Believed to have been centuries old, the Banganga Tank, located in Malabar Hill, is one of the hidden treasures in Mumbai that peeps into the lives of various communities settled around.
A school-girl sitting with her mother and brother on the stairs of Banganga Tank first shied away and then took no seconds in saying, “This is the only place we come to every day, and we sit here for hours looking at the water and the fish inside.” Encircled with multiple stairs on all sides shallowing down, the rectangular-shaped Banganga tank is a hub for private time, gossip, and even a playground for the locals settled around the tank and for the ones living in the nearby lanes.
A view of the Banganga Tank
The current pace with which the city of dreams, Mumbai, is transforming itself to facilitate its residents, very gradually but surely, aiding in replenishing the rawness of the old Mumbai without the citizens taking reasonable notice of it. To a relief, the southern part of the city has been shouldered with all the burden to retain the bygone era, and fortunately, it has been well maintaining the job for quite a long time now. One such place in South Mumbai that has stood still for ages in its pure form is Banganga Tanka, a 20-feet water body in the Malabar Hill that takes you away from the hassle of Mumbai to provide a serene retreat and even reminds you of ghats of Banaras!
To be able to attain this composure, however, we surely did have to cram through a lot of commotion until we took a taxi from Churchgate station to reach the tank. Although it is advisable to always get down at the Charni Road Station to reach the spot, we were happy our way as it helped us take a short tour in the South and enjoy our own nostalgia! Anyways, after entering Malabar Hill, the nostalgia faded away as we entered narrow lanes with colourful houses on both sides for the first time. Five minutes later, the taxi driver announced that he could not drive further as the tank was a few miles from there.
Platform with religious idols at the entrance (roadside) of the Tank
Entering from our side, we found ourselves on a small religious corner to our right, where we saw ancient stone-carved statues of Lord Hanuman, Rama, and a Shivling kept on a platform-like structure. Freshly devoted flowers on the idols indicated recent worship by some locals. To our left, there was a small blue-painted hut that has stood there for at least 40 years.
In fact, the Banganga tank has roots in mythological history, with numerous folklores surrounding it. The locals here hold their own unique perspectives on these legends. For instance, an elderly woman living in the blue-painted house believed that Lord Rama had shot an arrow into the ground, causing water to spring forth, when he and Laxman were searching for Sita. Another local shared his belief that Lord Rama shot the ground with his arrow to quench Sita’s thirst during their exile. Though the legends differ, it is widely believed that the place got its name, Banganga, due to this event. “Ban,” which means arrow in Hindi, combined with “Ganga,” the name of the holy river, resulted in the name Banganga.
However, the stories surrounding the name Banganga do not end there. The second part of the name, Ganga, is believed by many locals to refer to the water of the holy river Ganges, which has purportedly flowed all the way from the north to Mumbai. Interestingly, neither locals nor historians have been able to ascertain the source of the water. While some locals believe that the water comes from the sea, which is very close to the tank, others believe that the tank and its water were brought here when the Walkeshwar temple was built. The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, was reportedly established in 1127 AD during the rule of the Silhara dynasty, which governed Mumbai from the 9th to 12th century. It was destroyed by the Portuguese but later rebuilt, along with the tank, in 1715 through the contribution of Rama Kamath, a wealthy philanthropist and businessman from Mumbai.
The present-day environment
As we advanced slowly, the water tank became visible to us from four sides. We observed that it was surrounded by various posh apartments at a distance and small hut settlements even closer to the tank; what a melange of upper-lower existence! The tank was encircled by several temples, including those dedicated to Lord Ganesh, Rama, and a Jain temple. It was only after descending a few steps that we noticed two large copper pots managed by the Goud Saraswat Temple Trust. Despite being surrounded by numerous temples, the premises of the tank, which are mostly managed by the same trust, were not very messy but rather better than our expectations.
Just like the locals here, we also decide to sit here to soak in the beauty of the setting sun while witnessing the heritage charm of the tank. The sight of water with a green hue was quite lively, and not just humans, even crows, and herons loved roaming around the tank. On the right side of where we sat was also a tiny formation that, by its mere appearance, seemed very ancient, with small Deepstambhas or lampposts alongside and a few unrecognized -words written all over it. But what it could be – we wondered.
The ancient lamposts structures
Fortunately, a middle-aged man beside us loved conversing with us about it and a few other things on the condition of anonymity. “It was constructed along with the tank, and the lampposts that you see were to place diyas during old times,” he said, pointing towards the vacant spaces in the posts. He also informed us that right behind that construction is also another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva that holds a big aarti every Monday.
The local also loved speaking about what the current-day surroundings of the tank look like. He said, “Almost all the residents, mostly Marathis, Gujaratis, and the migrants living nearby the tank, gather at the tank every evening, post coming back from their work to discuss daily events. We also hold various functions and programs on several Hindu festivals here.” Why was he sitting there at noon? To which he answered, “It was my off today, and I need to go to pick up my daughter from her institution in a while. So, sitting here seems the most pacifying option till then.”
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While conversing, a group of children who were playing with a small ball accidentally dropped it into the water. Before we could express our sympathy, they quickly retrieved a long stick to retrieve the ball from the tank, demonstrating the locals’ familiarity with it. In contrast, we attempted to act as self-made archaeologists and explored the potential source of the water, observing the area from where it appeared to flow into the tank. However, as history dictates, our endeavor proved unsuccessful in determining the origin of the water.
Despite the language barrier, an elderly woman residing in the blue-painted house enthusiastically explained to us how the tank’s water levels are regulated. Using her limited Hindi, she described a tap-like structure connected to the tank that is manually closed when the water reaches a certain level. Additionally, she proudly shared that her family has utilized this water for domestic purposes for years, touting its cleanliness, sweetness, and freshness.
Just like the locals, call it the charm of the tank and its surroundings that the Banganga Tank equally attracts tourists here. “It is so peaceful to be here and to see the clean water and beautiful birds chirruping around,” says one of the tourists who had visited the tank with her friend as it was her week off, although adding that the place could have been even cleaner. Another tourist, who was capturing the tank just like us, mentioned, “The place (Banganga Tank) is such that it might provide people with a safe corner to deal with the bump heads of life.”
As much as we were fascinated at our arrival at the tank, the departure turned out to be even more memorable as we met a pair ahead of the platform that housed the stone-carved idols who were counting a few colourful clothes kept on a large white cloth. On asking what they were doing, they said, “We buy these clothes for Rs. 10 and come here frequently to distribute free clothes to the needy.” It turned out to be a little surprising for us to know that they, who were also the locals and themselves belonged to the lower income group, have been meaning to help their neighbours in a possible way. Maybe, such is the magic of this secluded sacred ghat that has kept alive the sense of brotherhood among its natives.
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