Mumbai's Holy Sites
Although it's not generally known for its religious heritage, Mumbai has a holy legacy going back hundreds of years, with sites dedicated to most of the world's major religions scattered throughout the city.
Not surprisingly, Hindu sites dominate any religious-oriented tour of Mumbai—from Siddhivinayak, central Mumbai's grand temple to Lord Ganesha, to Malabar Hill's peaceful, isolated Banganga water tank—but the city is also home to one of the world's most unique mosques (Haji Ali Shrine, whose location in the Arabian Sea means it's only accessible during low tide) and colorful synagogues (the sky-blue Knesseth Eliyahoo synagogue in Kala Ghoda). So if you need a break between booming bazaars and bumping bars—though, to be fair, some of these sites are likely to be just as busy as the hottest clubs in town—wander over to one of Mumbai's many temples, churches, mosques, or synagogues.
How to be suitably respectful in a place of worship can be a little confusing—whether to take off your footwear, cover your head, or remove your hat. Keep the following in mind: If you see a pile of shoes outside a temple, remove yours as well; if you see a collection box in front of an idol, drop in a coin or two; and if you're still not sure what to do, ask a local.
Haji Ali Shrine
One of the most unusual mosques in the world lies in the middle of the Arabian Sea, just off one of Mumbai's busiest intersections. At high tide it looks like an isolated island in the middle of a bay. But during low tide the narrow 1 km (½-mile) pathway to the 500-year-old tomb is revealed. It's especially busy on Thursday and Friday, when upward of 40,000 pilgrims visit the site.
Banganga Water Tank
According to the Hindu epic the Ramayana, the god Rama stopped at this spot while searching for his wife Sita, and asked his brother Lakshmana for some water. Lakshmana shot an arrow into the ground and water gushed out, creating what would become Banganga. The first tank, used for storing rainwater, is said to have been built here in the 11th century, and a more formal version was constructed in the 1700s. The current tank, built in the early 20th century, is a serene spot.
Siddhivinayak Temple. Pilgrims travel from far and wide—often on foot—to visit the Siddhivinayak Temple, dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. The shrine is renowned throughout the Hindu world for its purported wish-granting properties, and attracts worshippers of every stripe—from Bollywood beauties to industrial titans to slum dwellers. Tuesday is Ganesh's day, and the road to the temple is especially busy then. Prabhadevi, Central Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra, 400028. 22/2437–3626; www.siddhivinayak.org.
Knesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue
This pale, light blue synagogue stands out among the gray and brown British Raj buildings of winding Kala Ghoda. It's worth a visit more for its exteriors than its interiors—the sparsely attended services are a sign of Mumbai's dwindling Jewish population.
Officially known as Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple, but usually just referred to as the Jain temple, this small but very opulent (thanks to its diamond merchant benefactors) temple sits atop Malabar Hill, full of ornate sculptures and elegant frescoes, and topped with an arched dome extravagantly emblazoned with the 12 signs of the zodiac. The Jain temple is a testament to the wealth and status of a people who make up but a fraction of 1% of the Indian population.
Tucked between Bandra proper and Bandra Reclamation is the Catholic village of Bandra—a small slice of Goa here in the big city. With tiny, winding lanes, small bungalows, a few churches, and a simple, village atmosphere, it makes for a charming place to wander. During Christmastime and Easter, the area is a stunner, with gorgeous lights and frenetic energy.
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