An ancient and forgotten cave lies in the heart of the city at the junction of the Western Express Highway and the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), in the middle of the Prabhat Nagar area. This is one of the oldest known Hindu caves and the second largest cave after Kailas in Ellora.
Most of the early rock-cut temples and rock-art in India were created by Buddhist monks. These monks were missionaries of the revolutionary message of the Buddha and the best places to spread the new message were the nodes of trade routes. During ancient times, the hills around Mumbai were at the juncture of the sea-trade routes. Maharashtra and many of its hills in the Western Ghats fit their purpose well.
Building caves of Basalt rocks reached their peak under the Buddhist Vakataka Dynasty in the 5th Century AD with caves like Ajanta, which are a group of 30 gloriously carved and painted shrines in a gorge located more than 300 kilometres east of Mumbai. However, it was not until the 6th Century that Hindus in the region began to adopt the practice as well.
After the death of the Vakataka king Harisena, who was the patron for much of Ajanta, feudal rivalries overwhelmed the dynasty and it is believed that many of the artisans from Ajanta were looking for better work. Some may have traveled west to the Hindu Kalacuri kingdom and began working on the great Hindu cave temples – first at Jogeshwari and then at Elephanta.
Under the early Kalacuri Dynasty, shrines to Shiva quickly achieved the scale and artistry of their Buddhist predecessors. Compared to other impressive Hindu caves – Elephanta, and a similar cave called the Dhumar Lena (one of 35 caves and temples at the monumental complex at Ellora, near Ajanta) – Jogeshwari is said to be the father or the grandfather of them all.
The caves can be accessed through a long flight of stairs that lead into the main hall of this cavernous space. It has many pillars leading up to a Lingam at the end, with idols of Dattatreya, Hanuman, and Ganesh lining the walls. Relics of two doormen are also present at the caves. Interestingly, the cave has a murti (idol) and footprints of the goddess Jogeshwari (Yogeshwari), which is how the area came to be called Jogeshwari. The goddess is the Kuladevi (family deity) for some Marathi folk, and is also worshipped by a few migrant groups from Gujarat.