Baanganga: In the Heart of Mumbai

Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag
After a refreshing early morning run in Mumbai I recounted the route to my parents. I had run from Electric House, via Mantralaya, along the Chowpatty sea face, past Wilson College, to the top of the hill.

“That's Walkeshwar hill,” my father revealed, “and if you had gone a little further you would have reached Baanganga and the Walkeshwar devasthan (temple or mandir).” My father explained how the Baanganga – the fresh water spring only a few yards from the ocean – came to be by the grace of Shri Rama. Being a Mumbaikar, I prided myself on knowing every significant site here. How did I miss this important landmark, while growing up only a few miles away? Perhaps I was not ready to walk here; here where Shri Rama walked?

Next day, I continued running to the top of Walkeshwar hill and over to Baanganga. Here enroute to Lanka, Sita, Rama and Lakshman are believed to have rested. I too removed my shoes and stretched my feet.

According to legend, Shri Rama and Lakshman did not find drinking water on this spit of land surrounded by salty ocean. Lakshman then shot an arrow into the ground, springing forth a stream of fresh water. The water pooled forming the Baanganga, (see pic above) refering to the purifying waters of river Ganga brought here by an arrow Baan.

For his prayers, Rama fashioned a linga from the sand, giving the area its name Walkeshwar (Wallu – sand + Ishwar – God). The crudely fashioned linga, with petrified finger marks is now enshrined in the tiny Walkeshwar mandir right across from the Baanganga. The mandir is to the left on this schematic. For bearings, the above pic was taken from the steps by the Ganapati mandir.

The Walkeshwar mandir is a tiny shrine and I shot this pic from the doorway. You can see the Nandi (seated bull) in the small antaralaya – foreroom. Past the collection box on the left, the linga is slightly below ground level, under the watchful eyes of the Naga Devata (Snake God). Early in the morning, all visitors can pour water on the linga (performing abhishek) and pray.

My fingers traced the ridges on this linga, where Shri Rama’s fingers had crudely moulded and turned to stone. How many had touched this before me? The blessed Sita, Shri Rama and Lakshmana too! And the millions and millions of devotees before me, thanking the divine for her munificence. And then I realized, how insignificant my life is. A tiny being, a tiny droplet from the ocean of Brahman – the Paramatman. I let the water flow over my fingers over the linga, and watched it swirl away into the unknown. Another devotee had offered a few bael leaves on the linga. I picked one up as a blessing from the divine, touched it to my forehead and carefully placed it in my running shorts.

I picked up my running shoes and walked around the numerous shrines, which have sprouted around this hallowed tank.

Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag

In front of the Walkeshwar Mandir, these steps lead to the tank itself. There is a tiny shrine to Ganesha in the niche in the wall, behind where the lady in the red saree is praying to Nandi. The rest of the family appeared to be enjoying their outing here.
Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag


The little girl and the younger brother she held, were both mesmerized by the glinting waters of the Baanganga.
Baanganga in Mumbai by Arun Shanbhag

Yes, its the shoes! It’s my running shoes which bring me to fascinating places, where I meet fabulous people and take away great memories. Everyday I run is a day to remember! If you see me smiling, its because I am running today!

Come Running With Me

My second most favorite activity in Mumbai is going for a run. The early morning light is subdued; its cooler and the humidity is lower. Earlier in the day, people are nicer too, And running along the sea-face at Marine Drive is just what life all about. Importantly, starting the day with a nice run makes me less guilty when I indulge in my #1 favorite activity in Mumbai: EATING. Running justifies eating. The more you run, the more I get to eat. I can live with that.

I would start at 6:15 am from home near the Colaba Police Station. After a brief warm-up, I would run by the Cooperage football field, along Madam Cama Rd, past the Oval Maidan, Mantralaya and reach Marine Drive by the Air India building next to the Oberoi/Trident Hotel. This is how it looked on the day I took my camera along. It's a great feeling to realize I would run the entire Marine Drive upto Walkeshwar. A nice 7 Km run.

By Cooperage fields I dodge a gang of mangy dogs, who think they own the road (if anyone is interested in taking a supari for getting rid of these dogs, let me know!). Just past the Oval Maidan I saw this person pulling the water tank.

Past the Mantralaya (State House) and the MPs' quarters, as I trained my camera on the mural of the vigilant Shivaji Maharaj, this person gave me a threatening look. Instinctively I managed a smile and a greeting in Marathi. As he carried on, I slipped away! Phew!

Along the wide sidewalks of Marine Drive, it was heartening to see so many people enjoying the day. Some just sat by the water, others sauntered, others dashed, motivated by speed. Whatever you chose to do, it was the perfect time.

Along the way, a large flock of pigeons were feeding on chanaa; Morning walkers buy cups of this lentil from the hawker and sprinkle it on the sidewalk. It’s quite a sight.


On Chowpatty beach, these two women relaxing on the sands seemed to capture the tranquility of the morning by the water. They seemed to be in no rush, just waiting for the tide to come in.


As I run, I am in a state of euphoria. I can't count my blessings enough: to be here, healthy, to be able to do this. Here and now! What a blessed life. But what’s so special about this place I wonder. Running along the Charles River in Boston is even more spectacular, and you don't have to worry about rabid dogs. What's with this place? As my mind raced on, I noticed this statue in front of me. I thought it was the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, but as I ran closer it was someone else. And the lead phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.


“My place is with my people” it screamed.


Suddenly my heart seemed to slow down, my muscles relaxed, my breathing returned to normal and I was no longer gasping for air. I realized why Mumbai and India were such a special place for me. Because it was my place, and these were my people; and I belonged to them. A place where no one was gonna ask me – where you from?

A calm descended on me and I knew why I did the things I did. I felt I could keep running forever. The ache was gone. I was beaming! I dashed past Wilson College and charged up the hill on Walkeshwar Road. Just before Teen Batti, as the sidewalk ended in a chaotic urban congestion, I ended my run in front of this nariyal paani wallah (person selling tender coconuts) – Mahipal.

Mahipal would slice two large mitha malai-wallahs (sweet with a light cream). At 17 Rs each (~ 30 centes) it was a bargain. The best refreshing drink you can ask for after a nice run. Beats any day, the yucky tasting, colored, chemical laden sports drink you get elsewhere.

As I cooled off here, I would chat with Mahipal for about 15 minutes. He is a recent migrant from Madhya Pradesh and actually works for a Mallu owner (it was satisfying to see the Mallu monopoly on the nariyal paani business still going strong ;-). After a few days, he would notice me struggling up the hill and start to pull out the best nariyal. When I asked him to pose, he wanted a copy of a pic. He planned to send it to his parents in Madhya Pradesh. Apparently they were arranging his marriage, and a nice picture would snare him a pretty lass. With a person’s life possibly at stake, I tried my best. He does look debonair in this pic, wouldn’t your say?

Satisfied with the run, I take a cab back home. Aiee and papa would just be waking up and the kaapi brewing! Its going to be a great day and I am ready to sample Mumbai’s best! My number one favorite activity!

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