The Shelter of Caves, Part 15


BY: SUN STAFF - 12.5 2017

Jogeshwari Cave 

A study of famous caves in ancient Bharat.

Jogeshwari Cave

Jogeshwari Cave, beneath the slum at Pratap Nagar in Mumbai, is the abode of a 1,500-year-old murti of the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. While neglect has overtaken this shrine in recent years, there is now renewed interest in protecting it. In 2007, the temple came to light thanks to an article by Samir Patel, who described the state decline Sri Jogeshwari Cave was experiencing.

The Jogeshwari Caves are among the earliest Hindu and Buddhist cave temples, dating back to 520 to 550 A.D. According to historian and scholar Walter Spink, based on the length of the cave, Jogeshwari is the earliest major Hindu cave temple of its size in India.

"From an airplane approaching the airport in Mumbai (the mega-city once called Bombay), a massive slum spreads below like a sea of rusted metal whipped up by a steady, salty wind. But from a speeding car on the city's new highways, the slums where 60 percent of the city's 18 million people live often aren't visible. And that's why Prabhu, my taxi driver, is asking for directions for a third time. We're looking for Jogeshwari Cave, a great Hindu monument that now lies within, and beneath, a dense slum community in northwest Mumbai.

Prabhu and I, along with Shri Manish, from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), turn off the Western Express Highway and onto progressively smaller roads until we reach a dirt track into a dense neighborhood called Pratap Nagar. Prabhu needs to use the horn a lot -- as an "excuse me" -- to clear the road of bicycles, beggars, and schoolchildren in tidy uniforms and knee socks.

The tight proximity of shops and homes can be seen from the cave's back. The buildings may be ramshackle, improvised, and illegal, but they're sturdy, with multiple floors. Bollywood music pumps out of vendors' stalls. Blue jeans hang on clotheslines. The smell of street food and burnt cooking oil tickles my nose. Manish leans forward to guide Prabhu and we stop in front of a narrow path, muddy with wastewater, that descends between rising rock walls to a dark doorway.

The caves are accessed by way of a long flight of stairs that lead into the main hall of this cavernous space. The cave has many pillars and a Shiva-lingam installed at the end. Sri Ganesh is joined by deities of Dattatreya and Hanuma, along with two dvarpalakas. There is also a murti and footprints of goddess Jogeshwari (Yogeshwari), whom the area is named after. She is worshipped as Kuladevi by some Gujarati Brahmins.

Jogeshwari Cave entrance

Jogeshwari was created some 1,500 years ago as a rock-cut shrine to Lord Shiva. In its scale, the cave complex rivals several UNESCO World Heritage sites nearby, including the spectacular cave temples of Ajanta, Elephanta, and Ellora. In its design and ornamentation, Jogeshwari is transitional, with features reminiscent of older Buddhist caves and Vedic murtis less refined than those that would appear later.

"It connects the greatest Buddhist monument [Ajanta] with what many would say is the greatest Hindu monument [Elephanta]," says Walter Spink, an art historian at the University of Michigan who has studied Indian cave temples for decades.

Jogeshwari's archaeological and art history importance is matched only by its advanced state of neglect. Until recently, it was filled with garbage and squatters, and now the slum above closes in tighter and sewage leaks down the walls. Overlooked by scholars, neglected by the ASI, and forgotten by the people of Mumbai, Jogeshwari languishes while its progeny, the spectacular cave on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor, has become one of the city's most visited and treasured tourist destinations.

The "heavy colossi" guarding Jogeshwari