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Suburban Caves

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The Mumbai Metropolitan Region, despite its modernity, has been the location of important settlements going back to the Buddhist period. Some o these earlier settlement patterns have integrated seamlessly with the city over a period of time — while others have remained secluded and forgotten within the metropolitan environment. Many archaeological sites in the city, including ancient caves and medieval and colonial forts, have no physical strategies for their integration with the urban environments. Many of these sites, while physically cordoned off, have been encroached, while others are in a state of dire physical and environmental degradation. This project is conceived to investigate the possibilities of integrating these sites back within the urban fabric and the public imagination at large. Though some of these sites have been appropriated by nearby communities — such as Worli Fort, which is used as a gymnasium, or the Jogeshwari Caves, which is used as a temple — there has been no conscious attempt to integrate these sites within the community or the city at large, leading to their decay.

The project proposal takes up the case of three historical caves located within the city of Mumbai, which while being located in similar topographical conditions along sloped or heavily contoured sites, exhibit starkly different relationships with their surrounding urban environment and communities.

Mahakali Caves, Andheri
These Buddhist caves are located off the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli link Road and are surrounded by the city on one side and the Aarey Milk Colony which is a part of the Borivali National Park, on the other side. Though there is a bus depot in its vicinity, accessing the site becomes inconvenient due to an undefined entry, making these caves more secluded from the immediate context and the City. The extent of the caves and its fairground are clearly demarcated by a fence that circumscribes the entire site. On one edge the site is surrounded by slums and on the other edge the only access road is undefined with construction debris scattered along it. Presently, there is evidence of sparse usage of the caves by the local community for informal recreation, and the fairground has actively assumed a playground condition for the neighbouring slum children. Periodically the caves are visited by tourists and outsiders.

Jogeshwari Caves
This site has been recorded as the earliest Hindu cave temple in India (dating back to 520-550 AD. and in terms of total length the largest) . The caves are located off the Western Express Highway at Jogeshwari. In its present state it been it is surrounded by settlements on all sides located at 2 metres from the periphery. It is actively used as a temple precinct by the local community. They also use it as a part of their daily activity as a play space for children and a reading and resting space for the locals. The environmental state of these caves is precarious as the surrounding storm water and sewage find their way to the caves. Also there is a lot of garbage and construction debris in and around the caves.

Mandapeshwar Caves, Borivali
These caves are recorded as built around the same time as the jogeshwari caves and contained the largest Mandapa and a prominent Garbagriha. These caves were witness to a series of invasions by different rulers. They were converted into a church by the Portuguese. The church and its graveyard form one of the edges of the cave precincts. There are ruins of an old structure over the caves.The caves also have in their proximity other educational institutions such as St. Francis D’Assisi High School and Junior College, Technical Institute, Engineering College, School of Interior Design and Decoration. There are encroachments on the other side of the Borivali-Dahisar road. They have an open space towards the road which is actively used as a playground and a congregation space by the surrounding community. The project would thus document the historical evolution of the caves as well as the present condition of the caves with emphasis towards their structural and environmental conditions. The study will also focus towards understanding the nature of relationship, physical and social, of these precincts located within the city and the surrounding communities and their impact on these historic/archeological sites. The study would then propose ways of integrating these caves back within the city.


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