Banganga Tank at Walkeshwar

Banganga Tank is located on the western fringes of Malabar Hill, close to Raj Bhawan. The neighborhood around Banganga Tank is the oldest continuously inhabited region in Bombay, a site of great spiritual significance to Hindus. For centuries, Hindus have made a pilgrimage to the Walkeshwar Temple and the now-destroyed Shri Gundi stone at Malabar Point, which gave sanctity to the hill from a very early age.

MCGM installed location marker of Banganga
MCGM installed location marker of Banganga

The popular myth regarding how Walkeshwar got its name originates from the Ramayana. It is believed that Lord Ram and Lakshman had visited the site of Banganga during their search for Sita. They were met by rishis who suggested Rama install a potent lingam brought from Varanasi. However, given the time it would take Lakshman to make the return journey, a shivling was made out of the sand. This lingam (and the temple that later housed it) was called Walkeshwar (Walu = sand, Ishwar = God), giving the place its current name.

View of the Banganga Tank from the Parashuram temple

Hindu pilgrims perform parikrama (circumambulation) in a circular direction along a path going around Banganga Tank, starting from the south end. The important temples are located on the parikrama. The ghats have spatial division according to specific rituals; south and west are used for rituals of the dead and north and east are used for auspicious rites.

Ramayana connection with Walkeshwar and Banganga

The popular myth regarding how Walkeshwar got its name originates from the Ramayana. It is believed that Lord Ram and Lakshman had visited the site of Banganga during their search for Sita. They were met by rishis who suggested Rama install a potent lingam brought from Varanasi. However, given the time it would take Lakshman to make the return journey, a shivling was made out of the sand. This lingam (and the temple that later housed it) was called Walkeshwar (Walu = sand, Ishwar = God), giving the place its current name.

Wall mural of goddess Ganga

In Hinduism, the River Ganges is worshipped as a fertility goddess, the giver of life, and the protector of humanity. This wall mural of the goddess Ganga, the personification of the river Ganges, was painted by artist Shilo Shiv Suleman on a wall face at Walkeshwar. It is believed the water of Banganga Tank is as pure as the water of the River Ganges, the holiest of all rivers, hence it is used for purification purposes during Hindu rituals and ashes are immersed in it.

Entrance to the Shree Jagannath Mahadev temple

The Jagannath Mahadev Temple has one of the two naubatkhanas at Walkeshwar, the other being at Vyankatesh Balaji Temple. The naubatkhana is built over the arched gateway, though now the space is used for residential purposes by the current occupants of the temple, many of whom live as tenants. The arched gateway opens to the street and is entered through a carved wooden door that opens to the inner courtyard.

Towering skyscrapers built on Malabar Hill overlooking Banganga Tank

Towering skyscrapers built on Malabar Hill overlook Banganga Tank. In the 18th century, the hill was densely forested and visited only by Hindu pilgrims and Malabari pirates. Later, in the 1880s, the British Governor shifted Raj Bhawan from Parel to Malabar Hill and the neighborhood has since been one of the most sought-after real estates in Mumbai.

Banganga tank on Malabar Hill in Mumbai

Located on Malabar Hill, Banganga Tank is the oldest and largest surviving Hindu place of pilgrimage in Mumbai, still in its historical location. The tank has been a tirthasthan (place of pilgrimage) at least since the 12th century and stories of its origin even earlier, are mentioned in the Skanda Purana. It is believed Lord Rama visited the site during his search for Sita.

Rites and rituals performed at the Ghats of Banganga Tank

Early European visitors to Walkeshwar mention the site as a 'Brahmin village'. The ghats surrounding Banganga Tank are maintained by the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin Temple Trust. The materials required for performing ceremonies, like flowers, incense, and coconut, are arranged by hereditary Brahmin priests from diverse communities living at Walkeshwar for many centuries. They conduct a variety of Hindu rituals like thread ceremonies, childbirth, marriages, cremation rites, morning and evening libations, and offerings of pitripujas and shraddh.

A natural spring located at the northeast corner of Banganga Tank

Banganga tank is fed by a natural spring located at the northeast corner. It is believed, this is the point where Lord Rama shot an arrow (bana) into the ground, thereby releasing the waters of the underground Ganges (Patalganga), hence the name Banganga. The water that emerges from the spring is considered pure and used in Hindu rituals.

View of the Banganga Tank from the Parashuram temple

Hindu pilgrims perform parikrama (circumambulation) in a circular direction along a path going around Banganga Tank, starting from the south end. The important temples are located on the parikrama. The ghats have spatial division according to specific rituals; south and west are used for rituals of the dead and north and east are used for auspicious rites.

Paved stone steps going down from Walkeshwar Temple to Banganga Tank

Paved stone steps going down from Walkeshwar Temple to Banganga Tank. In the past, most temples along the parikrama were connected to the ghats which allowed pilgrims to directly enter the temple after performing purification rituals in the tank. Unfortunately, access to the tank is now blocked at several points due to encroachments on the ghats.

A dhwajastambh (flagpole) stands in the middle of the Banganga Tank

In the middle of Banganga Tank stands a dhwajastambh (flagpole), which symbolizes Mount Meru, considered by Hindus to be the center of the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual universes. The water symbolizes the Cosmic Ocean, used in Hindu rituals performed on the ghats. The tank is also used for the immersion of ashes from the nearby crematorium.

Ghats on the northern end of Banganga Tank

The water level in the Banganga Tank is controlled by underground valves and overflow outlets empty into the nearby Arabian Sea. During the monsoon months, the tank can overflow, unless regulated by the outlet valves. When the water level is low, it reveals the natural spring from which water enters the tank, which otherwise remains submerged.

Variety of fishes fed by pilgrims in Banganga Tank

The Banganga Tank caters not only to the spiritual needs of humans but is also a source of drinking water for birds and neighborhood animals, particularly during the hot summer months. The waters of the tank have a variety of fish which are daily fed by pilgrims as an act of piety and jeeva kalyan (animal welfare).

Ghats in Banganga tank

Ghats serve multiple purposes, both religious and secular, and is a hub of activity during Hindu festivals like Shivratri, Ganesh Chaturthi, and Diwali. Pilgrims use the Banganga tank for bathing, performing suryanamaskar at dawn, and idol immersion. Before piped water was made available in homes, the Banganga tank was the main source of drinking water.

Temples at the northeast corner of Banganga Tank

Temples at the northeast corner of Banganga Tank; (from left to right) Mahalakshmi Temple (yellow wall), Vyankatesh Balaji Temple (white dome), Jagannath Mahadeo Temple (white shikara), and Siddheshwar Temple (yellow shikhara). Over time, the addition of new buildings and encroachments have blocked the view of the temples from the ghats.

Winged celestial dancer on pillar capital at Jabreshwar temple

The Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple is built in the North Indian Nagara style with an elegant shikhara rising above the garbagriha. The shikhara is embellished with carvings of musicians, lions, monkeys, and elephants. The exterior wall of the sabha mandap has an arched makara torana flanked by celestial dancers on pillar capitals. These winged female figures are draped in the local Koli way of wearing the saree.

Deepsthambh with niches

Deepstambhas (lamp pillars) form a distinct feature of Hindu temple architecture in Maharashtra and Goa. The deepstambhas at Walkeshwar were earlier used for illumination purposes during Deepavali and other important Hindu festivals, like Dussehra and Shivratri. A person would climb the deepstambhas and place diyas on the extended branches or in small niches. Over time, the practice has been discontinued at Walkeshwar and the deepstambhas now serve as a resting place for pigeons.

Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple seen from Jabreshwar Gali

The location of Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar is at the foot of the western face of Malabar Hill, on the breaking point of the Arabian Sea. The stone-paved Jabreshwar Gali is one of two alleys leading to Banganga Tank from Walkeshwar Road running along the ridge of Malabar Hill. The most prominent temple in Jabreshwar Gali is the eponymous Jabreshwar Temple, built in the 1840s by Nathuram Ramdas, father of a leading Bombay merchant, Sir Mangaldas Nathubhai.

The lingam inside the garbhagriha of Jabreshwar Mahadev temple

Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple is managed by the Mangaldas Trust and maintained by the priest family who lives within the temple premise. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. A stone lingam is worshipped in the garbagriha along with the goddess Parvati. Nandi and Hanuman are worshipped in the sabha mandap. All temples at Walkeshwar remain closed from 1 pm to 4 pm when the garbagriha is cleaned and the deities washed.

View of the Rameshwar temple and the Ganapati temple

The Rameshwar Temple was built by Raghoba Jivaji Jayakar in 1842. He was a member of the Pathare Prabhu community. The temple is believed to have been built on the site of an older Koli temple and it combines a Nagara-style pyramidal shikhara and a Konkan-style sabhagriha. In front of Rameshwar Temple overlooking Banganga Tank ghats is the domed Ganapati Temple, also built by Raghoba Jivaji Jayakar in 1842.

View of the southern group of deepsthambhs and dharamshalas

The southern end of Banganga Tank had many dharamshalas (rest houses) for pilgrims who stayed for long periods. These were not open to the general public but affiliated with certain castes, professions, or geographic regions. Over time, the Dharamshala has been modified and converted to residential spaces by the current occupants.

Southern group of deepsthambhs

The deepsthambhs at the southern end of Banganga Tank are not only the largest in terms of their size, they are also unique in design, having influences from Goan temples. Those in the southeast corner have figures carved on them. Locals believe these deepstambhas are meant to be markers and they were built over the samadhis (burial places) of revered saints.

Garbhagriha (left) and mandapa (right) of Jabreshwar temple

Built of black stone, the Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple is squeezed on a flat plinth along the slope of Jabreshwar Gali. An urban legend explains the quirky name of the temple because it was apparently built on land acquired by force (jabardasti). The entrance to the temple opens to Jabreshwar Gali from the side, because of buildings surrounding it on three sides.

Smaller shrines around Banganga Tank

Numerous temples, samadhis, and open shrines are scattered around Walkeshwar. There are kuldevta shrines located inside homes and protective deities are placed in wall niches and over doorways. Stone relics collected from the older Walkeshwar Temple are assembled under the shade of the sacred peepal tree.

Sabha mandap inside the Rameshwar Temple

The sabha mandap inside Rameshwar Temple has retained the wooden ceiling and timber pillars. In 1934, a local merchant, Lallubhai Tribhuvandas, gifted the marble floor in memory of his wife. Rameshwar Temple was renovated in 2005 by the Indian Heritage Society Mumbai, with funds donated by Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation.

Entrance of the Lakshmi Narayan temple

The Lakshmi Narayan temple was built in the 1890s by Mathuradas Damodardas Jhaveri, in memory of his late wife, Kesarbai. The Jhaveris are jewelers and they historically migrated to Mumbai from Gujarat, hence elements of Gujarati architecture are reflected in the sitting platform (otla), the use of Gujarati language, and the use of decorative torana over the door.

Relics from the original Walkeshwar Temple

This heavily eroded panel is placed on the steps leading down to Banganga Tank. These stone panels are believed to have been part of from the old Walkeshwar Temple built by the Shilahara rulers. After the temple was demolished by the Portuguese, many of the broken pieces were salvaged and now lay scattered around the tank. The British took some of the better-preserved carvings to England and are now displayed at the India House Museum at South Kensington.

Vermillion-coated memorial stones

The north end of Banganga Tank has a collection of stone relics. They commonly depict a horse and rider, its features hidden under a thick layer of vermillion smeared by worshippers. What the stones represent or where they were sourced from remains unknown, though it is likely they are memorials erected for warriors who died in battle.

Lingam inside the Garbagriha at Walkeshwar Temple

The lingam worshipped in the garbagriha of Walkeshwar Temple is said to be swayambhu (self-manifested). The lingam has a brass kavach (armor) and is protected within the coil of a brass Naga (serpent). It is believed that this lingam was brought from Varanasi by Lakshman, hence Walkeshwar is also referred to as Lakshmaneswar.

Onkareshwar Mahadev Temple

In front of Walkeshwar Temple is the Onkareshwar Mahadeo Temple, commissioned by Mathuradas Dwarkadas. This temple has a squat deepstambha adjoining it. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, represented by a stone lingam that is fabled to be swayambhu (self-manifesting). Next to the temple stands an old banyan tree.

Torana (entrance) at the Mahalaxmi Temple

The Mahalaxmi Temple, marked by its framed torana (marble arch), is the newest temple in the precinct of Banganga Tank. It was built on the site of a shrine at the base of a peepal tree located in the northeast corner of the tank. It was built in 1973, by members of the Shrimali Brahmin community from Rajasthan. The temple has been refurbished in 2021.

Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

Built in 1781, during the period of Peshwa rule in the Deccan, the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple is a typical Peshwa-style temple, with its arched nagarkhana gateway, Mangalore tiled roofing, and a high domed roof. Inside, there is a courtyard and dharamshala, still occupied by the family of the pujaris who maintain the temple. The layout of the site is asymmetric, and the gateway is placed off-center due to this peculiar arrangement.

Naubatkhana and deepsthambh at the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

Diverse architectural elements are incorporated within a compact forecourt at the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple. The entrance gate doubles as a naubatkhana (drum house); a flight of steps leads to a platform where musicians played the nagara and shehnai. Next to the gateway are shrines dedicated to Garuda and Ganesha, separated by a deepastambha.

Sabhamandapa at the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

The sabha mandap at Vyankatesh Balaji temple has sophisticated woodwork and pradakshina corridor around the garbagriha. The use of timber columns and arched panels reflects architecture from the Peshwa period. The present temple was constructed in 1781 by a devotee named Diveshankar, on the site of an older Koli temple.

Garbagriha at the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

Entrance to the garbagriha at Vyankatesh Balaji Temple. The doorway has niches on either side. On the left is Lord Hanuman, wearing a crown, armed with a bow and arrow, and praying with folded hands. On the right is Lord Ganesha, also wearing a crown. Both idols, and that of Lord Balaji in the garbagriha, are made of marble quarried from Rajasthan.

Jagannath Mahadev Temple

Jagannath Mahadev Temple was founded around 1858 by a Bombay merchant, Lakshmidas Jagjivandas. The temple is noted for its mix of elements of past and present, such as the use of asbestos shade over the sabha mandap, intricately carved wooden brackets, and the use of bathroom tiles in the garbagriha replicating the artwork of Raja Ravi Varma. The inner sanctum houses a stone lingam and is mounted with a Nagara-style shikhara.

Nandi shrine at Jagannath Mahadev Temple

Jagannath Mahadev Temple features a turtle in front of Nandi, both facing the garbagriha. Various theories explain this arrangement seen at all Shiva temples at Walkeshwar. It is believed because a turtle can retract within its shell, it symbolizes withdrawal from the material world (moh-maya) and entering a state of samadhi (meditative consciousness).

Rama Mandir

Rama Mandir was originally built by an ascetic, Ramdas Bawa. In 1918, it was reconstructed by a Khatri merchant, Bhawanai Mohanji, and a shikara was added over the garbagriha. Marble idols of Lord Ram, Lakshman, and Sita from the original temple are enshrined in the garbagriha. The pujari family who maintains the temple, live at the rear.

Parashuram Temple

The site of Parashuram Temple was once a garden owned by a lady, Hariganga Ranchhoddas Bhansali. She donated the land in February 1965 and the Parashuram Temple was built in that space overlooking the western steps of Banganga Tank. Parashuram is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The Skanda Purana mentions how Parashuram threw his parashu (battle axe) into the sea to reclaim the narrow strip of land along the Konkan coast, starting from Maharashtra all the way to Kerala, which is also known as Parashuram-kshetra.

Dhobi Ghat at Banganga

A little away from Banganga Tank, on Dr. Bhagwanlal Indrajit Marg, is the local Dhobi Ghat. Dhobis wash the clothes manually using water from a deep well. Laundry is dried in the sea breeze and hung on cable lines without using clips, instead they are twined between cables.

Bust of Shri Jagannath Shankarseth at Banganga cremation ground

Among the many contributions of philanthropist Jagannath Shankarseth was the donation of land to the north of Banganga Tank to be used as burning ground for those Hindus who wished to be cremated at Walkeshwar in the vicinity of the Banganga Tank. A bust of Jagannath Shankarseth is now installed at the crematorium which is also named after him.

Samadhis and memorials at Walkeshwar

The Banganga tank precincts are full of shrines and memorials of those who attained samadhi (state of meditative consciousness) and were buried, instead of cremated. The Dasmaniya Akhada burial ground has been in use since the 18th century as a cemetery for sanyasis of the Goswami community, who attained samadhi here.

Street art by Shilo Shiv Suleman on the theme of water

The northeast lane to Banganga Tank has a contemporary wall mural created by award-winning installation artist Shilo Shiv Suleman in 2021. Titled Pyaas, it draws attention to the origin myth of the Banganga Tank. The theme alludes to the role of women and the importance of water in the daily life and livelihoods of the local residents at Walkeshwar.

Ghats at the southern end of Banganga Tank

Hindu pilgrims perform parikrama along a path going around Banganga Tank, starting from the south end. The important temples are located on the parikrama path. The ghats have spatial division according to specific rituals; south and west are used for rituals of the dead, and north and east are used for auspicious rites.

Marine theme playground for neighborhood kids

One of the latest additions to community spaces around the Banganga Tank is this marine-themed playground adjacent to Rameshwar Temple. This site was earlier used as a garbage dumping ground before it was revamped by the RPG Foundation as part of the Banganga Revival Project and is now a place of fun and games for the neighborhood kids.

Shikara of the Rameshwar Temple

Towering above the Banganga Tank is the weathered shikara of Rameshwar Temple, built in the North Indian Nagara style with amalaka (a stone disc in temple architecture) and kalash (an architectural element shaped like a metal pot with a large base and a narrow mouth) at the summit. Small figures of lions appear on the four sides of the shikara and there is a carving of Lord Shiva as Nataraja on its east face, facing the tank.

Ganesh idol at Ganapati Temple

This nine-inch-tall Ganesha idol is worshipped at the Ganapati Temple. It is made of white marble quarried from Rajasthan and is enclosed in a glass casing. The shrine is made from wood and has a dome similar to the dome on top of the temple.

Dwarapala at Lakshmi Narayan Temple

Mace-bearing dwarapala at the Lakshmi Narayan Temple wearing the Marathi turban, called pheta or pataka. The dwarapalas at Vishnu temples are modeled on Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers at Vaikuntha, the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu. The interesting detail is the presence of a small lion at the base.

Shrine under Banyan tree

A distinct material culture at Banganga Tank is the popularity of bathroom tiles for decor and restoration purposes. The tiles are used not only for floors, the purpose for which they are designed but also on walls and the interior of garbagrihas in temples. This shrine below a banyan tree in front of Walkeshwar Temple has been restored using bathroom tiles.

Shiva idol beneath the Banyan tree

Banganga Tank has several legends associated with it, and they have diverse origins. With the passage of time, memories of local incidents have been intertwined with these origin myths. One such prevailing story is how the original lingam at Walkeshwar Temple was lost to the sea to avoid desecration by mlecchas (referring to Muslim and Christian rule under the Gujarat Sultanate and the Portuguese). Based on this belief, on the day of Mahashivratri, the Koli fishing community venture out to sea to offer prayers to the vanished lingam.

Encroachment on the Ghats

Over the years, there has been a lot of encroachment on and around the Banganga Tank that has considerably altered the size, ambience, and historicity of the sites. It is due to the activism of citizen groups who were concerned about the deterioration of the tank that the Banganga complex was declared a heritage zone in April 1995 under a notification of the Urban Development Department of the Government of Maharashtra, known as the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay 1995.

Placement of lord Ganesha on the doorway

A common feature at all the temples and even private homes in Maharashtra is the presence of a Ganesha figure at the top of the entrance or doorway. Lord Ganesha is venerated as the remover of obstacles, and his presence is considered auspicious and a harbinger of good luck.

Domed roof of the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

The Vyankatesh Balaji Temple has an amalgamation of various styles that were popular in the Deccan during the eighteenth century. For example, the domed roof, use of multi-foil arches, double-layered foliated band running around the exterior of the dome, are typical of Islamic architecture. On the other hand, the use of the Mangalore-tiled hip roof, wooden sabha mandap, musicians on the domed roof, and deepastambha are elements taken from Hindu temples of the Konkan and Maharashtra regions.

Exterior view of the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

The Vyankatesh Balaji Temple has retained many of its original architectural features, including the Mangalore tiled roof, thanks to the effort of conservation architect Sudhir Joshi. The interior receives natural light through high windows on three sides. The windows have wooden balustrades which are indicative of the floor being used as a working space.

Garuda shrine at Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

The Vyankatesh Balaji Temple has a marble Garuda in a kneeling posture, offering fruit with both hands. However, this image is slightly different from the usual Garuda iconography which is more ferocious. Unlike here, Garuda is usually depicted with a pair of wings and a beaked bird-like nose. Here the Garuda is adorned by Nagas. They coil around the arms, on the waist, and around the ankles. Instead of fighting Garuda, their mortal enemy, the Nagas appear to be paying homage to Lord Balaji in unison.

Wooden bracket at Jagannath Mahadev Temple

The Jagannath Mahadev Temple has anthropomorphic wood-carved brackets supporting the roof. These are in the form of female musicians playing a variety of musical instruments. They are heavily decked in jewelry and wear a blouse and skirt-like garment. The brackets are painted in bright colors and add an element of playfulness to the overall decor of the temple.

Wall mural done by Shilo Shiv Suleman

The Heritage Project draws attention to how women are integral to the growth and development of the Banganga neighborhood, and their role in sustaining ecology. Shilo Shiv Suleman depicts this interdependence with the use of a mix of text, portraits, and elements of Hindu mythology to create awareness and promote dialogue for social change.

Siddheshwar Mahadev Temple

Siddheshwar Mahadev temple forms part of what was once known as Jairamgir Bawa’s Math, where samadhis of ascetics of the orthodox Giri Smarta sect were erected. The samadhis of the founder (Jairamgir Bawa) and two other ascetics were also built here. The temple overlooks the Banganga Tank and is noted for its arched gateway, grayish-blue basalt walls, pyramidical shikhara, and compact sabha mandap.

Dwarapala at the Vyankatesh Balaji Temple

Dwarapala holding a mace at the entrance to Vyankatesh Balaji Temple. Due to the asymmetric layout of the temple and lack of wall space at the entrance, only a lone dwarapala stands guard instead of the usual pair.