Once the fishermen’s protector, today Mumbadevi reigns over India’s financial hub


MUMBAI: SYNONYMOUS WITH BOLLYWOOD, industrialists, Gateway of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Reserve Bank of India. The 12th wealthiest city in the world, it accounts for 87% of the Maharashtra state economy. Though best known as India’s financial capital, Mumbai is also one of India’s major migrant magnets, the ultimate big-city dream for small-town Indians wanting to prosper. Mumbai is home to countless success stories from across the generations, with innumerable celebrities who came here penniless and hit the jackpot.

And yet, very few know of the Goddess Mumbadevi, from Whom the city derives its name, Who protects and watches over Her people. “Our presiding Deity of Mumbai ensures that anyone who comes to Her abode seeking success is not deprived of realizing their dreams. She not only fulfills dreams but is the protector of this city from calamity,” Hemant Jadhav, manager of the Mumbadevi temple, told me during my visit.

The temple is in one of the most congested parts of Mumbai

Umesh Bajpai, a local businessman, put it this way: “No one who comes to Mumbai seeking a better life remains unsuccessful. Whether they stay on the footpath or in mansions, the Goddess gives them their bread and butter, She is a wish-fulfilling Goddess. I myself met with a terrible accident some years ago and had to go through some surgeries. My family prayed to Mumbadevi and I recovered completely. Now the doctors say I’m absolutely fit, and ever since I haven’t had to take any medications.”

Jadhav relates, “A lot of people, even those living here for generations, are not aware of this ancient Mumbadevi temple. I have met so many people who are in their sixties and seventies who are coming here for the first time despite being in Mumbai from birth.”

In fact, one of my friends, Mahabala Bhat, a native of Karnataka who has lived in Mumbai for decades, heard about the temple for the first time when I expressed my desire to visit it.

The Temple’s Story

Locals narrate a legend where the Goddess killed a demon named Mumbarak and to honor his death-bed wish She agreed to join his name with Hers; and hence the name Mumbadevi. Her temple was originally built 500 years ago by the Koli fisherman community, when what is now Mumbai was a collection of seven islands with just 10,000 residents. She was their presiding Deity. The present murti is made of sand and is believed to be over 400 years old.

Around 1737, when the Bombay Government began enlarging the fortifications of the old town, the original temple was demolished. That first location is unknown, but in the 1800s Mumbadevi temple was in Bori Bunder where the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus railway station stands today. In 1845 a large reclamation project consolidated the seven islands into a single landmass. Thereafter the population grew rapidly.

In 1853 the British built a railway station at Bori Bunder, which also served as the headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. The temple continued to exist on the railway platform.

In 1888 the magnificent architectural structure Victoria Terminus (now Chatrapathi Shivaji) railway station was built to replace the Bori Bunder station. The Mumbadevi temple was shifted to nearby Phansi Talao in the Esplanade. Subsequently the Esplanade was acquired by the British for parades and the temple moved to Dhobi Talao. At last, in the late 1800s, it made one final move to its current location. It now stands two miles north of the “Gateway of India” in the midst of Zaveri Bazar, Asia’s biggest jewelry market, which receives the majority of the country’s gold and rough diamond imports. The temple is also surrounded by the lucrative cloth, steel and iron markets.

The construction and management of the new ornate temple was entrusted to Pandushet Sonar, a merchant of considerable influence with the then government in Bombay. He took care of the temple, and his family inherited its management. Through the decades, management of the temple changed hands several times. As Mumbai expanded and its population grew, shops and houses mushroomed in the modest lanes around the temple.

In 1952 the Charity Commissioner took over the temple’s affairs, and by court order a management trust was registered. The nine-member trust board is presently comprised of solicitors, chartered accountants, doctors and an industrialist. About 15,000 people visit daily, with the number going to over 25,000 on festival days.

Despite the cramped location and huge crowds, the temple is well maintained, clean and organized. As soon as one enters, it is impossible not to connect with the Goddess. Mumbadevi sits majestically on Her lion, infusing power and confidence in Her devotees as they surrender to Her. Adjoining the sanctum sanctorum of Mumbadevi is the imposing shrine of Jagadamba with Annapooraneshwari (both forms of the Goddess), showering benevolence on worshipers. The ornate walls with exquisite paintings of Gods and Goddesses blend into the divinely charged ambiance.

Some of the 15,000 visitors a day

The temple is open from 6:30am to 10 pm. As in all Devi temples, the celebration of Navaratri is of primacy. At Mumbadevi, four navaratris are celebrated in a year. Besides the Chaitra Navaratri (March/April) and Sharad Ashwin Navaratri (September/October), the lesser known Gupta Navaratris during Maagh (January/February) and Ashaada (June/July) are also celebrated.

The temple is one of the richest in the city. Its income is used to administer the temple and conduct festivities. “We are handling public money. We engage in charity and run an old age home in Ahmedabad. We provide scholarships to deserving students and medical aid to the poor. We also help other institutions engaged in social service,” confirms Jadhav.

A few years back the temple ran into a controversy with reports of a government takeover. An investigation into the temple’s finances and administration by the Charity Commission found nothing amiss, and the issue was dropped. Following the infamous bomb blasts in 1993, three of which were in the vicinity of the temple, Mumbai police have greatly increased security in the area.

One devotee, Sushma Baadakar, told me of two great miracles in her life she attributes to the Goddess. The first, a property dispute, was resolved shortly after a chance visit to the temple in 2012 with her brother. She said, “The visit brought me under the protection of the Goddess.” Later, faced with cancer, she recounts, “At every stage of my treatment I saw miracles that left the doctors baffled. I still feel Mumbadevi is always with me, guiding every moment of my life.”

Whether Mumbai residents are aware of Mumbadevi or not, whether they visit her shrine or not, it is strongly believed that She protects anyone who comes to Her land. From the Ambanis to Bollywood stars and singers, innumerable people who came to this city seeking greener pastures, many of them with humble beginnings staying on pavements and railway platforms, have become rich and famous. Mumbadevi has remained true to Her legend as the wish-fulfilling Goddess who protects Her people.