Bombay…or as we know it now, Mumbai is as much a city of contrasts as it is a city of dreams. A city housing those where who born and bred here to those who’ve made it their home now and can never imagine themselves anywhere else. A mix of all cultures and communities giving it a cuisine and taste of it’s own. A city where white collared professionals rub shoulders with dabbawalas on the local trains. Swanky and shiny cars jostle with autorickshaws on the roads, and heritage buildings cling on for space and relevance amid the vast expanding sea of modern skyscrapers.And while there is no dearth of places here that strongly reinforce the many ironies quintessential to the city, there’s one in particular that elicits a kind of rustic, spiritual calm as it does so. We’re talking about the Bangagna Tank, a little piece of history and culture ensconced by a string of high-rise luxury apartments, in Mumbai’s exclusive Malabar Hill area. Not unknown to me but this time, I discovered it with a whole new perspective with Khaki Tours, who tell us the untold stories of Mumbai. Bharat the host, amazed with little trinkets and jewels of this city and his love could be felt in his aura, keeping us both glued and curious to what was coming next.
The oldest living living areas of the city that never sleeps, and often called the mini-Benaras of Mumbai, this freshwater tank, along with the neighboring Walkeshwar temple, was built in AD 1127 by Lakshman Prabhu, a Goud Saraswat Brahmin minister in the court of Silhara dynasty of Thane. An ancient place has the habit of collecting stories, myths & legends around it.
How can Banganga be without stories then? Legend is that when Ram and Lakshman were on their way to find Sita, they stopped here at the ashram of Rishi Gautam. To quench their thirst, Rama shot an arrow on the earth releasing Bhogawati or the underground Ganga. To perform his daily Puja Lakshman used to go every day to Kashi to fetch Shivalinga that Ram used to worship for his daily Puja. One day Lakshman did not return in time and Ram using the sand available here created a Linga and worshiped it.
The Shivalinga came to be known as Valu-ka-Ishwar meaning God made of Sand and the word over a period of time got distorted to Walkeshwar. The Walkeshwar temple still stands on the eastern edge of the Banganga Lake and lends its name to this area. Over a period of time, other temples came up. And this place gained the status of a Teerthakshetra or a place of pilgrimage.
Centuries since it was first built, Banganga and its vicinity — with its unique sights, sounds and aromas — still harken back to a simpler, quieter time and remains a great spot to escape the city’s usual cacophony. As you make your way down one of the many narrow alleys branching out from the main road and leading to the tank, you are
surrounded by a motley crew of temples and old houses bathed in vibrant hues of red, yellow, orange, pink and other colors. Old wizened women perched comfortably, almost permanently outside their houses to kids running around as playful and eager monkeys, who might have been residents here at some time.
The walls on either side of the alley are in different states of disrepair, but still look quite alluring, thanks to the colorful murals that adorn them, depicting scenes from mythology, history and folklore. The peeling wood columns and beams badly in state of repair now only seen in our Neo night clubs and lounges where it is much
admired. Most common being the Socials chain. Due to its proximity to the shore, the air here is humid and thick with the smell of the sea, but often you catch a hint of scents emanating from incense sticks and flowers, or those of food being cooked from residential kitchens. Most of the property here, including the Banganga tank and the Walkeshwar temple, belongs to the Goud Saraswat Temple Trust.
In fact, after the Portuguese destroyed the temple in the 16th century, it was rebuilt from a generous donation made by businessman and philanthropist Rama Kamath, also from the same community. Many Goud Saraswat Brahmin families still reside within the temple complex.The surroundings of the tank are relatively free of crowds, save for a smattering of people on the steps performing religious rituals or simply relaxing. The atmosphere is abuzz with the sounds of aarti, religious chants, the ringing of temple bells and the quacking of ducks,
which far outnumber the people you find here. Mostly seen lounging by the water or wading in the tank, they seem to be in a Zen-like state, as if they too have been touched by the peace and calm of the place. As you sit on the steps and watch the activities unfold in front of you, you find yourself far removed from the realities of this city that never sleeps. The most unique and disarming spot I found here was is the Dashnami Goswami Akhada, or the Banganga Goswami cemetery, as it is more popularly known. This is no ordinary cemetery where all and sundry are cremated (as is the case with all Hindu deaths), but this is a special area reserved for those who have taken the vows of Sanyas (renunciation) – Sanyasis as we know them. Of course, the more popular Sanyasis are those who are the pontiffs of the various mutts in India, but there are others who have lived the life of normal householders, but have taken the path of renunciation later in life. Where one would expect fear or dread to envelope the air, you are surprised by the inherent calmness and still of the sanctified spot. A quaint sweet workshop makes it presence known by its fragrance where Ghevar and Laddoos were being prepared with utmost patience and skill by the masters of the art, while the owner sweetly pitched his wares by nudging us to taste them. The dhobhi ghat filled with rows and rows of clothes drying spoke of an era gone by where huge Victorian style bathtubs lined the ares and men continued their daily chores of washing and drying in the windy afternoon.
A smattering of snack shops dotted the premises as people continued their normal lives in a world that seemed almost surreal and alien to those of us who’ve grown up in much more synthetic and modern environments. An interesting afternoon which has opened up the curious cat in me leaving me yearning for more stories and will definitely find me in the Khaki Tours list with Khaki Wallah filling up my hungry mind with fodder of Bombay’s rich culture and secrets that it hides bravely in it’s folds, open only to those
who are willing to caress and love this amazing place for what it was, how it has evolved while still maintaining the backbone as it keeps embracing and welcoming all those who’s hearts find their way here. As for me, I have a Bombaywala Dil Mumbai meri jaan.
Getting there: The closest railway station to Banganga is Charni Road (about 3-5 km away) from where you can easily find a taxi or a bus.
Best time to visit: The calming beauty of Banganga is best enjoyed during the early hours of morning or evening when the sun isn’t too harsh and a gentle breeze keeps the surroundings cool.
Do catch up with Khaki Tours: +91 88281 00111, http://www.khakitours.com, or visit them on Khaki Tours on Facebook and catch all their up comings walks and more.