Mandapeshwar Caves – Mumbai


Located near Mount Poinsur in the Borivali suburb of Mumbai, Mandapeshwar Caves is an 6th – 8th century rock cut shrine dedicated to Shiva.

The caves today stand behind an open clearing in front of a main road. It’s believed that at one time the Dahisar river ran in front of it, but over the passage of time the river has changed its course. What is left of that river is now about 300m away from the caves.


Shanty dwellings also use to crowd around the caves, with the excavations used as gambling dens, until local NGOs cleared the area some time back. Clearly these caves have seen a lot over the centuries, and the more recent events is just the tip of the iceberg.

The main cave consists of a pillared forecourt with three side chambers. Stylistically the cave is almost identical to Cave 21 at Ellora in its plan and sculptural decoration.  The central sanctum has a small Shiva linga and is still worshipped today, a small nandi in front of the sanctum entrance also reminds us that this is a Shiva temple.

There are some relief panels that have survived the cave’s turbulent history. One depicts the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, another with Shiva as Nataraja. Considering all that this cave has endured, it’s surprising that anything has survived at all.

Shiva as Nataraja


There’s a second smaller cave next to the main cave, undecorated and with crudely shaped pillars. It almost suggests that this cave was never fully completed, or had some sort of peripheral use that did not warrant any specific carvings.

A walk around this small site yields much evidence of a troubled past. As a Hindu temple, it was specifically targeted by the Portuguese, who asserted their religious beliefs over it by literally building a monastery and church right on top of it.

The ruined remains of that structure, dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and consecrated in 1544, can still be seen today above the cave.


Ruins of the Portuguese monastery and church, built on top of Mandapeshwar Caves

Two centuries later, in 1739, the monastery and church was desecrated after the Battle of Bassein in which the Marathas lead by Bajirao Peshwa I defeated the Portuguese. The caves were subsequently reinstated as a Hindu temple, but it wasn’t long before the caves were once again a victim of history.

Towards the end of the 18th century the British defeated the Marathas, and the caves were once again used as a place of Christian worship. A three foot high symbol of the cross, carved out of a stone panel that once depicted mythical Hindu figures, stands at the entrance to the cave.


A cross carved out of a panel that once depicted mythical Hindu figures

A visitor to the caves in 1804 recorded:

“The good priests had covered the carved Hindu figurines in the cave with a smooth coat of plaster and had converted the whole into a chapel.”

A statue of the Mother Mary, a cross and a pulpit was also installed in the main cave by Fr. Antonio Do Porto, and it remained a place of Christian worship until 1888.

Mother Mary, a cross and a pulpit was installed in the main cave2

Mandapeshwar Caves converted to a Christian chapel, circa 1880

With the end of colonial rule, the church fell into disrepair and the caves gradually reverted back to the worship of Siva.

There are five rock-cut caves in Mumbai; Elephanta, Kanheri, Jogeshwari, Mahakali, and Mandapeshwar. The Mandapeshwar Caves are possibly the least visited of the group, but do come here to pay your respects to a monument that has seen more than its fair share of tumultuous history.

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21 replies »

  1. Hello. Nice blog and photographs. Can you tell me the source of the old photograph ‘Mandapeshwar Caves converted to a Christian chapel’ shown above. I am studying these caves and hence looking for such old photographs.

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Namaskar. Thanks for your message, and I was shocked not to have credited my source for that photo as I always strive to do that. I’ve looked in to this, and I’m unable to find the source now myself ! I think this came from an old heritage related book, possibly something associated with the ASI, but I am failing to find it. I will have a further look around for you, but I can assure you it is definitely from those caves.


    • I have a small update for you regarding that photo. The only other version I can find on the internet is an example being sold as stock photography on Alamy (search Alamy for “Mandapeshwar” and “Chapel”). THis version of the image includes some text at the bottom which may help you.

      The original photo was taken by Revd Brother Clement.

      The image is of course well out of copyright now (hence why someone is selling it as stock), but for your studies if you wanted to attribute the source then Revd Brother Clement is as good as you’re going to get.

      I must have extracted this from an old book that was published online as a PDF, but I’m failing to find it successfully at the moment.

      Hope this helps you in some way !


  2. I am trying to search some old photos of Mandapeshwar, Jogeshwari, Kanheri and Mahakali as these are the locations I am studying for some time now. These old paintings or photographs give a new perspective hence I am searching them.

    Liked by 1 person

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