cessation of building and cultural activity coincided with a general decline in the quality of lives across India. “Nearly 50% of inhabited sites in India were abandoned,” said Dhavalikar.
Digging activity at Kanheri, now located inside the Borivli National Park, was revived in the 5th century and continued till the 12th when the caves were abandoned as Buddhism faded away from the peninsula. The long period over which the complex was created means that various styles of cave architecture are displayed at the site: while some of the earlier Chaityas or prayer halls have a vaulted roof, later caves have flat roofs.
Dhavalikar said the images of Tara, Avalokiteshwara and Bhrukuti were probably added later to the cave walls. “Initially, there were no gods in Buddhism,” he said.
Kanheri is a complex of around 100 Chaityas, living quarters and memorials carved into a rock cliff. It is the largest Buddhist worship site in Western India and though many of the caves are in good condition, some have either collapsed or have corroded. The existence of the caves was first reported to the modern world by a Portuguese explorer Joao de Castro in 1539 AD.
Dhavalikar’s research forms part of a study about Mumbai’s history before the 16th century.
Source: DNA India