Brian gets only one day off a week: Sunday. Very often, we do errands or just hang around Powai for the day, but this Sunday we went sightseeing. We had learned about a tour through the Walkshwar temple area of Malabar Hill. We went to a Jain temple, Banganga tank, and a dhobi ghat (outside laundry).
The Jain temple was a small one near the entrance to the Walkshwar temple area. We were not allowed to take photos of the inside.
As with all sacred spaces in India, you remove your shoes before entering. Evidently, shoes are frequently stolen from in front of temples, so you often appoint someone to watch the shoes, buy something at the stand outside so that the vendor will watch them, or just pray that your shoes are there when you return.
The sacred space has a central prayer area, which only Jains may enter. Around the outer walls are statues of Jain prophets. Many worshippers will say prayers at those statues as well as inside the main temple area, called the Gambhara. As we exited, we were permitted to place sandlewood bindis between our brows.
The Banganga tank is sacred pool in the Walkshwar temple area. Hindus submerge relatives’ cremated remains in the spring. The name Banganga derives from two Hindi words: ban (arrow) and Ganga (the Ganges river). As the story goes, the god Ram was very thirsty one day. With no potable water nearby, he shot his arrow into the ground and up sprang a freshwater tributary of the Ganges. The water tank is the oldest fresh water spring in Mumbai. The tank structure dates from about 1127 AD. There is a large pole in the center of the water tank. It is the location where Ram’s arrow pierced the Earth. People swim out to the spot to submerge the remains. If you cannot swim that far, you can hire a boy to swim out to the pole for you. The tank is quite deep (at least 10 feet). Just yesterday someone drowned trying to reach the center pole.
As we circumnavigated the pool, we walked through the village. It is surrounded by the most expensive slum area of Mumbai. The average monthly rent is about Rs. 8,000 (USD 160). To give you an idea of how much that is, the average worker at the nearby laundry makes about Rs. 100 to 200 (USD 2 to 4) a day. Temples line the road. Some are dedicated to Shiva; others to Ganesh. Most are small, concrete buildings, little more than rooms with images of the gods and space to pray. They are really amazing spaces. In one, we watched a group prayer.
After winding through the village, we came to the dhobi ghat, the communal laundry. Several are located throughout the city. This one is not the largest, with only about 10 stalls.
Workers clean the clothes with soap and beat the clothes against concrete to get them clean. The clothes are then hung to dry. During monsoon season, spinners are used to dry the clothes, but it is understood that during monsoon that clothes do not come back completely dry. After drying, the clothes are ironed. In some locations, an electric iron is used, but in others a heated charcoal brick inserted into an iron is used instead.
It was an interesting juxtaposition of the old Bombay and new Mumbai. The village and its inhabitants still grind flour in a mill, but they are surrounded by towering skyscrapers. The little metal huts that skirt the dhobi ghat have satellite television. It shows how much has changed in over 1,000 years–and how much has not.