This beautiful lithograph by a British painter Robert Pouget takes us back to the 19th century Mumbai. The location is Mont Possier and the church at the spot. Where did this monument vanish? Well we have to go to Borivali West IC Colony to find our answers. Mont Possier or Montpezir was originally a Shaivaite rock cut cave site. Today the caves are known as Mandapeshwar Gumfa. The history of this monument is that of a political tussle and cultural conflict. Let us time travel from the sixth century CE to 20th century India to know more about this fascinating cave
What we first see is a hall measuring 51 feet by 21 feet with four pillars in front … More richly ornamented columns are perhaps more recent … at the end small room marked by pillars and pilasters.
On the left hand side there is another small cave with a Chaitya like hall. The interesting thing about these columns is they do not bear any weight at all. Since the cave is rock cut, columns serve an aesthetic purpose
The cross here in the image about opens a chapter from the tumultuous past of Mandapeshwar caves. In the 16th century, the Portuguese captured Kanheri and Mandapeshwar and established their religious order. Mandapeshwar idols were damaged, destroyed and covered in plaster only to be found a few centuries later. A church was established here. In the top right corner of the square around the cross one can still see a sculpture. Something like a flying Gandharva.
Before we enter the main shrine we see this lion, largely destroyed but paws visible. People still worship lord Shiva in the cave and during my visit I saw many devotees meditating or singing bhajans.
Well as far as damaging the heritage is concerned … the Portuguese did their bit and now the current devotees are adding load to old structures, pouring oil and shendoor contributing to the damage.
Portuguese tried to deface the deity in vain …There was a Lakulisha sculpture here. The Portuguese tried to put a crude cross over Lakulisha. We can see lotus base held by naga attendants and a few more sculptures in the image above and the black mark of oil poured. I hope soon the caves are restored to their glory.
There are beautifully carved pilasters with interesting motifs. Though one has to examine carefully in the dark.
The Natesha is accompnied by Bramha, Ganesha, perhaps Indra and Gandharvas. In terms of aesthetics, the sculpture is similar to Elephanta and Jogeshwari caves.
The nataraja sculpture was inside the left chamber and was sealed by a wall at the dotted line. This wall was brought down sometime in 1920s. Later after some legal skirmishes the cave was handed to ASI from the church control.
Many of the beautifully carved sculptures are getting damaged due to encroachments as well as natural degeneration. The rock in these areas is very delicate. Experts feel that carving into such rock itself is a mammon task that demands exceptional skills. After prolonged battle in courts, finally the sculptures will be handed completely to ASI and slums cleared will help these important monuments breathe.
P Antonio De Porto founded monastic establishment … King Don John III supported this effort … Church built above the caves …dedicated to Notre Dame de la Misericorde … 18th century Marathas restored the temple after defeating the Portuguese. The dilapidated remains of the church and monastery can be seen on the top of the cave. In the next blog we will explore another hidden gem … The Jogeshwari cave.