This is a continuation of my earlier blog ‘The medical mecca of Parel’.
I had mentioned that I had read about an ancient Shiva stele or bas relief in Parel and had set out on my cycle to check it out, (I had started this project of exploring Mumbai by cycle every Sunday morning and check out various interesting spots) but had gotten a bit side-tracked in admiring the many great hospitals in Parel which make it such a medical mecca, and the amazing generosity of the various people behind them.
‘Focus, dude - focus!’ I said to myself. ‘Shiva Shiva!’ I had come in search of Shiva and I had shall find that out. Google is an amazing tool for the city explorer - you use Google to search for various interesting things to see, and then use Google Maps to find your way there. I love Google.
G Maps delivered as promised, and brought me to... a really non-descript looking temple in the middle of a most nondescript road!
‘Eh?’ I looked around in puzzlement. Where was I? What was this? Had Google finally stuffed up and brought me to the wrong place? But no - ‘You have arrived’ - the tinny voice said in my ears. So I parked my cycle and went off to see where I had arrived.
I was in search of this -
This was the amazing 11 foot high 7-form Shiva relief - or 8-form, if you count the linga-shape which is the outline of the entire carving. This is estimated to be dating to the late Gupta period - which means that it was made in the 5th or 6th century! Which means that it was 1500 years old!
1500 frikkin’ years old!
It is supposed to be in the same style - and the same age as - the rock-cut cave temples of Gharapuri island, or Elephanta caves as they are better known.
And it was discovered here in the most serendipitous or lucky manner possible! They were building a road from Sewri to Parel, and were digging up the ground in 1931 to lay the base of the road - and they found this relief buried out there! How amazing is that!
Just imagine the shock of the worker who must have swung his pickaxe into the ground and had his spine jarred by the shock of the pick-axe slamming into the solid granite of the relief! It is a mercy that they didn't think that it was just a slab of rock and break it into pieces. The entire huge bas-relief was then carefully dug out of the ground - and that discovery must have seemed like a miracle to all the simple villagers around.
It is even more amazing if you stop and think about it for a bit.
While it is all very well to say that the image is in the ‘Gupta style’ - the area of Bombay was never under Gupta rule - the Gupta empire boundaries were in far-away Gujarat.
But obviously, someone here was sponsoring an awful lot of artwork and carvings - there are an astonishing number of rock-cut caves in Bombay - Elephanta, Kanheri, Jogeshwari, Borivali, Mahakali.
And these are really large structures - you would need a number of people to dig out the caves, and artisans to carve the statues ( and presumably painters who painted the walls and carpenters who carved doors and furnishings and cloth makers and tailors and goldsmiths and farmers to feed everyone etc. I know that no paintings or furnishings or anything else survives - but it is unlikely that the moneybags people who paid so much for such huge caves and idols to be carved would let them remain bare and unadorned. Looters must have stripped the temples when the civilisation which nurtured them collapsed and time would have rotted the rest. But the granite stone carvings would be indestructible)
So who were these people - why did they spend so much effort - and where did they go?
And secondly - the Elephanta caves are really far away from Parel, and on very different islands!
How on earth did this giant relief end up here? There is no cave or ancient temple in Parel at all. How did they manage to get this heavy thing here - did they put it on boats and stuff?
Also - why is there only 1 relief? Temples are adorned with many such reliefs - they cover all the walls after all. So - where are the rest of them?
And why was it buried here? Were they running from attacks of Muslim or Christian or Buddhist - or even Vaishnavite - iconoclasts? Or had they started to build a new temple here in Parel? Or was there a carving factory here which supplied this stuff to temples around? Or was it a school of carving - as the relief is unfinished?
But why? It’s not like Parel was an important place. The big cities in ancient times were Thane, Kalyan and Nala Sopara. The Portuguese settled on the other islands - Bombay, Mahim, Bandra, Vasai etc. There wasn’t even a fort on Parel - the forts of Mumbai were in Mahim, Bandra, Worli, Sewri, Mazgaon, Sion, Dharavi and Colaba. Then there were forts in Vasai, Arnala, Madh, Thane and Ghodbunder, Chaul, Palghar etc.
Parel seemed to have been a quiet and rustic place, far away from the flurries of history.
This relief seems to be quite a mystery! How fascinating!
After this thing was discovered, the locals must have looked at it as a miracle and refused to let it go to a museum. So, rather than anger the locals - the British arranged for an exact copy to be made, and that copy was kept in the Prince of Wales Museum - which is now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum. I had seen this copy myself - I had no idea that it was a copy! - and had admired it there.
The locals carted the original relief to the nearby Baradevi temple and installed it there. (Not sure why it is called ‘Baradevi; - does it literally mean ‘Twelve goddesses’ or is there some other derivation?)
After all this build-up, I was expecting some grand edifice here - suitable for such a magical and serendipitous find. But all I could see was a rather shabby and nondescript temple!
I went inside the temple - and was foxed to see that this famous stele was not there at all! There was only a small statue of a goddess
And the temple was totally deserted - not a soul in sight. I poked around and saw a few interesting things - an old ‘veergal’ or ‘Hero stone’ which told some action-packed story in three panels, some ancient mossy lions guarding an old statue - all of which had been cemented and butchered! There was a room which was supposed to be a ‘dharamshala’ or free resting room for pilgrims - but which now looked as inviting as a prison cell in some ghastly gulag...but no Shiva.
Puzzled, I went out again - and saw it!
They had put Serendipitous Shiva in a cage!
They had made an ugly concrete cabin with even more ugly collapsible shutters and had installed that stele within it. It was not even part of the temple - it was outside, in a separate structure. There was an information board outside which told me that this was ‘Monolithic bas relief depicting Shiva, Parel’ and gave some interesting information about the carving. I saw that this sign was dated 2012, so this ugly structure presumably dates from then. The ASI had put up their usual warning sign telling everyone that this was a protected structure and so on.
I felt quite sad as I looked at it.
He deserves better.
But hey - I suppose it must be better than being buried face-down in mud for a thousand years. Now at least people can see him and admire and worship him.
And hopefully, someday they will do a better job of displaying him and try to solve that most fascinating mystery of how he came to be buried here.
I saluted Serendipitous Shiva and mounted my cycle and went off.
This had been another amazing Sunday morning ride.
Check out my book - 'One Man Goes Cycling'
It was yet another Sunday coming up, and that meant another Sunday morning ride and another exploration of Mumbai by cycle.
I had been intrigued by a blog I had read about an ancient Shiva carving in a temple in Parel - a 5th century Gupta period carving, very like those found in the Elephanta caves. I was very intrigued indeed! Parel always indicated suburban Marathi blandness to me, and I had never associated that middle-of-the-road suburb with anything historical. I had to check this out!
I set out early morning and had a nice peaceful ride on the main road - I only dare to take this road and flyovers on early Sunday mornings… else there is a very real risk of being knocked down by fast-moving traffic. But if the roads are empty, then it is a real pleasure to take the main road and climb up the flyovers to get the muscly rush, and zoom down them to get the speed rush! WOOHOO! What fun! Double endorphins!
When I entered Parel, it suddenly struck me how much of a medical mecca this place is! There are four large hospitals here - and many many small ones, diagnostics centres, medical shop, accommodation of patients and relatives, charitable organisations offering food, accommodation and other support to poor people, people living on the streets…
I had never really paid attention to these places before, but this time since I was alone on my cycle, I could stop and take a few photos and notice the place.
I was quite struck by the magnificence of the Bai Jerbai Wadia hospital - the Indo-Saracenic architecture of the building was quite impressive. And it should be - as it was designed by George Wittet, the same dude who designed the Gateway of India and a lot of Ballard estate! There was a relief or stele of the eponymous Bai Jerbai on the arch - and this is a lady who really deserves to be better known!
Jerbai was born in 1872 and had a nice conservative traditional upbringing, and married into a very rich Parsi family. But she was a wonderful combination of earnest good nature and wanting to make a positive contribution to society + the determination and guts and orneriness to make things happen! This is a most unusual combination and is god’s gift to humans.
Jerbai was married into one of India’s most remarkable families - the Wadias. The Wadia family has three main branches: textiles, shipping, and jewellery. Descendants from each of these branches have made significant contributions to their fields, to their communities, to India, and to the global economy; they have been industrialists, government leaders, medical doctors, and scholars.
The Wadias were shipwrights from Surat, and Lovji Wadia came to Bombay in 1736 at the invitation of the British, and built the city’s first dry docks and became a most prominent family here. They built over a hundred warships for Britain, and had trading networks around the world - and as a matter of interest, the American national anthem ‘The star-spangled banner’ was written by Francis Scott Key aboard a Wadia-built ship - the HMS Minden. (He was probably a prisoner in that ship - but hey...a Wadia built ship)
Jerbai’s husband - Naoroji Wadia - died in 1907 - leaving her a very rich widow… he left her Rs 9 lakhs in his will - a staggering amount in 1907. This must have been quite an unusual thing in the conservative atmosphere of the time to leave so much wealth in the hands of a woman - which also shows how much regard her husband had for her. She decided to dedicate her life to good works and use her money and dynamism for the same. Housing was a big problem at the time, so she created a set of low cost tenement blocks for the use of poor Parsi families. This was such a success that she went on creating more and more of them - the first colony was called Naoroj baug in memory of her husband. Her younger son Rustom died in 1923 and left her a staggering 3 crore rupees in her will - and she used that to build another block of houses, which was called Rustom baug in her son’s memory. She started building another huge block of housing - but she died in 1926 before it could be completed, and it was named Jer Baug in her honour. Her sons also continued her charitable legacy and developed more housing estates which were called Cusrow baug and Ness baug.
Thus you can see how much one single lady’s zeal has contributed to the well-being of the entire Parsi community of Mumbai.
Random unrelated but interesting aside - the Wadia family is related to the founder of Pakistan - through Neville Wadia, who was married to Dina Jinnah from 1938 to 1943, and had two children together, Diana and Nusli Wadia. Dina was the daughter of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Rattanbai Petit. Jinnah was obviously the founder of Pakistan and the father of the ‘Partition’ which cost god knows how many lives and lives on as a festering wound in the soul of the subcontinent.
Such differing people in the same family :)
Apart from this, the Wadia family endowed the famous ‘Wadia college’ in Pune - which is one of the leading liberal arts colleges of India.
She also - obviously - endowed this grand hospital i was looking at, and this was only one among many other charitable endowments she did - which includes a hostel for nurses at JJ hospital, a number of nursing and convalescent homes at Khandala, Mahabaleshwar, Deolali etc, extension of hospital wings and wards etc.
It is estimated that her total charitable contributions to Mumbai was over 8 crores! 8 crores in 1926! A staggering amount of generosity indeed!
And this is not the only amazing example of Parsi charity here - you only have to look across the street to the Tata memorial hospital.
Before there was the hospital - there was the world’s largest diamond! Well… the world’s 6th largest diamond actually - the 245 carat whopper found in the Jagersfonten mine in South Africa. It was supposed to be presented to Queen Victoria on her jubilee, and hence was called the ‘Jubilee diamond’ - but they never got around to gifting it to her for some reason. The super-rich moneybags Dorabjee Tata bought the diamond in 1900 as a gift for his wife Meherbai. The turn of the century was boom time for the Tatas, as they were expanding like mad - they started the Taj Mahal hotel in 1903, TISCO in 1907 and Tata power in 1910 - and a number of other ventures. Dorab and Meher Tata lived like royalty in a big mansion in Esplanade and amassed a huge art collection and whatnot.
But the 1920s brought a lot of pressures with cheap Japanese steel flooding the market and TISCO was on the verge of collapse and needed a huge cash injection of Rs 2 crore - a most stupendous sum at the time! It was the Jubilee diamond which came to their rescue - Sir Dorabji pledged the diamond to the Imperial bank of India (which was renamed later to SBI) and got a loan to tide over the problems.
Lady Meherbai was also a most remarkable lady - she was a member of the ‘Bombay presidency womens council’ and the ‘National council for women’ and was a key member in the act to ban child marriage. She was created a CBE (Commander of the British Empire - a great honour) by King George. And she was also the aunt of two very famous nephews! Homi Bhabha, the father of Indian atomic energy, and Jamshet Bhabha, the founder of the NCPA (National Centre of Performing Arts)
She loved the Jubilee diamond and wore it a lot - and when she died of Leukamia in 1931, Dorabji Tata left his entire wealth - including the fabulous Jubilee diamond - to the Dorabji Tata Charitable trust - which sold the diamond to fund the building of the Tata Memorial Hospital.
Imagine the large-heartedness of the man who gave away all his wealth for the betterment of the poor cancer patients.
Truly - 'Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta’ - ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.’
Apart from Parsi benevolence, we also have Hindu benevolence in the form of the Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas medical college, lovingly known as the GS medical college. It was built as a mark of protest by Indian doctors not allowed to serve at Bombay’s then only medical school, Grant Medical College. Funded by the heirs of Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas, a wealthy Bombay merchant, the hospital employed only Indian doctors and professors. But then they named the hospital after the king of the oppressors, and called it the King Edward Memorial hospital! Talk about keeping one foot on each plank!
So now the institution is called the ‘King Edward (VII) Memorial Hospital and Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College’, and is a leading medical institution of the country with several firsts to its name - take any medical procedure at random and there is a high chance that it was pioneered here!
We have Christian benevolence in the form of Dr Ernest Borges - Dr. Borges, a Goanese doctor working with Tata hospital, had helped the poor outpatients staying on the pavements for many years till constant exposure to radiation while treating his patients eventually claimed his own life. The road outside is named the ‘Dr Borges road’ in his honour.
And we have state benevolence - in the shape of the Haffkine institute! A hundred odd years ago the building was the Governor’s Palace, Sans Pareil, and its extensive grounds. The edifice started off as a Jesuit chapel (1673), then became the Bombay Governor’s residence (1771 – 1885), then offices of the Bombay Presidency Recorders, and finally the Plague Research Laboratory in 1899, later renamed Haffkine Institute in 1925.
So who exactly was Haffkine and what was his story in Bombay? Dr. Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine was a Russian Orthodox Jewish scientist invited to India to develop a vaccine against the bubonic plague then thwarting the city. Haffkine worked persistently, despite all odds, from a makeshift laboratory in a corridor of Grant Medical College for three months, and on 10 January, 1897 tested his vaccine on himself. Bombay owes its escape and recovery from the plague to this gentleman.
I did this cycle ride back in 2016 - and it really resonated with me then, because my mom was suffering from cancer at the time, and the disease took her life the next year. That hospital, those patients, those poor guys on the sidewalks, the medical feel of the place .. I could identify with all of them.
And I am writing this blog in 2020, and it is resonating with me again as COVID stalks our lives as Plague did their lives at the turn of the century.
We are waiting for another Dr Haffkine to turn up and do his thing.
(and sometimes when social media seems to tell us nothing but stories of bigotry and hate and inter-religious bile and howling madness… one might find it soothing to come here and see the good work done by good people from many different religions and backgrounds. We should talk more about nice things on social media.
Remember - 'Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta’ - ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.’)
This blog has become pretty long - so I will talk about what I came to Parel to see - the ancient Shiva stele- in the next blog :)
I heard about Khotachi wadi for the first time in a discussion with an old acquaintance - Sujata Pilinja Rao, proprietress of the charming 71-year-old ‘New Vasantashram boarding and lodging home.’
I told her about my new hobby of exploring Mumbai by cycle and discovering all kinds of amazing places - and she recommended that I should check out the old village of Khotachi wadi. ‘It has an amazing old world charm’ she told me. ‘Go and see it while it still lasts.’
I was always on the lookout for new destinations for my Sunday morning cycling - so I duly set out to discover the place. ‘Khotachi wadi’ - literally means a garden or village belonging to a ‘Khot’ - in case a certain ‘Dadoba Waman Khot’. This was a little rustic village at the time - and the land was bought by a bunch of ‘East Indian’ families from this Khot dude.
The nomenclature of ‘East Indian’ - rather foxes us Indians...because most of the ‘East Indians’ are living on the West coast of India, and should be called ...er… West Indians? It took me several years to realise that they were ‘Eastern’ on a global scale! Columbus had set out from Portugal to discover a sea-route to India - and had discovered America instead! To be precise, he discovered a bunch of islands in the Caribbean sea - not even the mainland of America. He - naturally - did not know of the existence of a continent called America, and he thought that he had discovered India!
WOOHOO! I have discovered India… I will call these islands the ‘Indies’!
Columbus was a lost old fool - but he had discovered a new world, after all, so no one had the heart to correct the naming he did - and those islands continued to be called the ‘Indies’ even after it was conclusively proven that it was not, in fact, India… and native Americans continued to be called ‘Red Indians’ … later corrupted to ‘Injuns’ … in spite of the fact that they were not - in fact - Indians.
Even Later, when Vasco Da Gama landed in Calicut and ‘discovered’ India - they still wouldn’t change the name of the Caribbean islands - they stubbornly continued to call them the ‘Indies’ - only now they added a descriptor and called them the ‘West Indies’. The locals there were called ‘West Indians’ - and the actual Indians in India were called the ‘East Indians’.
And of course, the Portuguese only counted the Christian population - that too the Catholics only! No protestants, Anglicans, Jesuits, Presbyterians, Adventists etc - were considered worth counting!
Therefore the Roman Catholic population descending from the Portuguese conversion of Indian people are called the ‘East Indians’.
And the calypso dudes living in the Caribbean islands - on the exact opposite side of the world - are called the ‘West Indians’.
Thus one can call the whole world an ‘India sandwich’.
Anyway - so a whole bunch of East Indian families bought land from this Khot and settled there, and the name of the place continued to be called Khotachi wadi.
The villagers might have moved from Goa - or might have been locals! After all, the Portuguese were in Bombay hundreds of years before the British and built forts all over the place - Bombay island, Bandra, Sewri, Madh etc - and a whole string of forts all along the western coast - from Goa to Diu. The Portuguese city of Bassein (Vasai) was huge and prosperous - and rivalled Goa in glory before it was conquered and destroyed by the Maratha forces under Chimajiappa.
You had a whole bunch of Portuguese/ Goan style villages all over the place - many of which are still existing - Bandra, Khar, Santa Cruz, Orlem, Vasai, Virar etc. The Portuguese brought with a sense of style and sophistication and good living - which reflected in the lovely design of the cottages, the clean and systematic layout of the villages, the amazing food, the taste for good and happy living - Singing, Dancing, playing the guitar, drinking good hooch, cooking amazing stuff like chorizos, vindaloo, Bebinca etc and having a susegad siesta! These guys really enjoyed life!
After the British takeover and the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of Bombay there was a rapid homogenisation of people - dresses, food, houses, language - all started to lose their individuality and become an amorphous mass.
It became much worse after independence when bribery and corruption, poor municipal management, tanking economy, rampant criminalisation and money-mindedness turned the city into one large mess - and now only a few vestiges of the grand history of the city are left untouched.
Khotachiwadi has managed to keep the soul of the old East Indian village alive - as can be seen in the beautiful old houses, the tasteful decor and the guitar-plunking locals. I loved the graffiti on the walls and the beautiful little nooks and crannies which the locals have kept alive.
Alas - this flame is flickering… the biggest hazard to the history of the city are the rich Gujarati seths and the money-mad builders. The Gujjus buy their way into the neighbourhood and use their money power and closed-mindedness to bully everyone else out. There used to be an iconic old hotel called ‘Anantashram’ which served the most amazing food - but it was forced to shut down because the militantly-vegetarian gujju jains objected to the non-vegetarian cuisine. Arre bhai - the hotel was there first - you came in later. It should be you who should adjust - why come here at all if you have such strong vegetarian values? The whole of South Bombay suffers from this nouveau-riche gujju menace.
The other danger is the rapacious builders, who are always lusting after these valuable properties in the heart of Girgaum. There used to be 65 old bungalows here - now only 26 remain! The old guys had to sell out - whether by temptation or force. The most ironic part is that the builder will destroy the old houses and then charge a premium for their new building for being in the heart of Khotachiwadi
And of course, we have the bribable municipality- The village was declared a protected historical precinct in 1995, but the order was reversed in 2006 – a decision with much opposition from the residents and activists - but you can just hear the builder lobby giggling away.
But at least one can enjoy what is there today - A series of old, Portuguese-style houses strewn across narrow lanes and a chapel welcome you to one of the oldest establishments in Mumbai. You’ll feel like you stepped into a time machine and have been transported back in time or have been transported to Goa. There is little doubt that right from the start you will be in awe of the beautiful colourful houses of Khotachiwadi. Many of these houses have verandas, intricate column designs and arched doorways.
There is a chapel at the beginning of one of the lanes, which, at one point, had a small crib depicting the scenes when Jesus was born. A mural of the Virgin Mary with infant Jesus and two stone benches accompany the chapel. The chapel was constructed in 1899, as an offering of thanks, by the villagers who survived the Great Indian Plague epidemic of 1870!
If you come at a more civilised hour you can meet the denizens of the place - a musician called Willy Black, a designer called James Ferreira, the original ‘Ideal wafers’ shop - or just join a conducted tour and spend an hour or two strolling about the place.
I obviously was not there at a civilised hour - and no colourful denizen was on the road...or if they were, they made sure to keep their distance from a sweaty fat cyclist in tight pants!
But I was really happy at being able to experience this place in the early morning freshness and empty roads. What a pleasure to meet you Khotachiwadi...may you live long and prosper.
I mounted my cycle and rode back home. That was another most satisfying Mumbai exploration on cycle.
When one thinks of a museum in Mumbai, one tends to think only of the Chatrapati Shivaji vastu sangrahalaya - or the Prince of Wales museum, as it was formerly known. It is a very nice museum - lovely convenient location, extensive collection, lovely building and all that.
But there is one museum in Mumbai which is far older - The Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum at Byculla! It was first conceived as ‘The Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts’ and was the first museum in Bombay - way back in 1855!
George Buist - the editor of the Bombay Times (ancestor of ‘The Times of India’) - and 'The foremost man of letters in India' - took a keen interest in setting up this place. Buist was a very interesting fellow - the son of a rich and rather cantankerous Scottish minister (the priest kind - not the political one) - he was a man of wide learning and wide interests. He was one of the open-minded clergy of the era - trained to be in the ecclesial field, but more interested in science and botany (then called Natural Philosophy) than in preaching. He started as a newspaperman in Scotland and London and then accepted a post in 1839 to come to India and edit the Bombay Times. Imagine! Moving to India in 1839 to edit a bi-weekly newspaper! He remained the editor for 20 years till 1859 - when he resigned due to differences with the shareholders.
But Buist was more than just a newspaper editor - he was a scientific man. He was a keen geologist and meteorologist - and became the unpaid inspector of the observatories of Bombay. During his time in England in 1845 he obtained special grants from the government for improving agricultural machines and rural economy in India, and for establishing 12 observatories, from Cape Comorin to the Red Sea, for meteorological and tidal research. He also formed the geological collection for the museum of Elphinstone College, Bombay.
But 1857 as we all know - was a watershed year in India, being the year of the Great Sepoy Mutiny, or the First War of Independence, as we call it now. North India burnt and the Company sarkar tottered - but Mumbai and West India were largely peaceful. Buist was ousted from his post as editor because the Indian shareholders of the Bombay Times thought that he was too pro-British and not taking them to task over their brutal reprisal and revenge on Indians - and the East India company was nationalised and the Crown took over the country and India formally came under the British Raj.
This affected the museum as well - it was closed to the public and the collection was shifted to the Town Hall. But luckily for it, the eminent and learned Sir George Birdwood - the noted Indiophile and nature lover - was appointed curator of the collection and he drummed up support to create a new home for the collection.
A committee was formed of the who’s who of eminent Indian businessmen and philanthropists was formed - Dr. Bhau Daji Lad, Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy, David Sassoon and Jaganath Shunkerseth. They raised money for a new building for the museum and land was allotted in the precincts of the Victoria Zoo and Botanical gardens in Byculla - and the elegant building was built and inaugurated in 1872 as the Victoria and Albert museum.
But in just a few years, this museum was deemed to be too small and a grand new museum was opened in central Fort area in 1905 - The Prince of Wales Museum - and this overshadowed the old museum entirely...so much so that people forgot that the older museum even existed!
After Independence, people wanted to expunge all memories of the British and there was a wholesale renaming of all British names. The Prince of Wales museum became the ‘Chattrapathi Shivaji museum’ after the great Maratha ruler, and the Zoo and botanical garden were named after his mom ‘Jijamata udyan’.
The Victoria and Albert museum was named after the first Indian founder of the museum - Dr Bhau Daji Lad.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad was a very remarkable personality - he was a doctor .. a physician, a sanskrit scholar and antiquary. He was born in Goa, but moved to Bombay ...because he was good at chess! An englishman noted his brilliance at chess, and told his dad that he should give the kid a good education. Well… the best education institutions were in Bombay - so the kid was sent to Bombay and was admitted in the Elphinstone institution. He did very well at school, and went on to take his medical degree at Grant Medical college - he was part of the very first graduating batch of GMC in 1850.
(think of the context here - it would have been extremely unusual for a ‘native’ to be allowed to learn medicine in 1850! Remember, the whole mutiny happened because the British were racist and disgusting. He must have been really outstanding)
He started practising as a doctor and was very successful. He mixed the learnings from traditional Indian medicine and modern western medicine and was a pioneer in using ancient methods for modern treatments.
As a guy who came up from nothing just due to education - he was a great votary of getting people educated, and was a founding member of the University of Bombay. He was the first president of native origin, of the Students' Literary and Scientific Society. He was the champion of the cause of female education. A girls' school was founded in his name, for which an endowment was provided by his friends and admirers.
He was twice chosen Sheriff of Mumbai, once in 1869 and again in 1871!
(Again! Think of the context! A ‘native’ - not bue-blooded, not a rich plutocrat - being given such a respected post)
He was an ardent historian as well - he amassed a large collection of rare ancient Indian coins and antiquities, which he studied - deciphering inscriptions and ascertaining the dates and history of ancient Sanskrit authors and stuff - and as we have already learnt - was the founding member of the first museum of Bombay.
One can assume that the other luminaries - Sassoon, Jeejeebhoy and Shankarsett - provided the money, while Dr Lad and Dr Birdwood provided the intellectual underpinning.
Unfortunately, it was totally neglected after independence, and apart from changing the name - the museum was totally ignored and became quite a mess. Indian politicians and municipal leaders were more interested in lining their pockets and looting the country blind rather than maintaining the venerable little museum.
But luckily for all of us, a bunch of public-spirited individuals came together to save the institution and convinced the government to adopt a public-private model to save the place!
In 2003, the non-profit Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) joined forces with the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to undertake a painstaking refurbishment of the building, aided by historian and donor Tasneem Zakaria Mehta. The results were spectacular. In 2008, the building reopened with its High Victorian architecture fully restored, and the collection (which pays special attention to the history of the city of Mumbai), back on display amid high vaulted mosaic ceilings, intricate Minton tiled floors, etched glass and gold details, and freshly painted Corinthian columns.
The part I really loved was the painstaking dioramas which show the various scenes of day to day life in Bombay - and a very detailed gallery of the various communities which made up Bombay - and India, for that matter. These colourful portrayals of people were created by a clay modeller who was specially brought from Lucknow to work at the museum and was assisted by students of the JJ School of arts.
The figurines were created as a way of scientifically documenting the identities of the people of India and their way of life during the early 20th century - and the then curator Ernest R Fern (1918 - 1926) noted that these clay figures were an immediate success and were very popular with the visitors. These have been painstaking restored and look awesome!
Especially today - when all of india is becoming an amorphous mass of similarity and losing all the charming detail and uniqueness it used to have - I felt that this is very important for us modern day Indians to realise what our people used to look like and dress like. I really loved them!
Now it is a most charming little space - and they are planning to expand and do more things in the future. It has lovely little art gallery, a little theatre, a cafeteria and a charming garden - which is the home of the original ‘Kala Ghoda’ - an equestrian statue of King George in black stone and the original ancient elephant statues of Gharapuri island which gave ‘Elephanta caves’ its name.
Both the major museums of Mumbai - CSVS and DBDL - have benefited through public-private partnerships, and I sincerely hope that things get better and better.
Check out the website - https://www.bdlmuseum.org
And check out the story of the rebirth of the museum https://www.apollo-magazine.com/mumbais-oldest-museum-looks-to-the-future/
PS - I really wish they would sell copies of those figurines, or even a cool poster.
May 1st is celebrated for many reasons… it is internationally famous as ‘International Labour day’ to commemorate various movements all over the world for worker’s rights. It is also ‘May Day’ - officially the ‘first day of summer’ for western countries since antiquity. It used to be celebrated as ‘Floralia’ by the ancient Greeks where they used to celebrate the goddess of love - Aphrodite and the god of wine - Dionysus - and I assume the festival involved a lot of drinking and lovemaking. Nowadays they have Mayday parades and dancing around Maypoles and May queens.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson even wrote a poem about it - ‘The May queen’ -
‘You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’
In India, we are already well into the hot summer by May, and our version of Floralia - Holi - is already over. We no longer celebrate wine or lovemaking - both are rather frowned upon officially! You need a license for one, and closed doors for the other.
But in Maharashtra we do have another reason to celebrate the 1st of May - It is celebrated as ‘Maharashtra day’ - the day that the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were carved out from the erstwhile Bombay state.
When the British came and conquered the entire land of India, they drew a new map over the bewildering patchwork of kingdoms and principalities of old and divided India into ‘Presidencies’ ruled over by a ‘Governor’ - all of whom reported to the boss of India - the ‘Governor-General’
The Western part of India was called the ‘Bombay presidency’ and encompassed parts of what is now Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sind (now in Pakistan) and even the Arabian lands of Aden and Socotra.
It was a fairly peaceful area - The Maratha empire was conquered and the area was largely quiet even during the 1857 Mutiny/ War of Independence.
The moneybags, merchants and others were already making huge money from the illegal Opium smuggling into China before the Mutiny - which had been officially arranged and organised by the East India Company - and after the Mutiny, the American civil war (1861 - 1865) gave rise to the Indian cotton boom as American cotton was no longer available, and huge fortunes were made by all the entities involved in the cotton trade - private merchants and government alike.
A lot of money was pumped into building docks and facilities, building trains and laying track, building factories - and fancy buildings and huge impressive edifices. All kinds of people streamed into Bombay looking for work and education and the city grew rich and powerful.
Bombay gained hugely in prominence due to the roaring trade and industry and became the ‘Urbs Prima Indis’ - the ‘Prime city of India’. Later the state of Sindh was hived off to become another state - and later, part of another country!
After Independence, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ was converted to ‘Bombay state’ - and the various kingdoms in the area - Baroda, Kolhapur, Dangs and numerous small states of Gujarat and Maharashtra - were merged into it. (Check out the book ‘The integration of Indian states’ by V P Menon for the fascinating story of how the old princely states were absorbed into the Union of India)
Later in 1956, there was a bit of reorganising due to the States reorganisation act, where the old states were redistributed on linguistic lines. Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were not happy with the idea, and predicted that this will threaten the unity of the country and may even result in the Balkanisation of India (and were proven right too, to an extent) but the idea kept going - and one committed Telugu dude called Potti Sriramulu actually fasted to death for the cause of the creation of a separate state for the Telugu speaking people - Andhra Pradesh.
This sparked off a lot of unrest in the country and in 1956, the SRC (States Re-organisation Committee) recommended the creation of linguistic states of Andhra Pradesh (for Telugu speakers), Kerala (for Malayalam speakers) and Karnataka (for Kannada speakers) but recommended a bi-lingual state (speakers of Marathi and Gujarati) for Maharashtra-Gujarat, with Bombay as its capital but keep the state of Vidarbha (also Marathi speakers) outside Maharashtra.
This was greeted with a lot of protest in Bombay state - and this escalated to frenzied rioting! On 21 November 1955, demonstrators were fired upon by the police at Flora Fountain in the capital city of Bombay. Flora Fountain was subsequently renamed Hutatma Chowk or "Martyr's Crossroad" in their memory. It is estimated that in a total of 106 people were shot by security forces during the period of agitation and at different places.
So ironic. Independent India shooting its own citizens.
Morarji Desai, who was the then chief minister of Bombay State was later removed and replaced by Yashwantrao Chavan as a result of criticism related to the 21 November incident. The then Union Finance Minister - C D Deshmukh - resigned his post rather than continue with the Central government, as they did not support the cause of a separate state for Marathi speaking people.
Finally, after a long and bloody campaign, the Kannada speaking districts of Belgaum, Dharwar, Bijapur and North Canara were shifted out into the neighbouring ‘Mysore state’ and the Marathi speaking districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha - formerly parts of Hyderabad state and Central provinces - were taken into Bombay state, as were the Gujarati speaking states of Saurashtra and Kutch. Thus the new Bombay state was known as the ‘Maha Dwibhashi rajya’ or ‘Great state with two languages’.
But even the hiving off of the Kannada speakers was not enough for people - they wanted a ‘Marathi only’ state - and launched a campaign called the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra movement’ for the same. The Samiti demanded the creation of a new state from Marathi-speaking areas of the State of Bombay, a Marathi state, with the city of Bombay as its capital. The Gujjus can get lost!
Finally, the Samiti achieved its goal and ‘Bombay state’ was split into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra on 1st May 1960.
Now even the name ‘Bombay’ has been removed from India and the city of ‘Bombay’ has been renamed as ‘Mumbai’ - so one can say that ‘Bombay state’ is gone forever.
While looking at this history of the ‘Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking people’ movement, it is interesting to study the story behind it.
At no time in the history of India, all the regions which now constitute the State of Maharashtra were politically one. They were ruled for centuries by different dynasties till Shivaji succeeded in carving out an independent kingdom for the Marathas in 1674. Even at that time, Shivaji’s father Shahaji was based in what is now Karnataka, and his half-brother Ekoji and family continued to stay there after Shahaji’s death. The Maratha empire extended well into South India - and when Aurangzeb attacked - Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram went to what is now Tamil Nadu, and holed up in the fortress of Gingee for years. Later, in the heyday of the Maratha empire. the Peshwas wielded considerable influence in the politics of North India. Marathi leaders ruled far-flung states such as in Gujarat (Gaekwads of Baroda), MP (Holkars of Indore, Bhosles of Berar, Scindias of Gwalior), UP (the famous ‘Rani of Jhansi’ Laxmibai was a Marathi lady) and many others - so why shouldn’t all these places also be part of ‘Marathi Maharashtra’? A fascinating thought.
But of course, there are ‘n’ number of stresses and strains and political factors and self-interests that go into this kind of decision. Check out this article for more information and opinions on this.
Since those days we have had many more separations of states - The first linguistically separated state - Andhra Pradesh - itself got further separated on tribalistic grounds into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh! Wonder what Potti Sriramulu would have thought about that!
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar got split into two (resulting in the new states of Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) on administrative grounds, in spite of having the same language… so one can easily see that politicians will always find some-or-the-other chauvinism to further separatist agendas. There are long-simmering demands for carving out states of Bundelkhand from MP, Gorkha land from West Bengal etc. There will always be some historical case for carving more and more - where will all this lead to?
Anyway - all this is beyond the scope of this little article - which was supposed to be just about me going to attend the Maharashtra day parade for the first time - on cycle!
So - it’s a birthday party for Maharashtra state! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M!
The day starts with a parade at Shivaji Park, Dadar. The Governor of the state along with the state reserve police, home guards, Mumbai Police, BMC Force, traffic police, among others take part in the parade. (The guv doesn’t march btw - he makes a speech and salutes the marchers)
Liquor sales to Indians are prohibited on Maharashtra Diwas across the state. (Why? I never understood this Indian passion to have ‘Dry days’ for every occasion. What is the point? Wouldn’t you like to have a party to celebrate a great day? Pop Champagne? Have a beer and barbecue? Be happy? If the idea is to deter a habitual drinker from getting drunk on that day - then won’t it be self-defeating...as the habitue would stock up on the eve of a dry day? It’s a most strange concept.)
Anyway - coming back to the parade.. Delhi has the Republic Day parade, and we have the Maharashtra day parade - which I was going to see for the very first time! I cycled my way over to Shivaji park and locked the bike to a convenient post and went off to find the entrance to the viewing area.
The Maharashtra government does not really promote the parade as an event to attract viewers - more’s the pity - and there were minimal facilities for viewers, and there were pretty few viewers as well - a contrast to the teeming crowds for the R-Day parade in Delhi. We were pretty far from the bigwigs and could hardly make them out. The governor made a speech - but I couldn’t hear that clearly. And there wasn’t a clear field of view for us to see the parade while seated - the wall of bamboos impeded vision - as you can see from the photos.
But the parade itself was quite nice. It was obviously not up to military standards, but the cops tried their best. They had a fancy band, a number of groups in various uniforms, sexes and battle gear. Apart from the cops, there were marching groups from various other groups like Home Guards, National Cadet Corps, National Social Service scheme - and even the Fire Brigade!
The grand finale was the drive-around by various vehicles - the cops showed off their motorcycles, their patrol cars and paddy wagons and even their fancy armoured cars with big guns which looked like they would be better on the border than in a city!
But for sheer coolness, nothing could beat the fancy red fire-wagons and the long ladders of the Fire Brigade!
I was very happy as I stepped out of the park - I had seen the M-Day parade! WOOHOO! Hopefully they will make it more spectator and citizen-friendly in the future.
I got on my bike and cycled home. Another Sunday well spent.
PS - For me, the most important thing about May 1st was that it was my mom's birthday :) Trumped May day, Maharashtra day and any other day! Happy birthday mom! Miss you.
Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple
Mumbai is full of small wonders, and the only thing that stops us - well...stopped me...from stopping to check them out is that we are busily going from one place to another and have no time to stop and explore them.
One such thing for me was the enigmatic temple with a very Japanese name - I had seen it a zillion times while travelling on that road, but had never stopped to actually check it out. But now I said that I will make a point of it - and cycled there to check it out.
The Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple turned out to be a little wonderland! An oasis of peace in busy Mumbai.
The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple started out as a Japanese Buddhist monastery and dates back to 1931 when it was built by a Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fujii, who was visiting India trying to follow the prophecy of the 13th century Japanese monk Maha Bodhisattva Nicherin. Nicherin believed that the ultimate salvation of humanity, who was contaminated by all that was evil, lay in India.
That bit of history really intrigued me… a Bodhisatava who believed that India will be the source of salvation - back in the 13th century!
The story of the monk who came to India 600 years after the said prophecy is equally fascinating!
Nichidatsu Fuji was the founder of the Nipposan Myohoji order of Buddhism, which is deeply engaged in promoting world peace. Born August 6, 1885 in Aso, Kyushu Island, Japan, he became a Buddhist monk at age 19 in opposition to the tendencies of the time, which strongly encouraged a military career.
As a pacifist, he was deeply impressed by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi.
‘I was astounded to see pictures of Gandhiji on the Salt March or spinning yarn. I felt I was witnessing something incredible unfold: at this time of modern scientific civilizations, a genuine revolutionary movement that does not rely on science or machines, which is, in fact, completely contrary to them, had been launched. Can such a movement overcome the solidly fortified institution of the modern state and create a different world, a world of nonviolence? Even if it does not succeed, I thought it to be a fine plan, with extraordinary insight. Spinning yarn or salt making are things even a disciple of the Buddha like myself can be part of and make a contribution. I decided to immediately leave for India to pray for the success of Gandhiji's revolutionary movement.’
He arrived in Calcutta in January 1931 and walked throughout the town chanting the daimoku and beating a drum, a practice known as gyakku shōdai.
In 1933 he met Mahatma Gandhi at his ashram in Wardha.
‘My first opportunity to meet Gandhiji came on October 4, 1933 at the ashram in Warda. Our meeting lasted only 15 minutes, and there was hardly any time to speak on matters of substance. We met the following day and the day after that, but unfortunately I could neither speak English nor Hindi. I therefore submitted an English translation of my views to Gandhiji. This is how it came to pass that I found residence in the Wardha ashram.’
Gandhiji was so impressed by the concept of the gyakku shodai that he added it to their prayer routine.
He went back to Japan during WWII and despite the dangers to himself he declared himself in favour of pacifism and went round Japan actively promoting it. This was actively dangerous, as the government was completely hawkish and anyone resisting the war could be immediately imprisoned!
He later recollected: “The Pacific war raged ever more brutally. I could no longer...keep silent about the war, in which people were killing one another. Thus I travelled through the whole of Japan and preached resistance against the war and [advocated] the prayer for peace. It was a time in which any person who only spoke about resistance to the war, would go to prison because of that alone”
After the war, he became a very active campaigner for world peace - another dangerous activity during the intolerant atmosphere of the Cold War.
“The reason I came to espouse nonviolent resistance and the antiwar, antiarms position was not because I met with Mr. Gandhi. Rather, it was because the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children, burning and poisoning [the population], a tragedy without precedent in human history, leading Japan to sue for unconditional surrender. In this we see the mad, stupid, barbaric nature of modern warfare.”
At the end of World War II. Fujii returned to India and built a World Peace Pagoda in Rajgir, in 1965. He also built a Japanese style temple in Rajgir which is still inhabited today.
The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii [1885-1985] was awarded the Nehru Award for International Understanding from India in 1979.
Read this amazing statement by him here.
In 1956, the same monastery was renovated into the present-day temple by the Birla family, whose trust maintains the temple to date.
That is amazing too. This was Jugal Kishore Birla, the brother of GD Birla - Mahatma Gandhi’s close friend and devotee. The Birlas do a lot of quiet philanthropy - something that seems to differentiate the old guard from the new tycoons.
I have never heard of the Ambanis doing any philanthropy! Even when they open schools and hospitals, they seem to be extremely overpriced premium stuff with a profit motive. (To be fair - if are doing quiet philanthropy, then obviously I wouldnt have heard of it! I do hope they are! )
The temple follows the order of Nicherin Buddhism and the main prayer of this school is ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’, a chant for peace. The resident monk, Bhikshu Morita, has been in India for over 30 years and has become something of a local legend after he fearlessly walked through streets during the bloody communal riots in 1992, beating his drum and loudly chanting ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’ as a call for peace. The chant, he says, is the key to total salvation. It’s not what you should understand but what you should adopt.’
Wow- That is another amazing story!
Check out another story on this here
And another one here
"We must go out among the people." Fujii taught. "In the Sutra there is a line that states, 'So this man, practising in the world, shall disperse the gloom of living.' Religion, which does not 'go' will not be able to provide the relief which must be brought about." The prayers of the Daimoku are to disperse this gloom. "Religion becomes isolated from the happenings of the world because it tends to be occupied in seeking solutions to one's own spiritual matters. If we fail to prevent a holocaust, one's desire for security is nothing but a dream. All must be awakened."
Unfortunately for me, Bhikshu Morita was not around when I dropped in - or if he was, he was smart enough to keep his distance from a sweaty fat cyclist in tight clothes.
I was so happy to have dropped in on this peaceful Japanese temple - Aum Mani Padme Hum! May their tribe increase.
Every place is full of stories and wonders - we just need to seek them out!
(This is an old ride - pre Corona :) )
Another Sunday, another day of exploring Mumbai by cycle. I was totally into this project - combining physical exercise with the zen of cycling and exploring the city.
Inspite of having lived in Mumbai all my life, and having seen it a zillion times - I had never actually been to Haji Ali dargah - one of the icons of Mumbai. So today was the day - I left early morning to tick that off my list.
I set out from Chembur and made my way first to Worli sea face - it was a really fun experience to ride the empty Mumbai roads and go up and down a number of flyovers to reach Worli and it is always fun to cycle on the sea face. The place is so full of positive vibes in the early morning - filled with walkers, joggers, cyclists and exercises of every description. The BMC (or whoever) has done a great job of putting up a number of interesting things out there - statues of R K Laxman’s ‘Common man’, benches...
...and exercise stations! These exercise stations are the brainchild of - and are sponsored by - actor Dino Morea, and were first introduced in 2013. Dino put these up for the good of common citizens and to help them in their fitness goals. Good on you mate!
From Worli I made my way to Haji Ali and locked my bike in front of the famous ‘Haji Ali juice centre’ and walked to the dargah. Finally! I was at Haji Ali! Alhamdulillah!
The dargah has a very intriguing story… It is the mausoleum of a pious merchant from Uzbekistan! Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari was a Sufi saint and a wealthy merchant from Bukhara - in Uzbekistan.Bukhari gave up all his worldly possessions, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century, and eventually settled in present-day Mumbai.
Wikipedia tells some random story about a woman spilling oil and he making it gush out of the earth for her and so on - but the most interesting outcome to me was that a wealthy merchant turned mendicant would travel from Bukhara to settle in Mumbai...in the 15th century!
He being a Sufi, apparently asked his followers not to bury him and make a fetish out of him - but to just chuck his body into the sea. But apparently his body - or his shroud - ended up on a rock off the coast...and of course his followers did just what he probably did not want them to do - and made a fetish out of it.
They built a memorial on that rocky promontory - and in due course of time, pious merit-seeking people built a fancy dargah and mosque out there.
It is about 500m from the coast, and they have built a little walkway to the place. It doesn't have railings and stuff and is covered by water during high tide - so you can visit only during low tide.
The walkway is normally chockful of beggars and pilgrims - but this being early morning was deserted and pleasant.
The structure itself is built in the Indo-Saracenic style - marble domes and stuff. The tomb itself is covered by the usual green shawl, and is supported by an exquisite silver frame, supported by marble pillars - something that the ascetic Sufi saint might be bemused about!
It was very pleasant there in the early morning and one could get awesome views of the Mahalaxmi and Tardeo areas.
After I exited Haji Ali - my eye caught another structure - a blue dome on the other side of the bay. I had wondered for years as to what it was - so I made my way there to investigate.
It turned out to be another mausoleum! It was erected in the memory of a lady saint - Saint Ma Hajiani, who may have been the sister of Pir Haji Ali.
The tomb was built in 1908 by- Haji Ismail Hasham, ‘a wealthy ship-owner and pioneer of Indian shipping.’ He founded the 'Bombay Steam Navigation company' in the 19th century and was one of the pioneering Indians of modern shipping.
(That sounds so exciting! I would love to read more about him and his life as a pioneer of Indian shipping)
He himself died soon after - in 1912 - and was buried in that tomb he had built himself! Most Egyptian and pharaonic, I must say.
His epitaph says ‘In memory of Amir-bahr Haji (I think it means rich sea-man who did the Hajj) Ismail Hasham Bahadur, A great captain and navigator of the Indian seas who died on 20th September 1912, and was buried in this tomb erected by himself. May he rest in peace.’
Well - good for him. May he rest in peace!
This dargah is also made in the Indo-Saracenic style, which was all the rage at the time - and sits on a rocky outcrop 80 feet above the sea. It is in good condition because it is maintained by the family trust - which also owns institutions like the Ismail Yusuf College in Jogeshwari and the Marine college at Worli (Which has since moved to Nhava).
Well - that was fascinating! I had no idea! What a discovery!
(The place has apparently been through a major restoration since I visited it - check out the details here - https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2019/05/07/reclaiming-the-lost-glory-of-ma-hajiani )
I was doing a project of exploring Mumbai - it had started by me starting cycling! I started cycling as a new project for the year - it started by being a fitness thing, but I got bored of going around in circles and started going further and further and exploring and discovering unknown parts of Mumbai (well...unknown to me at least) on cycle. By this time I had gone and explored various ancient forts of Mumbai - Sion, Sewri, Mahim, Worli, Bandra, Dharavi - by cycle. (You can check out the blogs by clicking on the links)
After doing this, the exploration bug kicked in a little more, and I started exploring even without a cycle. While going over the lists of tourist attractions in Mumbai - I saw that one of the main attractions was Mani Bhavan - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial in Mumbai. It was on the lists of all the Mumbai tour operators trips - and every firang visitor to the city seems to have seen it ... but I had never done so. It had never been in my mindspace at all - I had not known of it, not wanted to see it.
Well - this is 'diya tale andhera' stuff, and so I decided to check it out.
My friend Vijay claimed to know it well - as it was just behind his college - the Wilson college, Marine drive - and so we agreed to check it out together. I took an Uber and reached the place - and there was no sign of Vijay! He was late as usual.
The building was in a fancy neighborhood - Laburnum road, just off Marine drive. I thought rather cynically that Gandhi seemed to have chosen to live with this rich seth in a fancy location, rather than in a poor and humble place.
As per the Wikipedia entry - 'Mani Bhavan was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years, from 1917 to 1934. The mansion belonged to Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi's friend and host in Mumbai during this period. It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat Movements. Gandhi's association with the charkha began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.'
In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi - and I wonder if they paid the family anything for this prime piece of real estate? It would be worth many hundreds of crores today!
I wonder what the family of Jhaveri seth feel about it now :)
I hung around outside Mani Bhavan waiting for Vijay - and was stunned at the amount of tourist traffic the place seemed to have. Every minute a little tourist taxi would zoom up, a guide would hop out with his clients and give them some info about the place and they would be in and out within five minutes and off to the next tick mark on the itinerary.
My heart went out to the tourists - the guides were untrained and unqualified and obviously knew nothing about the place, about Gandhi, about Indian history or the freedom struggle. He would have mugged up something and duly replayed it to every client and just made up stuff when asked questions. Poor tourists.
I finally gave up on Vijay and went inside alone.
The place is rather depressing - being ill-maintained and utterly out of date. It doesn't seem to have been touched since 1955 and is a dead mausoleum.
The first thing you see is a big Gandhi bust, and there is a library full of his writings. Imagine that - he wrote so much! And like all Indian libraries - the shelves are locked tight and are dust covered! The books are things to be worshipped from afar and not to touched or read!
Go up the stair case - and you have his old room with a charkha and some knick-knacks of his. And a few cool dioramas - small scale models with little human figures and little houses and painted backdrops - depicting his life. But this too doesnt seem to have been touched or restored since 1955.
There are some cool framed photos - Gandhi with his brother, him as a young man etc and some frames showing evolution of Indian flag etc.
But overall, it is rather sad and depressing - showing the utter disinterest successive governments - Congress and non-Congress - have had in Gandhi's message and philosophy. Which is a great pity. All they do is pay lip service and make everybody put a flower basket in front of Raj ghat.
in 2010, Barack Obama became the first high-profile international visitor to visit Mani Bhava in the last 50 years. Before him, only Martin Luther King Jr. had visited Mani Bhavan in the 1950s.
I think Rajkumar Hirani's movie 'Lage raho Munnabhai' was the finest modern-day tribute to Gandhi and his philosophy and reintroduced millions to Gandhi - and it would be great if some modern museum curator takes this place under their wings and reinvents it. Old and forgotten museums like the Bhau Daji Lad museum have been resurrected by modern curators, and hopefully a similar thing can happen here.
It should bring out the ramifications of Indian history and Indian culture - British rule - the good and bad, why Indians fought for independence, the story of the freedom struggle, the uniqueness of Gandhi's approach and how it made a difference and why exactly Einstein said that 'future generations will not believe that such a dude ever walked this earth.'
The Apartheid museum in South Africa is so powerful that it makes your flesh creep - and Gandhi section there is better than all Gandhi museums here. Maybe someday we can do a better job of presenting our own history.
Till that happens, Gandhi will just be a face on a currency note - a legacy which MKG might not be very happy about.
The portuguese era in India is something that is not much talked about nowadays, possibly because the British had no love for them and were happy for them to be forgotten. But they were the first western power to visit and colonise India in 1498 - and for that matter, were the last power to exit India.. Well after the British left, all the way till 1961!
They ruled a vast swathe of land, and had forts starting from Diu in Gujarat and all the way down to the Kerala coast. They had an extensive presence on the Eastern coast as well - with forts from Tuticorin till the Hooghli, and also ruled the island of Sri Lanka. They could have easily been the dominant power in the subcontinent, but got bogged down in royal politics and were ultimately outmaneuvered by the British East India company.
The main capital of Portuguese India was Goa, of course - but the Northen capital was Vasai - or ‘Bassein’ as they knew it. It was an extremely rich fort - the centre of a flourishing kingdom and was the dominant power in the region - much bigger than the small outpost of Bom Bahia, or Bombay island.
But now the fort is ruined and abandoned, and Vasai has been relegated to a sleepy backwater. It was to this place that I decided to cycle to on Sunday morning. If you drive down to Vasai then you have to take a circuitous route, but if you go on cycle you can carry the bike through the subway under Naigaon station and save a few Ks.
I had tried to go the earlier Sunday, but bike broke down on Thane flyover - had to do some major repairs and change the axle, gear system and chain. Now the bike was fine again and I was off again.
I left by 5.30 AM and got a pleasant surprise when I reached Thane. There was a cycle rally on there and so the police had shut off the flyovers to vehicular traffic, and they were reserved for the cyclists. Naturally, they thought I was part of the rally as well, and I got a royal welcome from the organisers as I was the first cyclist on the route. I had not waited for the starting whistle, and so was ahead of the pack. I grinned and waved as they took photos of me, though I was soon overtaken by a peloton of racing cyclists. I left them behind at the end of Ghodbunder road and carried on to Gomukh ghat and crossed over Versova creek and hit the mainland. The versova creek bridge is under maintanance, and so I was lucky to cross it without waiting for too long.
On NH8, I kept an eye out for the Naigaon flyover where I had to turn off the highway and hit the inner roads to cross under the railway line at Naigaon station. Once I did that and entered the Vasai area, I could immediately see the Portuguese influence in the place. The area was very much like a Goan village, with small neat bungalows with beautiful gardens. The names, the roads, the village crosses, the very look and feel of the place was like the portuguese christian places like Bandra or Goa - though of course the features of the people were of the typical north Konkan people.
I asked directions of the locals and made my way to the Vasai fort area. I had covered about 65 KM in roughly 4 hours.
When I reached the fort, I was astounded at the size of it! It was simply huge! I crossed some small ASI signs and stone walls and stopped to the memorial of Chimaji appa - the brother of Bajirao Peshwa, who conquered the Vasai fort from the Portuguese in 1739, only for the fort to be surrendered to the British within a few years.
‘Where is the main gate?’ I asked an ASI official.
‘You have been in the fort for quite some time’ he replied. ‘It covers an area of 109 Acres’
Wow. thats big.
He pointed the way to the sea gate and I went off to investigate that. It was most impressive, and the battlements are still intact, and you can still see the fleet of fishing boats on the shore which must have been there in Portuguese times as well. Vasai is still a major fishing port, and supply a lot of the fish in Mumbai fishmarkets.
"The complete form of the Portuguese name is "Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim" or the Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai.
The name "Bassein" is the English version of the Portuguese "Baçaim" (with the "ç" spoken as "s" and with the "m" silent)
Portuguese mariners exploring the north Konkan Coast, discovered the Arab Sultanate of Khambat or Cambay, building or renovating or expanding the fort in the early 15th century and attacked it in a failed effort to seize it. Later, after more systematic efforts, the Sultanate of Cambay ceded the fort to Portugal by the Treaty of Saint Matthew signed on the Portuguese brig Sao Matteus anchored in the Bhayander Creek or Vasai Harbor.
The Treaty of Bassein was signed by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat and the Kingdom of Portugal on 23 December 1534 while on board the galleon São Mateus. Based on the terms of the agreement, the Portuguese Empire gained control of the city of Bassein, as well as its territories, islands, and seas. The Mumbai Islands under Portuguese control include Colaba, Old Woman's Island, Mumbai, Mazagaon, Worli, Matunga, and Mahim. Salsette, Daman and Diu, Thane, Kalyan, and Chaul were other territories controlled and settled by the Portuguese."
I stepped out of the sea gate and checked out Vasai jetty. It was in quite nice shape and as usual I wondered why we do not use the sea lanes more. It would be so easy to have regular sea lanes to Mumbai, North Konkan and Gujarat.
There were so many ruined churches in the fort area. Even in their decrepit state, they looked stately and wonderful...in the heyday they must have been absolutely wonderful. They must have been destroyed and ruined when the maratha forces overran Vasai fort, and were never restored after that. The protestant anglican British never saw the point in restoring catholic portuguese churches I suppose.
What really struck me was the amount of non military buildings in the fort area. It showed how stable and peaceful the area must have been, and how rich the area must have been with regular economy and taxation for them to afford so much civilian and ecclestial buildings.
After exploring the sea gate and the churches, I wandered over to where there was some restoration masonry work going on and bumped into that ASI gentleman again and started chatting with him. I complimented him on well maintained the fort was - no undergrowth and no rubbish - all that was lacking was information boards at all the building which would give some info and background about what we were seeing. He thanked me and said that it had been cleaned up fairly recently. It had been completely overgrown and in a wild jungle state, and had been cleaned up by them recently. While funds and staff were completely insufficient for a fort of this size, they were trying their best. They were reconstructing the buildings, using the original stones and using traditional mortar made as per the ancient formula of lead and whatever.
He told me to check out the other churches and especially the Franciscan church, where a lot of the ancient portuguese were buried in the nave of the church and I could check out their burial slabs. I went off exploring, and checked out a couple of churches where the local boys were playing cricket in front of it.
On my way to the franciscan church, I passed a strange sight. A group of guys were faking an accident photo. One guy was lying on the ground and another was coating his head and shirt with blood, while a photographer was directing them to perfect the gory sight of a victim lying dead or grievously injured in the bushes. Wonder what they were doing this for - an insurance scam, or a blackmail plot perhaps. I didn't stop to ask, as they didn't look happy at all to see me see them.
I found the ruined franciscan church with the graves of the long dead foreign adventurers and grandees. It was quite a pathos heavy site. This must have been a grand church once - the main one of the fort. It must have been a great honour to have been buried in the nave of the church, and people must have jostled and quarrelled to get their loved ones buried there. The dead people must have come from so far away, and must have been filled with immense ambition and energy and greed. They had come and created a whole new world on the other side of the globe and changed the fortunes of millions. Now they are all dead, the church is dead and roofless and their slabs weather in the sun and no one can even read their names.
I decided to exit from there - the sun was beating down and it was getting quite hot. I was planning to take the bike on the train from Vasai to Dadar. This was the first time I would be taking the cycle by train. I hoped that there would be no issue with taking the cycle on the train - the idea of cycling back was not appealing at all. But it turned out to be a smooth issue - I bought a ticket at the counter and then went inside and took a luggage ticket from the TC who sold me a cycle ticket for 200 rupees. I went to stand on Platform 3, but rushed to platform 5 to catch the fast local. I located the luggage compartment and shoved the bike in. The people were very kind and shuffled around to accommodate me. Some of them asked me where I had been and were very impressed to hear that I had cycled from Chembur to Vasai. They couldn't figure out whether to admire me or pity me for being an idiot, I suppose.
I got off at Dadar and cycled back home. It had been a nice day - a long satisfying 80 Km + ride and a visit to a place which I had always been curious about.
A 2000 thousand year old rock carved cave temple right in the middle of Suburban Mumbai...and no one seems to care very much about it!
I have been doing Mumbai exploration this year, and while researching online for places to visit, I stumbled on Mandapeshwar caves in Borivli. I found it simply incredible that we have an ancient almost pre-history rock cut temple right here and no one seems to know or care about it.
I read about it on Ashutosh Bijoor's blog, and found that it was carved in 550 AD, around the same time as the nearby Jogeshwari caves (which also is an unknown treasure) and the Kondivate or Mahakali caves, and was carved in the same style as the Elephanta caves or the Ellora temples.
Well, I simply had to see this, and one rainy sunday, I cycled from chembur to Borivli to visit the caves. It was a about 40 Km each way, and passed through or by many things that make Mumbai amazing ( a forest, a lake, hills, ancient temples, modern highways and urban sprawl)
I found the caves tucked unobstrisively away in Borivli bylanes in an overwhelmingly christian area - it was near the IC colony and just below a church - the church of our lady of immaculate conception. It seemed that it would have been on church lands before the ASI took ownership of the area.
The other point that struck me was that it seemed to be really obscure and unmarked. There were some building materials outside which indicated that there are plans to fence it off, but as of now it was open and and nameless. There was no indication that a unique rock cut temple was nearabouts.
But when I entered the caves and looked around, I was entranced! What a wonderful cave temple! And it was reasonably well maintained as well.
It was originally built on the shores of the Dahisar river, but now the river has changed its course and the temple has become inland. But you can just imagine the temple as it must have been - in a jungle, along the riverside, on a small hill, the most talented artists and sculptors had created a beautifully carved temple out of the living rock.
The idea of rock cut caves was started by the buddhist monks, but the hindus also liked the idea and also started making the same. Possibly the same sculptors who created the buddhist caves started making caves for the hindus as well - depending on who was signing the cheques. The Mumbai area was a big trading area due to the many big ports in the area - Thane, Sopara, Vasai, etc and there must have been a lot of rich seths willing to finance cave making in the forests of Mumbai. We have Buddhist caves and Hindu caves in Mumbai - Mahakali and Kanheri are Buddhist, and Jogeshwari and Elephanta are Hindu.
The golden age of cave temples ended about 1500 years ago, and India and Mumbai went through many epochs and empires since then. The importance of the Mumbai area dwindled and the big traders went off to other areas, and the whole area went into obscurity. The muslim waves into India started, with first the persian gulf muslims and then the Mughals from the Mongol lands swept over India, and big temple building went into decline as the Hindu kings were swept away. But they were not too interested in this part of the world, and kept away from it.
But the portuguese came to India in the 1500s and they were extremely interested in this area because of the access to sea lanes. They rapidly built up a formidable presence along the western coast and established a string of forts from Diu right down to Mumbai and were the rulers of the sea. They took over the sea shore lands as there wasnt anyone to oppose them.
Along with the conquisadors came the priests who were licking their chops at getting so many heathens to convert to the word of the lord, and they went around converting all the villagers they could find. As the Portuguese military hold tightened, they could use harsher and harsher measures to get converts. One of these was was to deface local temples and use them as churches. As we can see here - there is a bas relief of Shiva which had been carved down to a cross. They built a monastery on top of the temple, whose ruins can still be seen today.
As an article in the Hindu notes -
"The Mandapeshwar caves perhaps have the most tumultuous history of all the Mumbai caves, or so it would seem from the scars the walls still bear. A Hindu temple, it was targeted by the Portuguese, who asserted their religious beliefs over it by literally building a monastery and a church dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception on top of the cave temple. Fr. Porto founded the monastery and church in 1544.
A visitor in 1804 noted: “The good priests had covered [the carved Hindu figurines in the cave] with a smooth coat of plaster and had converted the whole into a chapel.”
The time of the portuguese was limited though, as they were faced with a wiler enemy - the British. They teamed up with the Marathas and persuaded them to go to war with the Portuguese and destroy them. Under Chimaji appa, they besieged and defeated the huge Portuguese fort of Vasai and then wiped them out of the Mumbai area, which included Borivli. This was of double advantage to the British, as the Portuguese were thrown out, and the marathas were fatally weakened at the same time, enabling the British to defeat them within a few years.
"In the 18th century the church was desecrated after the Battle of Bassein in which the Marathas defeated the Portuguese. They uncovered and worshipped the rock-cut sculptures again, but towards the end of the 18th century the British defeated the Marathas and the caves once again functioned as a place of Christian worship. After the end of colonial rule the church fell into disrepair and the caves gradually reverted to the worship of Siva. The church, including its roof, has been destroyed, but older local residents recall playing among the aisles and the nave of the church when they were children."
Mandpeshwer caves have sculptures of Nataraja, Sadashiva and a splendid sculpture of Ardhanarishvara. It also has Ganesha, Brahma and Vishnu statuettes. These works depicted the mythical tales of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Even today an elaborate sculpture representing the marriage of Shiva with Parvati may be viewed from the large square window at the south end of these caves
I saw that this place was becoming a live temple again, with people praying there and offering flowers and stuff. I have mixed feeling about this - on the one hand, I strongly believe that ancient monuments should be left alone and properly preserved, and we tend to mess up temple areas very fast. On the other hand, it brings the old temple to life when people pray a bit and offer bright flowers. It gives you a little glimpse of what it must have been in the old days.
The funniest part of all is the fact that people apparently know about this cave, but do not care about it. I told my mom about it, and she remembered the location as she had lived in Borivli many years ago. But she had never been there, and didn't seem impressed with the idea of a 2000 year old rock cut temple.
I spoke to various friends living in Borivli, who either had no idea about the existence of the place, or if they did - then had not been there - or if they had been there, were not sensible about the importance of the place.
In Europe, every small thing is celebrated as a Unesco world heritage site - an olive plantation, some obscure town and watchtower, some small road, anything.
This is a national treasure, and even the locals dont know anything about it, and care even less. So weird.
The church of Our Lady of immaculate conception - which must be an offshoot of the same church which was built on top of this ancient temple - was full for Sunday mass, and I couldnt help but notice the difference in the fortunes of this temple and that church.
I wouldnt want it to be locked up behind ASI fences and rendered inaccessible, but definitely we should nurture and protect this place and make more people aware of this.
Mumbai has a great history, and hopefully we will protect and enjoy it in the future as well.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!