These caves date from 1st century BCE to 9th century CE. In total in the basalt there have been carved 109 caves. Unlike the elegant splendor of Elephanta Caves nearby, the earlier cells are spartan and unadorned. Each cave has a stone plinth for a bed. A congregation hall with huge stone pillars contains the stupa, a Buddhist shrine. Farther up the hill are the remains of an ancient water system, canals and cisterns that collected and channeled the rainwater into huge tanks. Once the caves became permanent monasteries, they began to be carved out of the rock with intricate reliefs of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas carved into the walls. Kanheri had become an important Buddhist settlement on the Konkan coast by the 3rd century A.D.
Most of the caves are the Buddhist viharas meant for living, study, and meditation. The larger caves were chaityas, or halls for congregational worship, are lined with intricately carved Buddhist sculptures,reliefs and pillars, and contain rock-cut stupas for congregational worship. The Avalokiteshwara is the most distinctive figure. The large number of viharas obviously prove a well-organized existence of Buddhist monks' establishment, which was also connected with many trade centers such as the ports of Sopara, Kalyan, Nasik, Paithan and Ujjain. Kanheri was a University center by the time the area was under the rule of the Maurayan and Kushan empires. In the late 10th century, the Buddhist teacher Atisha (980-1054) came to the Krishnagiri Vihara to study Buddhist meditation under Rahulagupta.
Rock cut stair leading to Kanheri
Spartan plinth beds
A Brāhmī stone inscription at Kanheri
Inscriptions at Kanheri
Nearly 51 legible inscriptions and 26 epigraphs are found at Kanheri, which include the inscriptions in Brahmi, Devanagari and 3 Pahlavi epigraphs found in Cave 90.One of the significant inscriptions mentions about the marriage of Satavahana ruler Vashishtiputra Satakarni with the daughter ofRudradaman
Kanheri Caves served as a centre of Buddhism in Western India during ancient times
Magnificent stupa in major chaitya
A depiction of a framed male alongside the entrance to one of the caves.