global travel shot: the unknown 5th century shiva saptamurti in parel

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You may well say, Aah, I have seen this sculpture before. That is, if you are a museum buff. Wrong.

Allow me to make a confession. I often find myself torn between awe at the cultural treasures with which India bursts at its seams with, and angry at the apathy, neglect and state of degradation in which many lie. I know I am not alone in this conflict.

Exactly a year ago I visited the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. Like very many others, I fell in love with one piece. Continue reading

bhuleshwar bhulbhulaiya: lord shiva’s neighbourhood in mumbai

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Last Sunday I was invited to attend a test walk through Bhuleshwar curated by Khaki Tours. I had just returned to Bombay from a hectic trip to Delhi, and would have given anything to just sleep in. The only thing more tempting was the idea of this walk.

So come 6 am, I found myself wake up to the persistent alarm on my phone, and drag myself, accompanied with my camera to CP Tank, our meeting place. CP Tank, by the way, stands for Cowasjee Patel Tank. It used to be a water tank, built by Parsee philanthropist Cowasjee Patel in 1776, for supplying drinking water in Girgaon. Today, it is an island on VP Road. Dhirubhai Ambani and his family had a home in Bhuleshwar till the 1960s.

For the uninitiated, Bhuleshwar is a predominantly Gujarati neighbourhood just north of the Fort District. Try googling and there is very little you can, if truth be told, lay your hands on about it. Apart from a long list of shops, “Alice in Bhuleshwar” by Kaiwan Mehta and the claim that there are a hundred temples in the vicinity alone, try finding out more, and there is nothing.

Which makes sense, for the 100 temples mentioned are not tourist sites but places of worship for the locals over the past 150-odd years. They are part of their everyday life. Continue reading

lal baug aka red garden—my love affair with bombay on valentine’s day

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It is Valentine’s Day and everyone and everything seems to be abuzz with how to celebrate a day devoted to love and affection with Mr. X or Mr. Z. My facebook wall suggests I spend it getting to know my adopted city a little better. After all, I love it, don’t I? The offered walk is through Lal Baug on Sunday morning, 14 February, 8:30 am.

I know nothing about the precinct mentioned in the marketing pitch. The name Lal Baug translates to red garden. Red for love. 🙂 Curious, I click on ‘going’.

Lal Baug, I soon discover is not one story but a tapestry of many, weaving into each other, much like a person if I may say so. It is more than a geographical area. It is a context, a community. Bombay or Mumbai or vice versa would be incomplete without Lal Baug. Let me explain. Continue reading

babulnath mandir: south bombay’s ancient shiva temple

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Perched on a hillock in the heart of Bombay, behind a rather inconspicuous entrance is the 200-year-old Babulnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

I hadn’t done much exploring in the city in the last couple of months (as you may have figured from my blog) and was antsy to start digging deeper again. Mention of the Babulnath temple cropped up whilst I was compiling an itinerary on ‘Mumbai in 48 hours’ for my sister’s very first time visit to Mumbai. I wanted to show her the touristy, as well as the local everyday sights. The temple, near Girgaum Chowpatty, I was told had to be in that list. Now was I going to wait till December to see it myself?? Haha. No ways! Continue reading

banganga: lord ram’s stopover in mumbai en-route to lanka

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“Excuse me, Banganga kahaan hai?” [Where is Banganga?]
This is the umpteenth time I have stopped to ask. There are no sign posts of any kind. Guided by countless shopkeepers, cab drivers and Marathi women with flowers in their hair, I finally find my way off the main road on to a small side lane with stone steps leading down into a valley.

Yes, I am confused. Around me urban Mumbai throbs with concrete high rises and bustling markets. The corner store keeper assures me, “Down the stairs on your right.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, sure.” And smiles.

So down the stairs I go, and at the bottom look to my right. A huge water tank guarded by deepstambhs, pillars to hold diyas, and surrounded by temples and dharamshalas clinging to its walls greets me with old world whimsical charm. Continue reading

nala sopara: mumbai’s ancient buddhist stupa and mythical temples

The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.

Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.

No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading