Last week I had been to Mumbai.
And one evening, a friend of mine took me to a place called ‘Baan-Ganga’. Right in the heart of the city, in the posh Malabar Hill area, is this amazing place of pilgrimage. Walking down a narrow lane, one suddenly comes across an ancient water tank surrounded by temples. And its as if you have crossed a time-zone! As if you are not even in Kali Yuga. Its a place that reminds one of Pandharpur, Alandi, Kashi, Brindavan… And its in the heart of Mumbai!
The water tank is large, and there is a tale associated with it. It is said that when Lord Rama and Lakshmana came here, during their search for Sita, Rama was thirsty and asked Lakshmana for water. And Lakshmana shot an arrow into the earth, and out gushed the water of Ganga. And so the name – bANgaNga (arrow – Ganga).
There are a score or so temples all around the tank. And some open-air shrines, housed under holy trees. The oldest temple was that of Walkeshwar (Siva). Originally, Rama is said to worshipped a Siva-Linga made of sand. Valuka is Sanskrit for sand => Valuka-Ishwara => Walkeshwara. The temple proper and the tank is said to have been constructed in 1127 AD, by Lakshman Prabhu, a minister in the court of Silhara dynasty. The temple is said to have been destroyed later by the Portuguese. And rebuilt once more, sometime in the early part 18th century.
We started our walk by first visiting the temple Vyankatesh Balaji, another 18th century temple. The idol is beautiful, and has large, open eyes. We then went to the Mahalakshmi temple nearby. It was evening time, and the mood and ambiance was just right. Aarati in every temple. And then we visited many more temples, of Siva, Vishnu, Hanuman, Kali. Two important Mutts of Gauda Saraswats are located here, and there are samadhis of Acharyas there. There is a temple of Parasurama. There was a temple of Siva where the Siva linga reminded me of Kedareshwar of Kashi. A pilgrim was seated in the sanctum absorbed in meditation.
The water tank itself is nice and large. Lots of ducks. One understands that the water is sweet. My friend told me that he had attended a cultural festival held here, and that is how he came to explore this place the first time.
Like any important Teertha-Sthala, there is also a cremation facility here.
And nearby is the samadhi of another great sage, Swami Siddharameshwar Maharaj. Swami Siddharameshwar Maharaj was the Guru of the world renowned sage of Advaita, Swami Nisargadatta Maharaj. About his Guru’s teaching, Swami Nisargadatta Maharaj has said – “”My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am’ and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’. It may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked!” (click here for link).
He says: “I simply followed his instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being, “I am,” and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the “I am” in my mind and soon the peace and joy and deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared—myself, my guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained, and unfathomable silence.” (Click here for link).
With the samadhis of sages, and all these temples, the place is a real reservoir of great peace.
We rounded off our walk by visiting the temple of Vittala – Rakhumai. The priest family there welcomed us with such warmth, it was very touching. “Five generations of our family have been serving the Lord here”, said the priest. One sang a few lines of an Abhang… Had Darshan of Aarti… And Taamboola Prasada.
Slowly, we walked back to the car, through a time warp, to come back to the 21st century…. And to think of a hotel dinner….