WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Families and groups of saffron-clad tapsis immersed flowers and diyas into the river. Priests recited rhythmic mantras while men bathed in the holy water. The light from the floating diyas grew sharper as the sun set over the river, and suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. The twilight, fragrance of incense sticks and people offering prayers at the holy river made it look supremely divine.
Spending an evening at Ram Kund in Nashik was one-of-a-kind experience for me of the fast-paced metro life. But this kind of faith and calm could never be witnessed in the bustling city of Mumbai. Could it?
Metropolitan cities are busy. They wake up to the noise of traffic and sleep to the lullaby of bikers zooming past. They don’t move, they run. They never sleep. And they certainly never stop. Mumbai is the paragon of a metropolitan city. But the first church in Mumbai dates back centuries, and the Prabhadevi Temple just celebrated its centenary year. It is indeed hard to say Mumbai is – or was – any less devotional than Nashik.
But can I feel in Mumbai the divine calm I did at Nashik? I started my spiritual sojourn closer to home.
Brimming with devotees through the religious month of Shravan, the Babulnath Temple is a few metres above sea level, as if the lord were watching us from above.
No boundary walls, no security scanners and no frisking: that was a visit to Siddhivinayak Temple 15 years ago. But today you need to go through them, yet the long queues are no deterrent to seeking the blessings of Bappa. Popular for fulfilling wishes, Siddhivinayak shot to fame almost overnight. Modak shops surround the temple, and devotees whisper their wishes into the ears of Lord Ganesha’s carrier, the mouse made out of silver. A small prasad of holy water and sweet treats on the way out for the journey hereon to be sweet and fulfilling.
I drove further south along the sea and reached Mahalaxmi temple. Set amidst the houses of Bihari community in Mumbai, Mahalaxmi temple’s besan ladoos drew me to it as a child. Today I walked to the steps of the temple, soaking in the smell of malai pedhas and barfis, and resisting the sellers calling out to me. I made the 20-step climb only to meet security scanners and women waiting to check my bag yet again. But the lotus sellers and numerous flower stalls with offerings were reminiscent of the past. I juggled my way through the barricade maze and attained the blessings of Goddess Mahalaxmi – the Goddess of Wealth. A usual custom is to take a round of the shrine, and I was amazed to still find the spot at the back of the temple where people stuck one rupee coins onto it. It was a belief that only the lucky ones’ coins would stay. I was tempted.
Struggling through the traffic past Kemp’s Corner, I reached the oldest Jain temple in Walkeshwar. But the first thing that struck me about this age-old derasar was the long list of instructions chalked out on a blackboard at the entrance. With all the do’s and don’ts listed, it was apparent that the architecture of this temple invited many foreigners too. Built by a wealth Jain businessman named Babu Amichand, this temple has intricate carvings and marble sculptures on pillars that are no less beautiful than the likes of Rajasthan’s Dilwara Jain temples in Mount Abu. Jain temples don’t offer prasad but the small snack store that stocks Jain snacks like kachori, khakra and fried puris makes up for this.
Before I descended the hill and met the sea again, I went to the last deity on my list – the abode of Lord Shiva. Brimming with devotees through the religious month of Shravan, the Babulnath Temple is a few metres above sea level, as if the lord were watching us from above. If it weren’t for the lift, it would be a mini pilgrimage in itself to climb up the wide stone steps. The black and white mosaic tiles are home to the Shivlingam that is almost always covered in milk, water and flowers offered by the devotees. The white marble temple looks no different from a palace.
My pilgrimage through the temples of South Mumbai was nothing compared to Ram Kund, but my soul felt equally satisfied and calm.
Siddhivinayak Temple, SK Bole Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai 400 028
Mahalaxmi Temple, Breach Candy, Mumbai 400 026
Babulnath Temple, 16, Babulnath Road, Near Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai 400 007