Article and Photos by Bernie Debusmann and Sarakshi Rai
Driving into Mumbai’s Malabar Hill area for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s an upscale area of no particular interest. India’s VVIPs live here, such as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra state and the Chief Justice. But not far from the stately homes, at the southern tip of Malabar Hill where the hired help live, there is the Banganga Tank, a 25 square metre rectangular pool of water considered holy by Hindus. The Banganga Tank has a fascinating history.
According to local legend, it was created when the God Rama made a pitstop in the area while searching for Sita, his kidnapped wife. Hostage rescue is tiring, thirsty, work, so he instructed his younger brother Lakshmana to fetch him some water – which he did by shooting an arrow into the ground.
Water immediately started to flow from a hidden tributary of the Ganges which is located well over a thousand kilometres away. The name ‘Banganga’, in fact, comes from the word baan, or arrow, and Ganga, for the Ganges. According to some local people we met, the area was also a favoured hangout of ‘Malabar Pirates and sailors from the Maratha Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The tank is part of a larger temple complex called the Walkeshwar Temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, one of the three most important deities of Hinduism. Year round, the area bustles with local people – and Indian sadhus or ascetics. But it gets particularly busy during periods of full moon, and during the Amavasya, or new moon.
To get to the tank, you have to make your way down one of the many unmarked and narrow alleys leading to the water, which is surrounded by makeshift rock deities and crumbling houses painted in bright hues of red, yellow, orange and pink.
The Banganga tank has long been ignored by the younger generation of affluent Mumbai residents who prefer posh nightclubs and expensive bars. But Banganga was brought to their notice again recently when by Will and Kate who made a stop there during the British royal visit in April. Three months before, Beyonce and Coldplay featured the tank in the music video for “Hymn for the Weekend”.