The Mumbadevi Temple is dedicated to the goddess Mumba, whom the city of Mumbai was named after, and that's what makes this otherwise unremarkable temple noteworthy. The Koli fishermen, believed to be the original inhabitants of Mumbai, worshiped the goddess and built a temple for her. It was demolished in 1737 and the current Mumbadevi Temple subsequently replaced it.
Visiting the temple is an adventure in itself. Be prepared to be submerged in a sea of people, as the temple is located in the midst of a crowded market area that's also cluttered with buildings. However, it will really put you in touch with the city's heart and history. Numerous pandits live behind the temple, and they perform puja rituals for those who desire them.
- Where: Mumbadevi Marg, Bhuleshwar. (To the north and right of Zaveri Bazaar).
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue was built in 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon and his brother Albert (the Sassoon family also built the Sassoon Docks), in memory of their father Eliyahoo Sassoon. This soothing light blue colored building has an attractive interior, resplendent with pillars, chandeliers, and stained glass windows. View it best in the afternoon when it's beautifully illuminated by sunlight. If you want to take photos inside, be prepared to pay 100 rupees.
Don't be surprised to find police outside the synagogue. Every synagogue in Mumbai now has 24-hour police security after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, which included an attack on the Jewish Chabad House at Nariman Point.
- Where: V B Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda district (just around the corner from Rhythm House), Fort, Mumbai.
Holy Name Cathedral
The opulent Catholic Holy Name Cathedral was built to replace the older one in nearby Bhuleshwar and is decorated with an array of artwork. It opened its doors for worship in 1905. It's renowned for its delicate frescoes, pipe organ, a gift from various Popes including the huge bell that hangs outside the church -- it was a gift from Pope Paul VI who visited in 1964.
- Where: 19 Nathalal Parekh Marg/Wodehouse Road (opposite the YMCA), Colaba, south Mumbai.
- More Information: 9 Popular Mumbai Churches for Christmas Midnight Mass.
The Presbyterian Afghan Church is officially known as The Church of St John the Evangelist. It was built by the British in memory of the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the First Afghan War from 1835-43. Hence, the reason why it's referred to as the Afghan Church.
The church, quintessentially English in design, is a Grade I heritage building and a substantial amount of money has been allocated to restore its stained glass windows.
- Where: Navy Nagar, Colaba, south Mumbai.
St. Thomas's Cathedral
St. Thomas's Cathedral offers a peaceful respite in a busy part of the city and is renowned for its award-winning stained glass work. The first Anglican church in Mumbai, St. Thomas's dates back to 1718. The church was constructed to provide a moral foundation for the growing British settlement. It became a cathedral in 1837. The tower and clock were added a year later.
Mumbai's Churchgate district derived its name from the gate in the Fort, built by the British East India Company, that was the entrance to the church. The whole area west of the church is still known as Churchgate today.
- Where: Veer Nariman Road, close to Horniman Circle Gardens and the Flora Fountain.
- More Information: 9 Popular Mumbai Churches for Christmas Midnight Mass. Also see the St. Thomas's Cathedral website.
The Babulnath Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, in the form of a Babul tree (a type of acacia native to India). The temple was built in 1780, following the discovery of buried idols. It sits 1,000 feet above sea level. If you don't feel like climbing the hundreds of stairs to the top, you can pay a few rupees to take the lift instead.
The temple is busiest on Monday, which is an auspicious day for Lord Shiva. Devotees also flock there to celebrate the Shivratri festival.
- Where: Babulnath Road, Malabar Hill, near Marine Drive, south Mumbai. Opposite the Bombay International School.
- More Information: Babulnath Temple website.
Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple
Jain temples are usually the most elaborate ones in India, and the Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji temple is no exception. Built in 1904, it's adorned with colorful ornate sculptures and paintings. The entrance has two stone elephants on either side of it. Inside, the dome ceiling is resplendent with the signs of the zodiac.
As its name suggests, the temple is Lord Adishwar (also known as Rushabhdev), the first of 24 Jain "Tirthankaras" (special liberated souls who have attained omniscience and guide other souls from the cycle of death and rebirth) of the current era.
- Where: Ridge Road, Walkeshwar, Malabar Hill, south Mumbai.
The Shri Walkeshwar Temple temple was established by the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin community in 1127. Legend has it that Lord Rama paused at that spot when heading to Sri Lanka to try and get his wife Sita back from demon Ravana, who kidnapped her. Unfortunately, the Portuguese destroyed the temple during their rein in Mumbai, in the 16th century. However, it was later rebuilt by another Gowd Saraswat Brahmin in 1715.
The ancient Banganga Tank is part of the temple complex.
The Gowd Saraswat Brahmin community is also famous for having one of the richest Ganesh idols in Mumbai -- affectionately called the "gold Ganesh".
- Where: Malabar Hill, south Mumbai.
- More Information: Shri Walkeshwar Temple website.
One of the top 10 attractions in Mumbai, the imposing Haji Ali is both a mosque and tomb. It was built in 1431 by wealthy Muslim merchant and Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who was inspired to change the course of his life after going to Mecca. It also contains his body. Situated in the middle of the ocean, Haji Ali is only accessible during low tide from a narrow, 500-yard long walkway. On Thursdays and Fridays tens of thousands of pilgrims flock there to receive blessings from the dead saint. If you find you need to pass some time until the tide lowers enough, there's a shopping center on the opposite side of the road.
Unfortunately, women are no longer permitted to enter the shrine's inner sanctum. However, they can still visit its large open area.
- Where: Central south Mumbai, just off the coast of Worli, not far from Mahalaxmi railway station.
As its name suggests, Mahalaxmi Temple is devoted to the Goddess Mahalaxmi (the Great Laxmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity). One of the oldest temples in Mumbai, Mahalaxmi Temple was built in 1782 to bring good fortune and remove problems that were hampering the Hornby Vellard causeway construction project.
Take the long flight of steps, lined with vendors selling everything from sweets to saris, up to the temple from the Arabian Sea. Do note that it gets extremely crowded with devotees during the Navratri festival.
- Where: Bhulabhai Desai Marg, Breach Candy, south Mumbai.
Have a wish that you want granted? Visit the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, devoted to Lord Ganesh. While many Hindu temples only allow Hindus to enter, thereby adding to the religion’s mystery, this temple welcomes everyone with its open door policy. Visitors shouldn’t expect a peaceful experience, however. On an average day, the temple draws over 25,000 people. Every Tuesday, the most auspicious day of the week, this number swells to over 100,000 people. From Monday evening, the crowd starts swarming around the temple and lining up in anticipation of Tuesday’s 4.45am holy aarti (prayer).
The temple was built in 1801. As a result of support from politicians and Bollywood stars, it's grown to be one of the richest and grandest in Mumbai. In evidence of this, the inner roof of the sanctum is plated with gold. The idol of Lord Ganesh, which is only around 2.5 feet tall, is made out of stone.
Where: Corner of Kakasaheb Gadgil Marg and S.K. Bole Marg Prabhadevi, in central south Mumbai. Behind the temple, there's a narrow lane overflowing with stalls selling coconut, garlands, and an assortment of sweets. It's also possible to enter from there.
- More Information: Siddhivinayak Temple website.
Mount Mary's Basilica
As the name suggests, Mount Mary's Basilica sits atop a small hill overlooking the ocean. Its current semi-Gothic style building is around 100 years old, although the statue of the mother Mary dates back to the 16th century.
The church and its grounds are particularly festive during the Bandra Fair. It takes place over an eight-day period, starting on the first Sunday after September 8, as part of the annual Feast of Our Lady of the Mount celebrations.
- Where: Mount Mary Road, Near Bandra Bandstand, Bandra West.
- More Information: 9 Popular Mumbai Churches for Christmas Midnight Mass. Also see the Mount Mary's Basilica website.
The International Society For Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in July 1966, in New York. The temple complex in Mumbai opened in 1978 against all odds. At that time, Juhu was a remote and undeveloped part of the city, like a jungle.
The complex's marble temple is apparently one of India's most beautiful Krishna temples. Its walls are adorned with delightful murals and sculptures. The complex also has a recently renovated auditorium, huge restaurant, and a guesthouse that offers clean and comfortable rooms.
The temple is open daily, except between 1 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. Prayers and chanting, which will bring peace to your soul, take place every evening. One of the best times to visit is during the Krishna Janmashtami Festival.
- Where: Harekrishna Land, Near Chandan Cinema, Juhu.
- More Information: ISKCON Temple website.
The magnificent golden Global Pagoda is the highlight at one of the Top Vipassana Meditation Centers in India. Completed in 2009, it's the world's largest stone dome built without any supporting pillars. The dome is approximately 29 meters high, twice the size of the previously largest monument of its kind in Bijapur, India. Inside, the meditation area can seat over 8,000 people.
In addition to the main pagoda, the complex has two small pagodas that are 60 feet high. One of them contains individual cells for meditators. There's also an art gallery showing the life and teachings of the Buddha.
- Where: Gorai, in the far northern Mumbai suburbs.
- More Information: Global Vipassana Pagoda website.
While the Elephanta Caves are more tourist attraction than a religious place, they contain an important historical rock-cut temple dedicated to Lord Shiva that dates back to the 7th century. In the main hall, which is supported by large pillars, you'll find the imposing Mahesamurti sculpture of Lord Shiva. It shows him in his three different aspects -- creator, protector, and destroyer. Other smaller sculptures of Lord Shiva depict his accomplishments.
Elephanta Island, where the caves are located, offers a delightful view of the Mumbai skyline. Try to time your visit so you see the sunset over the city.
- Where: Off the coast of Mumbai, accessible by boat from the Gateway of India. The journey takes an hour and the guides provide a good introduction to Hinduism on board the boat.