Temples are an integral part of Hindu culture. It is amazing to see the strength of simple faith and belief that attracts throngs of people to go ring the bell and fold their hands respectfully and pray for everything to work out. Now imagine a 10 square feet of area in the middle of hustle bustle of Mumbai city, that boasts about 100 or more temples, and has a history that crosses the socio-economic gap. Around 1835, bazaar areas emerged within the heart of South Mumbai in places such as Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi and Girgaum, where residential, commercial, social and religious activities were integrated closely with the system of the city. Densely populated colonies developed in and around Bhuleshwar where Hindu immigrants from Kathiawar, Kutch and Marwar settled in large numbers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Maybe that’s why the diveristy of temple architecture prevalent so abundantly.
Folklore says that the name ‘Bhuleshwar’ came into existence because the Gods of Bhuleshwar forgot their way after returning from the sojourn in heaven and were found wandering through the lanes in search for their rightful abode(“Bhula”= Forgetful; “Eshwar” = God). I have never seen a more congested lane with such high density of temples. And the best part is, none of the temples are ornate or have grand shrines, as is the norm that is evident in South India. All the 100 temples mentioned are not tourist sites but places of worship for the locals since last 150-odd years. They are part of their everyday life.
For instance, despite the vast coastline, India does not much of a sea mythology. There are stories of Ram-Sita or Krishna-Radha crossing a river or dancing at thr river bank. For centuries past, Indian sailors used to be part of the trading cult with the Arabic countries and Ethiopia. They used to set off from Kutch, Gujarat. As days translated into months, the first land sighting would be the island of Socotra, which used to be located at the mouth of the Gulf of aden, below Yemen and just off the Horn of Africa. Despite the island name loosely translated to ‘providing bliss’, the island of Socotra had a rather nasty reputation – ship-wrecks in its shoals, violent storms especially during the monsoons which used to cut-off the island from the wider world. Thus the coastline was often embodied as a goddess Sikotar Mata, a goddess from Gujarat who was often associated with prosperity, fertility and harbringer of ship-wreck when displeased. Mumbai’s dramatic evolution when it comes to its landscaping is equally reflected in unique heritage.
Beyond the unique and creative display of religion that one can see at every step, there are surprising niches of history that one can appreciate. But the most unique and lesser known feature that I personally found fascinating is the Asses on Stone also known as Gadhegal, or the Donkey’s curse stone. Despite the crude sexual depiction, archaeologists date the stones back to the reign of the Shilahara dynasty from 1012 to 1651. According to the folklore, large land grants were awarded to the Brahmin community as a royal patronage. The dilemma here was the Brahmin community do not possess the army to protect these land grants. As a solution, a curse used to be imposed to ensure security. Any trespassing thus would be dealt with a very graphic curse.
Despite the maze status of the area, its interesting isn’t it to note the numerous folklores and historical snippets that have come up over time.
Update – While the post has been written in the year 2016, a recent interest to rediscover the hidden and non-existent photography talents has resulted in new update as of September 2022.
P.S – Bhuleshwar is a tightly packed surprise tucked away in a corner of South Mumbai and delightfully showcased by Bharat and his team from Khaki Tours.
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