Kanheri Caves located in Mumbai represent a fine specimen of medieval India's Rockcut architecture. Its history of spans from as late as 11 century AD to as early as 3rd century BC, exited during the functional period of the Elephanta Caves
The architectural attractions are broadly classified as follow.
Chaityas: A Chaitya is a Buddhist shrine. Typically it is a long hall with an arched shaped (barrel vaulted) ceiling. Two rows of pillars further divide the hall into a central nave and two narrow aisles on either sides of the nave in its longer axis.
Almost at the inner extreme of the hall is a stupa with a semispherical top, the object of worship in the Chaitya. In Kanheri you can visit many Chaitya halls - some completed, some abandoned during various stages of its excavation. The cathedral shrine in Kanheri is one of the largest such caves made in ancient India. In fact it is the second largest cave Chaitya in India, the largest being the Chaitya of Karla Caves near Pune.
Viharas: These are monasteries or residence of monks. The largest number of caves in Kanheri belongs to this group. Now that throws some light of the monastery population once dwelled in Kanheri.
Viharas are typically compact caves more human in scale. Many of them follow a pattern where multiple chambers are attached to a large central room that has a door to the porch.
Sculptures and Carvings : Kanheri has some of the tallest images of Buddha in India. The caves in Kanheri are less ornate in comparison with other popular sites like Ajanta , Ellora Caves or Elephanta Caves .
Many of the caves have Budhists themes carved on the wall and facade. For the archeologists Kanheri is a goldmine as its inscriptions - numerous in numbers - give a good insight into Kanheri's past in particular and the history of Buddhism in India in general.
Stupas: These are domical pillars usually attached as the focus point in a shrine. Stupas are carved in situ within the shrine. But some stupas are created out of structural work, especially the one used to mark the burial place. Kanheri as a Buddhist site has the rare distinction of having a large burial ground.
The burial place is located almost at the top plateau of the hill. There are many structural stupas in this area that is erected on the burial of monks of repute.
Cisterns and Waterworks : Topically a cistern is located in the courtyard right next to the entrance of a cave. They served as water storage tanks for the daily use of the residents.
On the rocky surface on the hill one can see the groves and chancel networks that direct rainwater to the cisterns. What is thus collected during the monsoon season could be preserved in the cistern for the summer.
There are even some large open ponds excavated on the surface of the rock. Probably these served as community utility for bathing and washing cloths. Right beneath, at the cleft of two hilly formations is the remains of a dam. Here too the water stored was for community usage and for agriculture.
Kanheri has a sophisticated sanitary and drainage system.
Toilets are connected with the drainage channels that eventually end in a sewage tank. One can still see the remains of the toilets and sanitary system in Kanheri.
Stairs, terraces and footpaths: All of it is carved out on the surface of this hard volcanic rock. Some of the long stairways to the upper portions of the hill are in superbly preserved condition. The network of paths connects the courts of the caves. The stairs give access to the upper layer of caves in the multi terraced hill of Kanheri.
See also How to reach Kanheri Caves and Sanjay Gandhi National Park