Mumbai Diaries: Temples of South Mumbai ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

When I first moved to Mumbai, I was given to understand that I lived in ‘town’ – as they call the southernmost precinct of Mumbai. Other than housing primary business districts, heritage buildings in Art Deco and Victorian styles, upmarket housing societies, popular beaches, it also is home to some ancient temples. The temples are dedicated to different deities and have been built using diverse styles of architecture. But they all serve the purpose of welcoming a devotee and giving them much needed succour. This post attempts to bring you some of them. If you have just a day- start early and you can cover most of it in one day

Lord Balaji/ Venkateshwara Temple, Fanaswadi: This temple is a favourite. Since the temple closes around 11.30 am, we started our day with the Lord Venkateshwara Temple. It is located in Fanaswadi, one of the several ‘wadis’ or localities in Girgaum. It was built in 1927 and is also known as the ‘Little Tirupati’. If you are unfamiliar with the streets like I am, do use the GPS to navigate through the crowded streets of Kalba Devi. Or you could ask anyone on the road! Once you reach the temple, it is a unique spiritual experience.

Sri Venkatesh Devasthan, Fanaswadi

According to the priests or ‘Vadyars’, who follow the Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, this temple is oldest replica of the temple at Thirumala. The temple is built in the typical Dravidian architectural style with an impressive Gopuram and a grand Dhwajasthambam (flag staff). The temple was consecrated on the 10th of June 1927. One of the idols of Lord Vishnu was brought from the Yathothkari Perumal Temple or Thiruvekka, one of the 108 Divyadesams located in Kanchipuram. The ‘Chakratha Azhwar’, as the Sudarshana Chakra is known was brought from Thirunangur, in Tamil Nadu, which is another hub of Divyadesams. Both were brought on foot in the 1920s, with special prayers during the journey.

The sanctum sanctorum has Lord Venkateshwara flanked by Bhudevi and Sridevi. On the sides there are shrines for Lakshmi Narsimha, Sudarshana Chakra, Krishna flanked by Rukmini and Satya Bhama and Lord Rama with Lakshmana and Sita. Festivals like Vaikuntha Ekadasi, the Brahmaotsavam and other Sri Vaishnava festivals are observed in a grand scale.

The outer prakaram has a sannidhi for Sri Ranganatha, Mahalakshmi and Sri Ramanujacharya. The walls have beautiful paintings of all the Divya Desams, Dasavatars as well as the story of the Lord of Seven Hills. Chapters from the Bhagavad Gita are also inscribed on the wall. 

The temple timings are from 5.40 a.m to 11.30 a.m and from 4.00p.m. to 9.30 p.m (Monday to Thursday) and from 5.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The nearest station is the CST station.

Mumba Devi: A few minutes away from the Fanaswadi Temple is the Mumba Devi temple in the Bhuleshwar area. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Amba and the etymology of Mumba comes from ‘Maha Amba’ or Great Mother. She is the patron goddess of the agri (salt collectors) and kolis (fisherfolk) of Mumbai. This temple is nearly six centuries old and was shifted when the original temple was destroyed at Bori Bunder. The new temple was then erected in Bhuleshwar, though nobody knows who built it. When the road widening activity took place in Kalbadevi, the original structure was demolished and the idol installed in the new structure. The construction was financed by the state government. It is currently being managed by the Palshe Joshi community. There is also a legend that says that Goddess Amba was sent by Lord Brahma to vanquish an evil demon called Mumbaraka. After his defeat, Mumbaraka was repentant and begged the goddess to name herself after him. The sanctum sanctorum has Goddess Jagadamba and Goddess Annapoorneshwari and Goddess Mumba to the left

Mumba Devi Temple, Kalbadevi

Gamdevi Temple: AfterMumba Devi, it is another short drive to the 200 year old Gamdevi temple and the area gets its name after this temple. This is the temple for the local ‘Gram Devi’ or village goddess, Lilavati (which means graceful woman).

It is considered to be one of the oldest temples on the island and has a story associated with it. According to the book, written by Govind Narayan, Mumbai: An Urban Biography from 1863, the idol was located on the hills of Walkeshwar around 200 years ago. She came into the dream of a gentleman called Bapaji Mhatre Somavanshi Pathare asking him to take her down to the village. He along with the inhabitants of Girgaon, brought her down and installed her in an open space and planted a banyan tree next to her. Later in 1728, Rajashree Balaji Bhikaji Kshatriya Somavanshi Pathare built a temple and this is the structure which stands to date. The goddess is venerated by the Kshatriya Somavanshi Pathare, Vaadval and Sutar castes. Every year in the month of Margashirsha on the Shudha Purnima day a special procession is taken out.

A Sutar composed a poem in praise of her which goes as:

Mumbadevi Lilavati who sits by a banyan at Girgaon

The old people believe her to be the true goddess

Obstacles are removed even before they are realised

Seeing her devotees in problems, she rushes to their rescue”

Next to it is a relatively new Narmadeshwar Temple with a Shiva Linga in a quaint building built largely with wood. It also houses a shrine for Lord Dattatreya.

Babulnath Temple: Situated at the foot of Malabar Hill and near the Chowpatty Beach, the Babulnath temple is believed to be one of the oldest Shiva temples in the city.

The temple has an interesting legend associated with it. Over 200 years back, a rich goldsmith called Pandurang owned large tracts of land, where his cattle were taken to graze every day by a cowherd called Babul. The cattle were hence healthy and Pandurang always had surplus milk. One evening Pandurang observed that a healthy cow called Kapila did not produce a drop of milk. Pandurang summoned Babul to ask him the reason. Babul replied that Kapila had stopped giving milk in the evening for many days, as it would go to a particular place and would express all the milk from her teats. Pandurang was perplexed with the explanation and went to see this for himself. And behold, what Babul said was absolutely true. He excavated the place where the milk was being poured into and Pandurang was amazed to find a beautiful Shivalinga. This is the linga that is worshipped even now in the temple of Babulnath. The idols and the Shivalinga in the temple were originally consecrated in the 12th Century by the Hindu King Bhimdev. Later in 1890, contributions from the Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda and some Gujarati merchants led to a larger structure being constructed so that the temple on the hill was visible from afar.

Devotees have to climb 110 steps to reach the shrine. However, an elevator is now available too. A little more than halfway during the climb, some mendicants have made their home near the landing. The current temple has shrines for other deities such Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, the Virat Roop of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Parvati.

Mahalakshmi Temple: Mumbai is credited to be the financial capital of the country, thanks to the grace of Goddess Mahalakshmi who resides on a hillock on Bhulabai Desai Road. The story of the temple goes something like this. Due to the Muslim invasion, the Hindu community took precautions and immersed the three idols of goddesses Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati in the sea near the Worli Creek. Later during the British rule, engineers were finding it difficult to connect the islands of Worli and Malabar Hill due to powerful waves. It is believed that Goddess Mahalakshmi appeared in the dream of one of the government engineers instructing him to retrieve the idols and build a temple on the hillock. After the idols were retrieved, the engineering task of connecting the islands went off smoothly. In gratitude, the idols were installed around 1770 and a temple built for them.

In the Sanctum Sanctorum. Picture Courtesy: Mahalakshmi Temple (Open Source)

The temple is accessed through a fleet of steps and is under tight security. A silver dwajasthabha welcomes you at the entrance. There are separate queues for the two genders and when you reach the sanctum sanctorum you see the three presiding deities, namely Maha Kali, MahaLakshmi and Saraswati. You also find Goddess Annapoorneshwari on a throne.  The idol of Lord Ganesha is found at the entrance.

Outside Mahalakshmi Temple

At the back of the temple you get to see the fabulous view of the sea and there are smaller shrines dedicated to Hanuman and Lord Ganesha too.

Siddhi Vinayak Temple: The one temple that is dear to all Mumbaikars is the Siddhi Vinayak temple, located in the neighbourhood of Prabha Devi. The idol of the Lord Ganesha is in black stone that is 2’6” high and 2’ wide with the trunk on the right instead of the left. However, He is always covered with vermillion. Sitting in the lotus pose He is flanked by consorts Ridhi and Siddhi. The Lord has a third eye akin to Lord Shiva’s third eye. A snake is entwined like a sacred thread on the deity. The walls of the sanctum sanctorum are constructed using Jaisalmer sandstone. The sanctum is a spacious octagonal structure with three ornate doors.

There is a vermillion covered idol of Lord Hanuman, just opposite the shrine and has its own set of rituals everyday. This idol was found during a road extension project in 1952. The present day six storied structure was built according to Vastu and Shilpa Shastras and was inaugurated with a Kumbabhishekam ceremony on 13th July 1994. What is interesting is that the octagonal structure of the temple is directly above the crown of the deity.

The temple has been covered extensively by international media and is the richest temple in Mumbai and garners donations of Rs 100 million to 150 million a year.  The temple was built by a contractor named Laxman Vithu Patil and was funded by a lady called Deubai Patil. Since she was childless, Deaubai built the temple so that the Lord should grant children to other barren women. It was consecrated on 19th November, 1801. Two huge silver mice statues are found inside the temple. You will find devotees whispering into their ears so that they convey their wish to Lord Ganesha. During the 1960s and 70s the temple became so popular that it became difficult to control the crowds. The Government then stepped in and formed the Siddhi Vinayak Trust with prominent citizens as Board of Trustees to oversee its smooth functioning.

7 thoughts on “Mumbai Diaries: Temples of South Mumbai ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

  1. Beautiful article.. didn’t know the history of some of the temples I have been visiting so regularly in Mumbai..thank you Sangeeta, my sister and temple buddy ..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed your narration, Sangeeta. I spent my childhood in South Bombay (in the ’70s, so this name comes more easily to me) and frequently visited Mahalakshmi and Babulnath temples with my parents. I married into a family from Mumbai, but they live very far from where I used to. I managed to pay a visit to Babulnath temple two years ago after nearly 40 years! I did not know the history behind these temples, so I learned something new from your article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bombay / Madras – these are the names that come easily to me too and I have to be on alert on using their current nomenclatures! I am so happy to know that you this brought back memories for you and I could share something new! Thanks for taking the time and do give me a shout when you are here next!


  3. Though I have visited all these temples, many a times, through your write up i learnt the origins of some of them .
    You have smoothly guided the reader through the journey, with awesome pictures.
    Keep writing, dear.


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