Monday, January 4, 2016

The Banganga Heritage Photowalk

This was a first time I went for a heritage photowalk in my own city , Mumbai.

The Banganga Heritage Photowalk.  On the first Sunday of 2016.

This is in a part of the city  almost at the opposite end in a southern direction. The Malabar Hill area descends  eastwards facing Marine Drive across the bay and westwards facing the open sea.  Banganga  is on the westward side, with the extreme southern end of Malabar Hill being the Raj Bhavan Campus or the Governor's Residence.

Years earlier , some of my  family elders had resided in this area, which basically had government houses .   Banganga then , was a little known, less visited calm oasis , steeped in tradition, in the middle of a suburb , which was later to become one of the richest , most modern suburbs of Mumbai. Today, Banganga has almost been encroached on by private  high rise concrete monstrosities all around, as it continues to stubbornly hold on to its older glory.

Legend has it that Lord Ram , needing potable water  en route to Sri Lanka to rescue Seeta, shot an arrow into the land, and a stream of water, considered to be a part of the Ganga , almost 1000 kms away shot up .  Ban means arrow, and so this source of water  was given the name Banganga.  The Banganga tank, as it exists today, contains sweet water despite being right next to the Arabian Sea.   There is also an ancient Walkeshwar Temple ( dedicated to Shiva)  at Banganga, which gets its name from a Shivling being constructed by Lord Ram , out of sand or WaaLoo (in marathi) , on realizing that Laxman was taking his time getting one from Varanasi.

The Banganga tank was first constructed in the 12th century AD by some Silhara Dynasty kings. The Portuguese who occupied Mumbai at one point destroyed these temples , and these were restored in 1715 , thanks to a rich philanthropist named Rama Kamath.  The tank, along with the Walkeshwar Temple and the Parasuram temple, is owned by the 'Goud Saraswat Temple Trust' who owns most of the properties in the complex.

This write up is not about the specific temples and the Gods.  It is about some original inhabitants learning to cope and co-exist with what passes for progress and development in Mumbai.  It is also about a complete lack of aesthetics  by folks who are concerned solely about a fancy roof over their head.  And it is also about old traditional folks, braving it all, and relentlessly trying to make a life in the midst of it all.  

 We start of on our photowalk through the crowded gullys of Walkeshwar. In front of us , the Khanderai  Mandir, dedicated to Lord Khandoba (Shiva) of Jejuri.

 Our leader Bharat Gothoskar, who conducted the walk  Above him, an indication, of the sign of our times.  Half broken overhangs bearing half broken names.

 Just outside the Khandoba Mandir , a traditional devotee lady ..

 One does not know if this is a recent addition, or a renovated temple, bravely nestled amidst  residential buildings and commercial entities.

Modern signs . So much urban  development, makes signboards of cross lanes necessary.  The ancient banyan tree stands by wordlessly  watching it all.

 These two deepstambh,  or light pillars remain, at the entrance to the Banganga Tank.  It has not stopped housing from being created adjacent to it, or random instructions being defaced on walls.

 A long view of a group of heritage walk folks gathered on the banks of the Banganga tank.

 The Walkeshwar Temple clicked from the opposite side of the Tank.  There are several temples around the tank, dedicated to various Gods , interspersed with all kinds of formal and informal housing. 

 A typical view  of old dilapidated housing. Some even housing photography studios.
 And ancient  pillar bravely stands facing cement encroachment behind it. 

 Narrow paths leading up and down the steps between closely constructed  buildings . Most of them ill maintained and greatly populated .

 With so many modern buildings spoiling a sky shot of these Deepstambhs,  I was delighted to get this one with a clear blue sky and NO buildings....

 A view of the Banganga Tank , and its environs. Ritual water purification has played a vital role in Hindu worship in India. 
Steps on all 4 sides lead down to the tank. The  water always looks green here, because devotees keep throwing organic waste like flowers, leaves, garlands and even hair(offered  for certain pujas) into the tank. Fish in the tank have been known to die because of this excess of impurity in the tank.

The inhabitants around the tank consist of older natives in their old houses, and folks who build and live in modern mulltistoreyed dwellings , all staying in close proximity. Here you can see some fishermen working on their nets.
Trees serve as great anchors for this work , and the painted Goddess on the adjoining wall , seen on left, probably gives her blessings.  

A close up of one such fishing net.   I wouldn't want to be a fish in the ocean where these guys are fishing. 

There are many such stone idols , some in vermillion , found along the  houses that border the tank. Many of these are discovered when some kind of restoration work starts, and some could be embedded earlier in walls, and might have come loose over the years. 

Old style, houses with Mangalore tiled sloping roofs to handle the monsoon rains, and those who came to stay here early on, now having to share it with expanding families, children growing up , but unable to find alternative housing, and every available place is taken up by clothes hung up for drying inside and outside the house. 

Two senior citizen ladies watching us , wondering what all the fuss is about, and watching the world go by.  The lady in pink seems to have just finished doing her hair.  

Looking out towards the west from Banganga , the open Arabian Sea and a rocky beach . 

At one time,  the temple spires dotted the skyline. And jelled well with the trees on the landscape.  Today trees  are disappearing , and huge matchbox towers are mushrooming in the name of modern development.  The Municipal light poles, defiantly add their own design and light. A study in contrasts for any urban planner. 

The Banganga complex and temples are owned and managed by the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) Trust.  An information board in their offices  describing the site.  Notice the decorative grill above and the door. You can tell the office is situated in an older building.

Ducks, all lined up by the tank.  Even they seem to hesitate about getting into the polluted water. 

This is how mindless rampant greedy development has spoilt the area.  It has been greed that has allowed the authorities to sanction multistoreyed structures next to the tank area, and spoiled the place permanently. 

Devotees at the Walkeshwar temple. 

The price of being a mindlessly developed city.
 Now the temples look out of place in the concrete jungle. It needs to be the other way around. 
The Banganga was there from centuries ago .  Luckily, the Deepstambh is still shaded by the old tree. 
The polluted tank, and the ducks swim in twos, treading with care.

When things get too crowded as they do in Mumbai, sometimes, even the various gods prefer to come and sit out in the open. Some have hailed these as memorial stones dedicated to warriors who  sacrificed their lives in the cause of the nation. One tends to believe that, given that there are names written on the walls behind the stones.

Ancient statues such as these , dating back to the Silhara Dynasty may be seen across the landscape at Banganga, along the periphery of the tank area .

Hindus of the Dashnam Goswami Sect, bury their dead, sitting upright in padmaasana posture. They have an area at the Banganga crematorium grounds, Shree Santosh Giri Dashnami Akhada,  dedicated for them. While males of this Shaivite sect are buried with tombstones having shivlings and nandi bull sculptures, females are buried and a pair of paduklas /footprints are carved  on the tombstone.   As above .
Goddess Shanta Durga , patron saint of GSB folks, has a temple dedicated to her on the premises of the the Banganga Tank.  Although this seems to be a fairly modern structure, the Banganga  area is dotted with temples to various deities like Balaji, Krishna,  Prashuram, Ganpati, etc .

What has the world come to when Lord Balaji Venkatesh mandir and its Deepstambh must be squeezed in from all sides by houses of various types connected  by wires crossing across the temple with complete disregard .... ?

A typical  photowalk path, as the group climbs up into another area.  There seems to be no planning in the construction of houses here. 

     The Jagannath Mahadev Mandir  is what one sees on the way down the steps to the Banganga Tank.  Further down would be the Venkatesh Balaji Mandir mentioned above.   This is one of the few Gujarati temples in Mumbai which have a Nagarkhana section, a chamber where temple musicians would play music at defined times. Sadly , today only the structures remain, as musicians do not find this lucrative enough .

Intriguing structures at the entrance to a temple, where several prayers are inscribed on boards inside.   The structure on the left pillar  begs identification. 

The perils of modernization. Besides the older temples, there now seem to be temples dedicated to money and individual luxury.

Somehow , some temples manage to find a way to maintain their green environs, open to the skies,  surrounded by hideous structures and Tata Sky dishes et al.
The Banganga Festival of Music is celebrated every year in February as a means of  highlighting the Banganga and the need to restore the  structures in a sensitive careful way.   The banners very clearly then get used as roof covers. Recycling at its best, and aesthetics be damned...

Older homes and structures have small temples and Tulsi Vrundavansin the small space available, and these are personal worship things.

Learning about the Banganga Crematorium.  
I have seem many crematoriums, and what is striking is the presence of many trees there, even in a completely concrete jungle outside. This is  some of our photo walk members walking through the area.

Tombstones of  those belonging to a Dashnam Goswami Sect , who bury their dead.  
A fairly well kept small Hanuman Idol . 

This is the Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple. 

Once an imposing structure, now scrunched between modern residential buildings 

A view from a distance . 

 Walkeshwar being a predominantly Gujarati locality , it is blessed with various food stuff shops, and mithai makers shops. Gheewar, a marwadi delicacy being prepared  in  a sweet shop in the area.

Sugar, Ghee, lots of milk and some /Besan /Maida, being stirred to a smooth liquid paste, where all the ingredients have completely lost their individuality.

This paste is dribbled little by little into deep cylinders containing almost boiling ghee filled to the top. The batter disintegrates and gravitates to the centre creating porous structures . 

Heavily laden with trans-fats, reeking with calories, very impressive looking, the Gheewar , is just like the buildings that today have sprung up all around the Banganga;   Everything is rich, sweet, impressive looking, and laden with prosperity.
Gheewar, The finished product, ready to be consumed.

And the Banganga  Tank remains, wondering where it was, what it has come to, and awaits the restoration plans that the Government has for it.....


  1. Hi! I was at the walk too, albeit in a different group. Yes, the temples look quite out of place but I felt at peace when I actually sat on the staircase leading to the tank. My only complaint was that the big group prevented me from hearing stories about the temples and restricted me from visiting some of them. Nonetheless, a fascinating insight into an urban legend and how urban development kills heritage.

  2. Hi! I was at the walk too, albeit in a different group. Yes, the temples look quite out of place but I felt at peace when I actually sat on the staircase leading to the tank. My only complaint was that the big group prevented me from hearing stories about the temples and restricted me from visiting some of them. Nonetheless, a fascinating insight into an urban legend and how urban development kills heritage.