I have been doing Mumbai exploration this year, and while researching online for places to visit, I stumbled on Mandapeshwar caves in Borivli. I found it simply incredible that we have an ancient almost pre-history rock cut temple right here and no one seems to know or care about it.
I read about it on Ashutosh Bijoor's blog, and found that it was carved in 550 AD, around the same time as the nearby Jogeshwari caves (which also is an unknown treasure) and the Kondivate or Mahakali caves, and was carved in the same style as the Elephanta caves or the Ellora temples.
Well, I simply had to see this, and one rainy sunday, I cycled from chembur to Borivli to visit the caves. It was a about 40 Km each way, and passed through or by many things that make Mumbai amazing ( a forest, a lake, hills, ancient temples, modern highways and urban sprawl)
The other point that struck me was that it seemed to be really obscure and unmarked. There were some building materials outside which indicated that there are plans to fence it off, but as of now it was open and and nameless. There was no indication that a unique rock cut temple was nearabouts.
It was originally built on the shores of the Dahisar river, but now the river has changed its course and the temple has become inland. But you can just imagine the temple as it must have been - in a jungle, along the riverside, on a small hill, the most talented artists and sculptors had created a beautifully carved temple out of the living rock.
But the portuguese came to India in the 1500s and they were extremely interested in this area because of the access to sea lanes. They rapidly built up a formidable presence along the western coast and established a string of forts from Diu right down to Mumbai and were the rulers of the sea. They took over the sea shore lands as there wasnt anyone to oppose them.
Along with the conquisadors came the priests who were licking their chops at getting so many heathens to convert to the word of the lord, and they went around converting all the villagers they could find. As the Portuguese military hold tightened, they could use harsher and harsher measures to get converts. One of these was was to deface local temples and use them as churches. As we can see here - there is a bas relief of Shiva which had been carved down to a cross. They built a monastery on top of the temple, whose ruins can still be seen today.
As an article in the Hindu notes -
"The Mandapeshwar caves perhaps have the most tumultuous history of all the Mumbai caves, or so it would seem from the scars the walls still bear. A Hindu temple, it was targeted by the Portuguese, who asserted their religious beliefs over it by literally building a monastery and a church dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception on top of the cave temple. Fr. Porto founded the monastery and church in 1544.
A visitor in 1804 noted: “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.”
"In the 18th century the church was desecrated after the Battle of Bassein in which the Marathas defeated the Portuguese. They uncovered and worshipped the rock-cut sculptures again, but towards the end of the 18th century the British defeated the Marathas and the caves once again functioned as a place of Christian worship. After the end of colonial rule the church fell into disrepair and the caves gradually reverted to the worship of Siva. The church, including its roof, has been destroyed, but older local residents recall playing among the aisles and the nave of the church when they were children."
I spoke to various friends living in Borivli, who either had no idea about the existence of the place, or if they did - then had not been there - or if they had been there, were not sensible about the importance of the place.
In Europe, every small thing is celebrated as a Unesco world heritage site - an olive plantation, some obscure town and watchtower, some small road, anything.
This is a national treasure, and even the locals dont know anything about it, and care even less. So weird.
The church of Our Lady of immaculate conception - which must be an offshoot of the same church which was built on top of this ancient temple - was full for Sunday mass, and I couldnt help but notice the difference in the fortunes of this temple and that church.
I wouldnt want it to be locked up behind ASI fences and rendered inaccessible, but definitely we should nurture and protect this place and make more people aware of this.
Mumbai has a great history, and hopefully we will protect and enjoy it in the future as well.