GODDESS OF THE CITY OF DREAMS
WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
I love the name “Bombay”. Each time I look at old black and white photographs of the city – the Oval Maidan, Victoria Terminus, and Churchgate – I register them as photos of landmarks in Bombay. It’s the way I wish the city was still known. Perhaps I’m not the only one resistant to the change. The Mumbai airport code is still “BOM”.
I recently went looking for the lady behind this city’s current name. Jewellery shopping and the lure of street food had drawn me to this vicinity several times before, but I never knew the Goddess was hidden away in a nook off the bustle of Zaveri Bazar. I walked past several jewellery stores, my family’s favourite sweet shop, asked for directions over and over, weaving through lanes and dodging market vendors, until I finally found her – the Goddess Mumbadevi.
The neighbourhood is typical of space-starved, cheek-by-jowl, chock-a-block Mumbai. Sequestered between glitzy showrooms selling gold and silver, blink and you’d miss the entrance to ancient Hindu temple, dedicated to the Goddess Mumba, a local incarnation of the Devi (Mother Goddess). You must keep an eye out for the flower and sweet vendors, the only giveaways to her location, as they entreat you to buy an offering on your way to visit the Goddess. You may also see the security detail; a grim reminder of the bomb-blasts at Zaveri Bazar in 2011.
For many migrants to Mumbai, a visit to the temple marks an auspicious beginning to their road to prosperity in this, the city of dreams.
Though relatively “modern” (the temple was rebuilt in the 18th century) architecturally, the temple looks like any other historic, Hindu place of worship. The small entrance passage is a portal to a Hanuman temple, a Shiv Lingam and two Devi temples all ensconced in one little compound. Pujaris, or priests, in saffron robes move around as devotees with a platefuls of offerings progress in an organized queue to meet Goddess Mumbadevi.
Since ancient times, the sons of the soil, the agris (salt-collectors) and kolis (fisherfolk), aboriginal to the seven islands have offered prayers to Goddess Mumbadevi along with the Dravidians. Now their voices are joined by the faithful from other cities, villages and communities who come to the city to make it their home. For many migrants to Mumbai, a visit to the temple marks an auspicious beginning to their road to prosperity in this, the city of dreams.
Goddess Mumbadevi, dressed in bright colours, wears a silver crown, a Maharashtrian nose-stud, a golden necklace. Before her, is the statue of a tiger, her carrier. To her left is a stone idol of Goddess Annapurna seated on a peacock. The altar is strewn in sacred marigolds. The story seems to run through your mind. This was the eight-armed goddess that Brahma pulled out of himself to vanquish the evil Mumbaraka.
I retreat back into the bustle that is Zaveri Bazar, still in awe of Mumbadevi. Yet, nothing will change that fact, that to me, this city will always be Bombay.
In 1995, the capital of Maharashtra was officially renamed Mumbai, which comes from a mix of Mumba (after the goddess) and ai (Marathi for mother). The Mumba Devi Temple was first built in Bori Bunder in 1675. The temple was destroyed and reconstructed at Zaveri Bazar, Bhuleshwar in 1737.
Mumba Devi Temple, 9, Mumba Devi Marg, Mumbadevi Area, Bhuleshwar, Mumbai 400 002