Tucked away in the heart of tony Malabar Hill lies Banganga, a freshwater tank that city historians say was constructed in the 10th Century by the Silhara Dynasty. Banganga is accessible by foot from its north, east and west banks and by car on its south bank, which faces Teenbatti. Referring to Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra’s book Banganga: Sacred Tank on Malabar Hill, historian Deepak Rao shared a popular legend about the tank.
“On his way to rescue Sita, Ram ended up on the Island of Bombay. He met Rishis who recommended he worship Lord Shiva to ensure that his trip is successful. However, in order to conduct the aarti, Ram needed fresh water. So, he shot an arrow into the ground and fresh water spouted. This gave birth to Banganga,” said Rao.
The quiet at the tank belies the bustling metropolis it nestles within. While tourists may be drawn to it for cultural and religious reasons, for locals it is an escape from the cacophony of the big city. Radha Karande was stunned when she visited Banganga with Khaki Tours. “It was like being transported back in time and space; away from the bustling metro city — Mumbai. The Banganga tank reminds one of the ghats of Benaras,” she said.
According to Anita Garware, chairperson of the Indian Heritage Society, Banganga has been an important religious spot for centuries. “Pilgrims would land up at Lakdi Bandar and walk up the stairs, or the present day Siri Road, to reach Banganga,” said added. Banganga is also famous for the cultural buildings surrounding it. “Balaji Vishwanath Temple is the only Maratha style temple in the city. There are many temples in the area that are of great importance,” said Garware.
Geeta, from Ulhasnagar, who has been visiting Banganga for many years, said, “I enjoy sitting by the tank. It is so peaceful. I feel like I am reborn.” Sharing some unusual facts she has learnt over the years, Geeta said, “Most intriguing was the burial ground for Shree Santosh Giri Dashnami Akhada. Unusual and unique. It was a revelation that Hindus are also laid to rest under the ground.” Vijay Pahwa, a Gurgaon resident, vividly remembers his first visit to Banganga. “I did not realise such a place even existed in the heart of the city. I was awed by the place and was enthralled by the diyas, the bright colours and the music.”
Some visitors, however, rue over the ‘deteriorating’ condition of the spot. M C Vaijaynthi from Navi Mumbai lamented, “It is really disappointing that such an ancient part of the city is almost neglected. The steps are under renovation for far too long, the area is not kept clean and the water level is also pretty low.” Banganga residents disagree.
“I have lived here for over 20 years and it has changed for the better, in many ways. It is much cleaner and safer now. The residents, with the help of the BMC, have drained out some of the water to prevent people from drowning. Sturdier steps have also been built to help institute cleaning measures,” said Pancham Nishad.