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The Oldest Continually Inhabited Place in Mumbai
Tucked away on the tip of Mumbai's exclusive Malabar Hill, at the northern end of Back Bay, Banganga Tank is a sacred oasis where it feels like time has stood still for centuries. The tank is a contrasting microcosm of the fast-paced city, and one which many locals aren't even familiar with. This is understandable, as secluded Banganga Tank isn't somewhere that can be randomly passed by.
Visiting Banganga Tank provides an exceptional opportunity to submerge yourself in the history of the city, and learn about how it evolved from seven sparsely populated islands to the bustling metropolis it is today.
Fables of Banganga Tank
The origin of Banganga Tank is steeped in legend dating all the way back to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana (which is said to have been written about three centuries before the birth of Christ). Apparently, Lord Ram stopped there to seek the blessing of a sage, while on his way to Sri Lanka to save his wife Sita from the evil clutches of demon king Ravana.
When he was thirsty, he shot his baan (arrow) into the ground and a freshwater tributary of the Ganga (Ganges) River sprouted from below the surface. Hence, the name Banganga. Now, a pole in the middle of the tank marks the spot where Ram's arrow pierced the earth.
Construction of Banganga Tank
The area around Banganga Tank gradually developed as a pilgrimage place, and numerous temples and dharamshalas (religious rest houses) came up. Some of the earliest settlers were Gaud Saraswat Brahmins. One of them, who was a minister in the court of the ruling Hindu Silhara dynasty, constructed the existing tank and adjacent Walkeshwar temple in 1127. The 135 meter long and 10 meter deep structure of the tank was built over the spring, which continues to provide a flow of fresh water. Today, the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin Temple Trust still owns and manages the tank and temple.
A Heritage Precinct
The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee has declared Banganga Tank to be a Grade-I heritage structure, meaning that it's of national or historical importance and no structural changes are allowed. Many of the buildings and temples surrounding the tank have Grade-II A heritage status, which also prevents redevelopment. However, haphazard high-rises loom closely in the background, threatening to engulf the tranquil enclave.
Intense development of Malabar Hill began in the 1960s. Yet, it wasn't until after the Great Fire of Bombay in 1803, which destroyed much of the Fort district, that this thickly wooded jungle (with tigers!) really began to be populated. The devastating fire forced the British to expand the city out from its center and drove residents to build houses around Malabar Hill. The joining together of the seven Bombay islands was mostly completed in the first half of the 19th century. Then, after the Fort walls were demolished in 1864, the city's elite also relocated to Malabar Hill.
Read on to take a look around ancient Banganga Tank as it is now and find out how to visit Banganga Tank.Continue to 2 of 15 below.
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Jabreshwar Mahadev Temple
There are more than 100 temples in the vicinity of Banganga Tank. Down a flight of stone stairs, on the way to the tank via Banganga 2nd Cross Lane, the Jabreshwar Mahadev temple is wedged between apartment buildings, creating a startling juxtaposition. A determined peepal tree is enmeshing itself in the temple but no one is keen to remove it, in case the temple falls. Apparently, the temple got its name not from its powerful deity but from the land being forcibly taken, in 1840, by a trader named Nathubai Ramdas.Continue to 3 of 15 below.
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Nearby, the Parshuram Temple is one of only a handful of temples of its kind in existence in India. Lord Parshuram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is the most worshiped god in the Konkan region. He's believed to have created the Konkan Coast, reclaiming the land from the sea with the fall of his axe. Furthermore, according to the Skanda Purana, it was Parshuram who created the freshwater spring at Banganga by shooting his arrow into the ground.Continue to 4 of 15 below.
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Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar Temple
Parshuram Temple provides a splendid view across the western side of Banganga Tank. The tall white shikhara (temple tower) belongs to what is labeled the Rameshwar temple, built in 1842. However, this temple is also commonly referred to as the Walkeshwar temple (along with a number of others around the tank).
The original Walkeshwar temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century, when they gained control of the Bombay islands and began spreading Christianity. The British were more tolerant and encouraging of other religions, as they were keen to attract migrants to the city to help it grow. The temple was rebuilt in 1715 with funding from a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin. Since then, it's been reconstructed a number of times, most recently in the 1950s.
The steps of Banganga Tank serve many purposes: a play area for children, a social hub for residents, a space to dry washing, and a place to perform puja (worship). Despite its freshwater source, Banganga Tank as a place of worship is becoming increasingly polluted. The water has turned an unhealthy dark green from the items frequently thrown into it as part of religious rituals.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Deepstambhas (pillars of light) mark the entrance to Banganga Tank, as well as significant temples in the area. Astonishingly, a saint is said to be buried under each one!Continue to 6 of 15 below.
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Street Around Banganga Tank
Banganga Tank is flanked by a narrow street lined with temples, homes and dharamsalas (religious rest houses). It forms the route of the holy parikrama, a walk around the tank on foot, which Hindus believe to have immense purifying benefits.Continue to 7 of 15 below.
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Encroaching Migrant Communities
Migrants from various communities have encroached upon the edges of Banganga Tank and built temporary structures there, altering its fabric. The abandoned Punjabi dharamshala has a prime position at tank's ocean-facing southwestern edge. Apparently, Hindi film stars celebrated Holi there in the 1930s and 1940s. Now, the area is home to slum-dwellers who have occupied it for the past few decades.Continue to 8 of 15 below.
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A small Ganpati temple sits opposite Rameshwar temple and was also built at the same time, in 1842. The temple's architecture blends Marathi and Gujarati styles. Its idol has been delicately crafted from white marble. This temple really comes alive during the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which is widely celebrated in Mumbai.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Lakshmi Narayan Temple
There's a noticeable Gujarati influence at Banganga Tank, which is especially evident in the temples. One such temple is the Gujarati Lakshmi Narayan Temple, located next to the Ganpati temple, with its two dwarapala (doorkeeper) statues.Continue to 10 of 15 below.
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The modern Hanuman Temple is perhaps the most colorful temple at Banganga Tank. It houses a brightly painted shrine with an idol of Hanuman carrying a dagger (instead of a mace).Continue to 11 of 15 below.
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Venkateshwar Balaji Temple
On the northeast side of Banganga Tank, Venkateshwar Balaji Temple is one of the oldest temples in the area. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it was built in 1789, in Maratha style but with a dome that's common in Islamic architecture. The temple is unusual because it has a Vishnu idol with its eyes open, as well as two different Ganesh idols. Climb the steps to the right as you enter the temple and you'll be rewarded with a scenic view over the tank.Continue to 12 of 15 below.
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There are some intriguing orange painted stones sitting by the steps leading down to Banganga Tank. These pallias are memorial stones of dead warriors that are worshiped by Gujaratis.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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The dhobi ghat in Mahalaxmi is Mumbai's most famous open-air laundry. There's also a dhobi ghat on Bhagwanlal Indrajit Road, in the northwest corner of Banganga Tank, although it's nowhere near the scale of the Mahalaxmi one.Continue to 14 of 15 below.
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Dashnami Goswami Akhada
Underneath a tangle of trees further along Bhagwanlal Indrajit Road, in the northwest corner of Banganga Tank, lies the sprawling cemetery of the Goswami community. This rare graveyard belongs to a Hindu sect that buries its dead, who have taken sanyas (renunciation), instead of cremating them. Remarkably, it's still in use. The tombstones with feet on them indicate the burial of a female, while those with a shivlinga and Nandi bull are male.Continue to 15 of 15 below.
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How to Visit Banganga Tank
Banganga Tank provides a welcome reprieve from the frenetic pace of the city. It's worthwhile spending some time simply sitting on the steps and absorbing daily life there. However, if you're interested in the detailed heritage of Banganga Tank, it's best to take a tour. I went on the Banganga Parikrama walking tour conducted by Khaki Tours, a group that specializes in heritage walks in Mumbai. Alternatively, Mumbai Moments offers dedicated tours of Banganga Tank.
How to Get to Banganga Tank
Banganga Tank is located in Walkeshwar, on Malabar Hill in south Mumbai. If traveling by train, the nearest railway stations are Charni Road and Grant Road on the Western Line. You'll need to take a taxi from the station.
Banganga Tank can be entered as follows:
- Via Walkeshwar Road on the eastern edge. Head past Walkeshwar Bus Depot and the entrance to the Governor's Residence. Turn right into Banganga 1st Cross Lane, or Banganga 2nd Cross Lane a little further along.
- Via Bhagwanlal Indrajit Road on the northwestern edge, past the Dashnami Goswami Akhada, crematorium, and the dhobi ghat.
- Via Dongersey Road on the northeastern edge, past a series of high-rise buildings.