Hidden among the buildings and shops of Walkeshwar, approached by many winding paths, lies the centuries-old tank of Banganga.
The sacred water tank, which legend says sprung from the arrow of Lord Ram, is on the itinerary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, when the couple visits Mumbai today.
Every step towards Banganga takes you back to an older, quieter time, as you slowly leave the bustle of the city behind. At the tank, ringed with tall steps, ducks swim in the water, while children play in the shade of the overhanging trees. In a corner, women wash clothes. A cool breeze blows even in the hottest of afternoons.
Some preparations to welcome the royal couple at the water tank have been made. The restoration work of rebuilding the steps with black basalt rocks, started a few months ago, has been stopped. The place has been cleaned and boulders and stones, to be used for construction, have been piled away in one corner.
Banganga was built in 1127 AD by a minister of the Silhura dynasty. It was restored after being destroyed by the Portuguese in 1715, through funds donated by a businessman, Rama Kamath. It is now run by the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin Trust.
About the legend of its origin, Akhilesh Tiwari, a priest here, says, “Lord Rama wanted to provide Sita water as she fasted for Lord Shiva. The idol of Shiva had to be bathed with fresh water, which he could not find since they were surrounded by the sea. So, he shot an arrow into the sand and water from the river Ganga came gushing out. This is why the tank is called Banganga.”
Situated in the Walkeshwar temple complex, the tank is used by many to perform religious ceremonies. However, despite its historical and religious appeal, the water in the tank is often strewn with waste thrown in by locals and tourists. Clothes can be seen drying on the steps and heaps of garbage lie in many spots. The debris from the restoration work had added to it. Shantilal, the supervisor at the site deployed by M V Devang constructions, says the rebuilding ordered by Malabar Hill MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha will take at least another two to three months to finish.
However, for many, Banganga continues to hold an emotional appeal. Everyday, Jagdish Mhatre, a retired real estate agent, can be seen picking up garbage that people throw into the water. “I used to come here as a child and its been 51 years and I still come here everyday. Locals litter the place with garbage and plastic. The BMC men clean it only when there is an event. So, I take it upon myself to do this job. Cleaning Banganga is my way of servicing God,” Mhatre says.
However, he says, the place has become considerably cleaner after 1989, when the tank was emptied, the dirt and muck disposed of and an outlet unblocked. This project was spearheaded by Rocky Crasto, a man who was singularly responsible for the preservation of Banganga until 2003. His son Clyde Crasto still works for the heritage site and was involved in getting a ban on film shootings at Banganga in 2007.
According to locals, the water tank was once the site of various festivals and events, and many celebrities would grace it. “Every year before the festival of Sankranti, an event organised by Maharashtra Paryatan Maha Mandal would be held. For the first event, Hema Malini performed a dance. This place has also been visited by Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar. But these don’t happen anymore, after the trust had a fallout with the event organisers,” Mhatre says.