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Banganga: Discover India's ancient water basin
Mumbai is as much a city of contrasts as it is a city of dreams. a city where professionals with white collars compete with the dabbawalas on the local trains, flashy cars with auto rickshaws crowd the streets and listed buildings cling to the expanding sea of modern skyscrapers for space and relevance. And although there is no shortage here in places that greatly intensify the many ironies typical of the city, there is above all one that triggers a kind of rural, spiritual calm. We're talking about the Banganga Tank, a small piece of history and culture nestled in a series of luxury high-rise buildings in Mumbai's exclusive Malabar Hill area.
This fresh water tank, which is often called the Minibanaras of Mumbai, was built along with the neighboring Walkeshwar Temple in 1127 by Lakshman Prabhu, a Goud Saraswat Brahmin minister at the court of the Silhara Dynasty of Thane. The site has immense mythological importance among the Hindus: it is believed that when Lord Rama was on his way to Lanka, he stopped at this point to help Lord Shiva find his wife Sita, who was kidnapped by King Ravana had been. For this purpose he created a Shiva-Linga from sand, which was known as Valuka Ishwar (translated: sandstone in Sanskrit) and gave the temple its name. When Rama, thirsty and tired, asked his brother Lakshman for some water, he shot an arrow into the ground, which resulted in a stream of fresh water. It was believed that this water came from a tributary of Ganga and the place was consequently called Banganga (Baan means arrow in Hindi).
For centuries, Banganga and its surroundings - with their unique sights, sounds and smells - have still been transported back to a simpler, quieter time and remains a great place to escape the usual cacophony of the city. As you walk through one of the many narrow streets that branch off from the main road and lead to the tank, you are surrounded by a brightly colored cluster of temples and old houses bathed in vivid colors of red, yellow, orange, pink, and other colors .
The walls on either side of the alley are in various disrepair but still look very enticing thanks to the colorful murals that adorn them, depicting scenes from mythology, history and folklore. Due to the proximity to the shore, the air here is humid and thick with the smell of the sea, but it also often smells of fragrances emanating from incense sticks and flowers or from dishes prepared in eat-in kitchens.
Most of the estate, including the Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar Temple, is owned by the Goud Saraswat Temple Trust. After the Portuguese destroyed the temple in the 16th century, it was rebuilt after a generous donation from the entrepreneur and philanthropist Rama Kamath, also from the same community. Many Goud Saraswat Brahman families still live in the temple complex.
Within five to ten minutes of descending from the main road, you will be greeted by the tranquil Banganga oasis - a rectangular tank surrounded by steps on all four sides and with small temples, shrines, and huts on the banks of its banks. A stake rises upright from its mossy water, marking the point where Lakshman's arrow hits the ground.
The area around the tank is relatively deserted except for a few people on the steps performing religious rituals or just relaxing. The atmosphere is full of the sounds of aarti, religious chants, the ringing of temple bells and the croaking of ducks that are far superior to 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 had been touched by the calm and serenity of the place. As you sit on the steps and watch the activities unfold in front of you, you will find yourself far removed from the realities of this city that never sleeps.
How to get there: The closest train station to Banganga is Charni Road (approx. 3-5 km away), from where you can easily find a taxi or bus.
Best Time to Visit: The soothing beauty of Banganga is best enjoyed in the early hours of the morning, when the sun isn't too harsh and a light breeze keeps the area cool.
Banganga Tank, Walkeshwar Rd, Teen Batti, Malabar Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, +91 98 702 21622
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