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Say a little prayer...

mumbai Updated: Jan 28, 2011 00:54 IST
Lina Choudhury-Mahajan

In a narrow lane in Byculla is a Shiv mandir and, sharing a wall with it, Hari masjid. These are not the oldest or grandest places of worship in Mumbai, but they’re a good place to start a pilgrims’ trail celebrating the city’s spirit of co-existence.

In the same spirit, head northwest to Worli, for a visit to the city’s only Japanese temple.

The Buddhist Nipponzan Myohoji temple was founded in 1952 and features an Oriental pagoda-like façade and 10 stone pillars around a central prayer room that houses a marble statue of the Buddha and a large drum from Japan. The drum is beaten every evening, during prayer. The walls are lined with paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Next stop: Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Fort. Built in 1884 by the Sassoon brothers in memory of their father, the synagogue is an aquamarine blue two-storey structure with separate galleries for men and women and a

mikwah, a well where Jewish women can have a ritual bath for purification.

Head north from here to Bhuleshwar, for a prayer before the deity that gives Mumbai its name. The picturesque, 200-year-old Mumbadevi mandir was built in honour of the eight-armed patron goddess of the Koli fisherfolk, the original inhabitants of Mumbai.

Lining the narrow lane leading to this temple are stalls selling copper bracelets, prayer beads and incense sticks, and touts eager to guide you through your visit. Combine this ambience with the sight of the carved stone temple ahead and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Varanasi or Mathura.

Head south to Malabar Hill next, for a visit to the Banganga Temple and tank at Walkeshwar. This area derives its name from the legend surrounding this 300-year-old temple: Hindu deity Rama is believed to have paused here on his way from Ayodhya to Lanka and build a small monument to Shiva out of sand. Walkeshwar comes from the Sanskrit word for an idol made of sand — Valuka Iswar.

The term Ban Ganga itself is derived from the legend that Rama grew thirsty and his brother Lakshmana shot an arrow (baan) into the ground to draw water from India’s holiest river, the Ganga, creating what is now the holy spring that feeds the Banganga tank.

Next, visit Mumbai’s favourite deity, Ganesha, at the city’s most frequented temple: Siddhivinayak at Prabhadevi. Built in 1801, this is also the city’s wealthiest temple.

Nearby, in Dadar East, is the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. Built in 1936, this Sikh place of worship gets hundreds of visitors every day.

Continue your pilgrimage with a walk into the ocean for a visit to the picturesque Haji Ali dargah (make sure the tide is out; the narrow pathway has no railings). This 500-year-old shrine is one of the most iconic structures in Mumbai, and a stunning example of Indian Islamic architecture.

Finally, head to Afghan church at Navy Nagar, Colaba — actually The Church of St John the Evangelist, but known by this rather incongruent sobriquet because it was built in memory of the soldiers who died during the Anglo-Afghan war of 1838-43.

This church has wide Gothic arches and beautiful stained-glass windows; the tiles used for the geometric floor pattern were imported from England.

Finally, head to two of the city’s most popular churches — among people of all religions — St Michael’s in Mahim and Mount Mary in Bandra.

The Mahim church, as St Michael’s is called, is one of the city’s oldest and one of the oldest surviving Portuguese structures in Mumbai; the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount is one of the city’s most picturesque structures.