The Banganga Tank area is probably one of the oldest living areas of present-day Mumbai. Spaces that have been inhabited for a long time hold a special charm for me. I feel these places have a soul – as if everyone who lived here over centuries left a bit of their soul embedded here. These places carry the signs of age, signs of times they have seen even when on an existential level they have moved on with the times. If you sit quietly in these places you would feel all this. I have experienced this in all the old parts of the cities I have lived in – be it Mehrauli in Delhi or Charminar area in Hyderabad.
Though Mumbai has the oldest area in places like Kanheri Caves or Elephanta Caves, they are not living spaces anymore. Here you can see a space that has been inhabited continuously and space carries that energy.
Banganga Tank, Mumbai
It is a rectangular tank, a typical temple tank that you see across India. I would say this one is fairly large in size and has temples all around it. The tank itself must have been treated like a temple is evident from the Deepstambhas or lampposts that you can see at the entry points. The stairs all around lead you to the water where various colorful ducks are playing in the water. The buildings of various heights reflected in the water – first the temple and their Shikharas, then the houses of people who live around here, and then the tall buildings. When they reflect in the water, they create a mélange of many things – making eras, generations, styles, and different strata of society come together – as if bound by the very water of the tank.
Clouds in the sky add their own touch to the scenery on the water. What is unique about Banganga is that it is located so close to the sea – almost touching it. Still, manages to have fresh sweet water. I assume that this very fresh water may be the reason for the initial settlement in this area.
Many years ago I attended a concert by Flute Maestro Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia at the venue there. The music that reverberated in the air and water as Pandit Ji played the flute would remain in my heart and mind for a long time. I could not go around for the walk then as the concert happened late at night. So this time when I had the opportunity to do this walk with my uncle who happens to be from the community that runs this area, I just grabbed it and learned far more than a curious walker would have.
Legends of Banganga Tank
An ancient place has the habit of collecting stories, myths & legends around it. How can this holy tank be without stories then? Legend is that when Ram and Lakshman were on their way to find Sita, they stopped here at the ashram of Rishi Gautam. To quench their thirst, Rama shot an arrow into the earth releasing Bhogawati or the underground Ganga. To perform his daily Puja Lakshman used to go every day to Kashi to fetch Shivalinga that Ram used to worship for his daily Puja. One day Lakshman did not return in time and Ram using the sand available here created a Linga and worshiped it.
The Shivalinga came to be known as Valu-ka-Ishwar meaning God made of Sand and the word over a period of time got distorted to Walkeshwar. The Walkeshwar temple still stands on the eastern edge of the lake and lends its name to this area. Over a period of time, other temples came up. And this place gained the status of a Teerthakshetra or a place of pilgrimage.
History of Banganga Tank & around
It is said that original temples were built here between the 8th and 13th CE that was destroyed by the Portuguese during their time. The current temples were built in the 18th CE with funding from a philanthropist Rama Kamath. Who belonged to the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin community – one of the earliest settlers around the tank. This community still controls and manages the Banganga and temples around it. There are several Maths like Kashi Math, Kaiwalye Math, and Kawle Math located in this area. A temple dedicated to Parshuram is another attraction here, though I must warn you that architecturally all temples are quite ordinary. It is the temple with its steep stone steps and sculptures lying all over them that would attract the artistic eye.
Walk around Tank
I approached Banganga from Walkeshwar Road which runs parallel to the coast in the Malabar Hills area of South Mumbai. At some point, you have to get off the vehicle and start walking down the steps. The buildings on both sides of these steps will tell you the stories of many generations that had lived here. There are small eateries that serve the Pav Bhaji, Bhel Puri & occasionally Idlis. Uneven steps are like the unseen days seen by the place.
You cannot miss the tank once you get down as it is the lowest point on land. Go around the tank, and look for small sculpted pieces lying here and there. Sometimes below a tree, on the steps of the tank, and sometimes just by the roadside. Admire the relatively better-maintained Deepstambhas. Try to visualize how the tank would look at night with lighted lamps along the length of these pillars and along the periphery of the tank. Walk around the tank. And stop by the temples that catch your eye. As already mentioned from an architectural perspective they are rather ordinary temples though you can see a distinctive Nagara or North Indian style Shikharas on many of them.
Around the Tank
Walking around the tank, you can see the juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor in one go. A kind of microcosm for the city of Mumbai. I also noticed some interesting window patterns.
You need 45-90 mins to walk around the place assuming you would stop at one or two temples only. Go on a clear day preferably in the mornings or evenings. MTDC conducts a Banganga music festival in the month of February and that may be the best time to visit the holy tank.
Recommend you to read Places to Visit in Mumbai City on this Travel Blog.