For 15 days leading up to Holi, a Marwari temple hidden in the bylanes of Bhuleshwar in South Mumbai comes alive in vibrant colours. Unlike in the rest of the city, celebrations for the festival that officially rings in summer last over a fortnight at this temple, which over nearly 200 years has become an important place of worship for Mumbai’s Marwari community.
The Shree Bada Jagadish Temple was built in 1824 by the members of the community who had migrated to Mumbai from Rajasthan. The temple has an idol of the deity built using wood from a neem tree, as is the practice in Rajasthan. Over the years, the temple became increasingly popular among Marwaris and a family of priests from Jodhpur moved here to run it. The temple is currently looked after by Dinesh Chandra Vyas, who like his predecessors, lives in an apartment above the temple with his family.
“For Marwaris, who are mostly a business community, Holi was not considered important during the 1830s as compared to Diwali. But as their numbers began to grow, they came to realise the value of Holi. Since 1824, Holi is being celebrated here over 15 days,” said Vyas.
Known as Faag, the fortnight long celebrations see devotees shower idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, Lord Rama and Sita, Shiva and Parvati with flowers. Community members also re-enact mythological stories in small plays, with children playing the roles while others play traditonal dhol music.
In keeping with how the festival is celebrated in Rajasthan, during the last two days, mothers bring newborn babies to the temple and circle the holy pyre seven times. Following the pheras, elders from the mother’s family beat a set of wooden sticks together. The practice is believed to shower divine blessings upon the infants, Vyas said.
On Rangpanchami — the fifteenth day — the idol of the diety isn’t given its daily wash, but dressed in white as devotees smear colour and offer flowers and sweets. It is only after this that the day-long celebration with colours begins. Community members also help themselves to generous amounts of bhaang mixed in thandai, as the revelry continues well into the night, added Vyas. He estimates that at least 300 devotees visit the temple daily during the fortnight.