If I tell you that a Buddhist cave temple exists in the heart of western suburb, and not in the National Park, would you believe me? Between Borivali and Dahisar is a calmer and lesser known cave temple known as Mandapeshwar cave. I’ve been to Borivali and passed by Dahisar countless times, but I was not prepared for historical wonder that awaited me.
Mandapeshwar caves are rock cut shrines dedicated to lord Shiva, built between 6th – 8th centuries. It is believed that they were built around the same time as Jogeshwari caves. The caves were carved by Buddhist monks for shelter, meditation and trade.
They were originally located on the banks of Dahisar river, but later the river changed its course. The Dahisar river was used by monks to travel between Kanheri caves, which used to be Buddhist university, and Mandapeshwar caves, which were used by the monks for shelter. Dahisar river was a part of a trade route that existed between Konkan and Sopara (modern day Nala Sopara, which was an established Buddhist center in the past).
(In picture: Mandapeshwar temple cave)
Inside the cave temple
The name Mandapeshwar means “Hall of God”, and rightly, the cave has a mandap supported by 12 pillars used as prayer hall. In addition to it are cells for shelter, wherein the central cell has a shrine. It also has a water cistern system, similar to the ones at Kanheri caves, which keep the caves cool.
As one enters the cave-temple, ruins of sculptures of lions on either side can be spotted. An ancient sculpture of Nandi, now headless, is carved right in front of the shrine.
(In picture: Mandap of Mandapeshwar caves)
About Natraja sculpture
The highlight of the cave temple is the cave on the left side, which has a magnificent sculpture of six armed Shiva in Nataraja pose (King of dancers). On its right side are assumed to be goddess Parvati with two attendants and on its left side is a person beating drums. The panel indicates celebration, and it is assumed to depict marriage between lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. The upper left corner is occupied by three-headed Brahma. Unfortunately, the sculptures are in various states of ruin.
(In picture: Natraja sculpture at Mandapeshwar cave)
History of the cave temple
The reason the sculptures are most ruined in this cave compared to other Buddhist caves is because the temple cave has seen violent invasions by the Portuguese, Maratha and British.
When the Portuguese came to Bombay, they used the cave as place of worship and constructed a monastery and church in the year of 1544. The existing shrine and sculptures were covered in plaster. The wall on the left side of the temple bears a rock cut Christian cross. It is believed that the Portuguese chipped off an idol of lord Shiva and flattened it to carve a cross out of it.
For close to 200 years, the place functioned as a Christian shrine. In early 18th century the Marathas defeated the Portuguese in the Battle of Bassein (Vasai), and desecrated the church and the monastery. They uncovered and worshipped the rock-cut sculptures again. But in late 18th century, the Sashti island (Salsette island) and the caves came under Bristish rule, and Mandapeshwar again became a place of Christian worship. However, the Portuguese church couldn’t survive and its ruins remain above the cave temple. It remained a Christian place of worship till 1920s and is assumed to have been abandoned later. From 1960s the remaining caves are preserved by the Archeological Survey of India and continue to be a Shiva shrine.
(In picture: One of the caves at cave temple)
There is a busy auto stand outside the temple, and it is unbelievable that such an ancient structure with rich history attached to it stands quietly amidst a bustling part of the city. I had spent some time in the cave temple, and realized it is actively worshipped and taken care of by the priests present there. Also, daily evening mass is held in the neighboring church. Spending some time in this area known as ‘Mount Poinsur’, a disambiguation of Mandapeshwar, is a living reminder of its past.
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(All pictures are taken by me unless mentioned)