What you see -
As your vehicle leaves the buzz of Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai behind and winds its way up the steep road into the rich greenery of Malabar Hill, there is a sudden change of scene and the air is distinctly cooler. It doesn’t feel like Bombay anymore. You leave your vehicle on the main road and walk down a tapering alley lined with small houses, stone shrines and crumbling archways; some of them centuries old. There is something really serene about the air there, and you’re wondering what it’s all about, when over the next wall you spot the tank, Banganga.
What you get –
They say eons ago as weary travelers walked across the dense jungles on the western side of the Sahyadri Mountains looking to quench their thirst one of them shot an arrow into the ground willing the very Ganges to erupt at that spot. The travelers included none other than Ram and Laxman in exile on a mission to Lanka, and the place where Ganges erupted is called Banganga.
Following the myth, the tank was built around the spring in the 13th Century by the Silhara Dynasty. It was at the same time that the Walkeshwar temple was built on the West face of the tank. Legend has it that originally Ram placed a Shivalingam of sand on the spot, and that is how Walkeshwar gets its name - Valuka Iswar, Sanskrit for idol made of sand. The Portuguese destroyed the tank in the late 12th century, but the spring and the myth remained. In 1715 a Mumbai businessman and philanthropist, Rama Kamath donated enough money to rebuild the talk and refurbish the temple.
On the east side of the tank is one of Mumbai’s oldest temples, the Venkateshwar Balaji Mandir, built in 1789 during the Peshwa rule. The temple with its wooden canopy needs urgent repair, but when you step into its hallowed precincts, the reverberations still envelop you with a sense of tranquility that the rest of Mumbai rarely allows. By the 1860s several other temples appeared on all sides of the tank, most of which still stand: the Shri Kashi Math of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, the Mahalakshmi Temple and several other small shrines.
While Bangana is quiet, languid and relatively empty on most days, on days of religious significance, full-moon (purnima) and new-moon (amavasya) days people throng to the tank for blessings, as the water is still considered as sacred as that as that of the Ganges. Once a year in January there is the 'Banganga Festival' of Music organized here, that brings artists from all over the country to perform on a floating stage that is erected specially for the occasion.
However, the sorry part of this ethereally beautiful tank is that it’s not well maintained by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and the element of filth does put you off momentarily. But you still fall in love with the place, with only a little remorse about the garbage lining the sides of the water.
Our verdict –
Banganga may be neglected by the BMC, but it is still an enigma whose touch transports you to an era where time seems to stand still. Do pay a visit when you want to escape the stifling materiality and chaos of the city.
By Divya Nadkarni