Tucked away in a corner of Mumbai is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements – the ancient Banganga tank area at the tony Malabar Hill. Dotted with temples, ghats, monasteries and samadhis of seers, Banganga has a sense of timelessness nestled in the chaos of Mumbai.
While Malabar Hill is home to many billionaire clans, including the Birlas and the Ambanis, the Banganga Tank area is in sharp contrast to the city’s glamour and glitz.
With over a hundred historic temples besides shrines and ghats, where people perform the rituals of life and death, Banganga is a little Varanasi tucked away in a corner of the fast-paced megalopolis.
Devotees throng the ghats on all the festivals and also perform shradh (making offerings to dead ancestors) and tonsure ceremonies. Devotees also take a walk around the tank on foot (parikrama), which is said to purify the soul and body.
The local priests have been associated with the temples and shrines around Banganga for many generations.
Lakshman Prabhu, a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin and a minister in the court of the Silhara dynasty (kings of Thane who ruled from the 9th to 13 centuries) constructed the Banganga tank and the adjacent Walkeshwar (also Valukeshwar) temple in 1127. The tank is 135 metres long and 10 metres deep and continues to provide fresh water. The Gaud Saraswat Brahmin Temple Trust owns and manages the tank and temple to this day.
The two structures were destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century when they gained control of Mumbai. Rama Kamat, a philanthropist and businessman, paid for the reconstruction of the Walkeshwar temple in 1715.
The Legends of Banganga
The origin of Banganga, the ancient talav or water tank, can be traced back to the Treta Yuga or Ramayana period. Legend has it that when Lord Rama and his brother Lord Lakshmana were searching for Goddess Sita after her abduction, Rama felt thirsty and couldn’t find sweet water to drink near the seashore. To quench his thirst, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the ground and sweet water sprang up from the spot.
The water body thus formed was named the Banganga.
The word ‘Baan’ means arrow and ‘Ganga’ refers to the mighty river Ganges. A pole in the middle of the tank today marks the spot where Rama's arrow pierced the earth.
Banganga is considered a subsidiary of the River Ganga though the two are thousands of miles apart from each other. Banganga’s holy water is believed to have healing powers.
The legend behind the Walkeshwar temple is also related to Lord Rama. While resting in what is now the Banganga area, Lord Rama was advised to worship Lord Shiva. He asked Lakshmana to get a Shiva lingam or the God’s idol.
After waiting for his brother for a long time, Lord Rama is said to have made a Shiva lingam of sand to offer his prayers.
That Shiva lingam made by Lord Rama is worshipped to this day at the Walkeshwar temple. The temple’s name is derived from Valuka Ishwar, which literally translates to sand god.
One of the important temples in Banganga is that of Lord Parshuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is believed to have created the Konkan coast and is the most worshipped god in the Konkan region.
The Ganpati temple in Banganga, with a marble idol of Lord Ganesha, blends elements of architecture from both Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Banganga Tank has been declared a Grade-I heritage structure by the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee because of its historical importance and structural changes are not permitted. Many of the temples and structures around the tank have been given Grade-II A heritage status, preventing redevelopment.
(The picture featured at the top of this page has been sourced from Wikimedia Commons)