One bleak morning, the Narmada is quiet, dormant, and sleepy. As the rays of gold softly touch the gentle waves, the river wakes up from its deep slumber. Humans appear from nowhere immersing themselves into the cold water hoping for emancipation. Dogs and vagrants roam about looking for crumbs. As the sun rises above in the horizon, cheeky women with devilish grins manifest themselves, selling fake silver coins and ornaments. Tourists and pilgrims walk upon the magnificent ghat on the steps that descend into the river gently, interspersed by pauses- long and short. Built by a strong yet gentle, pious Queen the crumbling fort walls whisper of a bygone era filled with respect and valour.
White washed walls of the town rub their eyes trying to get shade from lush gigantic trees and Arjun flowers. The weavers here spin gold out of cotton, soft and luminous.
Do have tea at Labooz.
Women come and go, talking of Michelangelo
As the sun begins to set, boatmen spring forth taking you down the merry river. The fort walls light up as the city begins to retire.
Like a spirit I moved on the stone hill covered with trees that reached the skies. Their knotted trunks were witness of ten thousand year old histories, when young pupils lived in the caves desirous of learning from Bodhisattva, having left their families and never looked back.
Sculptors would carve out thick pillars from the stone rocks and make them habitable. The masters sculpted Lord Buddha.
A river flowing past offered bathing space where the pupils cleansed themselves.
The large rocks offered great spaces for meditation, the skies bending towards the trees to absorb the silence of the place. Some clouds decided to stay here till the scorching sun dissolved them into thin air.
In the monsoon, torrential rains fell on the hard rocks and flowed mysteriously into the stream that emptied itself in a large lake surrounded by Jamun trees and monkeys chittering in the grove.
Buddhist students from Far East would come here to learn from the Bodhisattva and consider themselves blessed.
On a one day business visit to Mumbai, I decided to visit the Kanheri caves in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in North Mumbai. It was a cold winter day and I reached there by taxi from the airport in 20 minutes.
Now a part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park of Mumbai’s Borivali locality, the Kanheri Caves were once inhabited by the monks as a refuge from the rains and harsh weather.
The word ‘Kanheri’ has been derived from the Hindi word Krishnagiri or Kanha-Giri, which means Krishna’s home (Krishna implies the dark one). Therefore, these caves have been named so because they have been formed of black basalt rock.
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, and as a policy no woman was allowed to live in Kanheri Caves in the earlier stages and even as more and more time lapsed.
Over a period of time, the Kanheri Caves emerged as a centre of learning just like the famous Ajanta and Ellora Caves.
The caves were abandoned in the 11th century AD, and afterwards, they were re-discovered by a group of Japanese monks. It is from here an important school of Buddhism, popular in Japan, emanated.
Inside the caves, there is a large Vihara (prayer hall) and stupas, Buddhist shrines featuring Buddhist paintings and carvings on them. There are more than 30 unfinished paintings of Buddha. The Kanheri Caves have a complex system of water harvesting, which leaves the discerning visitor awestruck.