Mumbai, a chaos of dreams by the bay, a city of plush prosperity and modernization, has a place of old heritage still throbbing with great charm. One of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, Bhuleshwar, has remained a residential and religious hub as before while thriving as the city’s essential commercial marketplace today.
It retains a complex history of migration and community, which is evident in the architectural form, motifs and designs of the area. The buildings are literally registers of history; they are maps of a time gone by, and yet they continue to find themselves relevant and alive in the contemporary context.
Taking a trip to this place would treat the visitor with a cluster of temples, busy lively streets, best of imitation jewellery, savouring street food and time travelling architecture.
Bhuleshwar is a temple district of sorts, with over 100 temples. It gets its name from a namesake 150-year-old Shiva temple. Legend has it that the Shiva linga inside the temple manifested itself instantaneously and is a meteorite rock. So, it is known as Shiva’s realm and features 84 crore gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology. The entrance to the temple is marked by an exquisitely carved Nagarkhana (rock-cut palace gateway).
Bhuleshwar is known for its cluster of over 100 temples. The significant ones include Shree Suryanarayan Mandir. The city’s only sun temple was built by Seth Maniar, a Saurashtra resident, in 1899. The temple opens at sunrise and shuts at sundown, and features seven horses on the roof of the inner altar to represent the days of the week.
Standing tall since 117 years, it guards a history and tradition, revealed gradually as one walks around the structure, its impressive architecture recounting the mythological tales of the Sun god. There are figurines of rishis or ascetics, surrounding the temple, each holding a different object and showcasing a different mudra.
The Swaminarayan temple adds to the religious heritage of the place. The temple has an elaborately carved frontage which is really a visual treat in an otherwise shady surrounding. There are three main shrines.
- In the shrine on the east, there are idols of Hari Krishna Maharaj, Gaulokvihari and Radhika;
- the shrine at the centre has the idols of Ghanshyam Maharaj, Narayan and Lakshmi;
- while the shrine on the west houses the resting place for deities. Other temples include a Hanuman, Ganpati and Rameshwar Temple in the complex.
Apart from the religion, the place is home to savouring street food. ‘This is where pav bhaji was born’.🤤 The locals here claim that Mumbai’s one of the famous dishes, pav bhaji was invented in one of the streets here. According to local lore, a street vendor had seen keema being made by some merchants in his hometown. When he arrived here, he realised that the inhabitants of the place were mostly Gujaratis and vegetarians, so to attempt at something similar, he did his own mash-up with veggies on the tawa. That’s how pav bhaji came about!
There is a gully where you get kaccha papad and roughly 30 other varieties, such as pepper and ginger-garlic. There is also Chechnya papad which is like a chaat or a set puri on a papad. For Rs.20, the street mash-up is delicious and won’t break the wallet.
The other must-have is the ice halwa made in layers. Unlike the Mahim halwa which is softer, this is harder and made in layers with butter paper. When you are here, you can also stop by the masalawallahs, who have spices for everything — from local Gujarati fare to Italian and Mexican cuisine.
The place is home to the biggest animal shelter in the city. Mumbai Panjrapole, built in 1834, today houses over 2,000 cows, and the milk produced are supplied to surrounding temples. Ducks, parrots, rabbits, pigeons and other small birds have also looked after. You can wander around and pet the cows and calves and, for a small donation, feed them fresh greens too.
Bhuleshwar market is another attraction here, a perfect place to get the best of imitation jewellery. Be it edgy oxidized jewellery, colourful kadas, payals or even bridal sets, a numerous variety is available at the lowest costs. Amongst this latest trend of imitation fashion, the tinge of old charm can still be seen today. The place still has old-fashioned bangle makers’ shops, where you have to sit down to try them.
The place is home to one of the oldest kabutar khanas in the city. Another interesting thing to know is that there are ‘Lilliput shops’ here that are only three feet in height. Word has it that the road came up after they were built.
A city interspersed with temples, beautiful architecture and an element of mystery and charm, is a striking contrast with life just a few roads away. The residential structures also have a melange of architecture with diverse influences everywhere. It is the history and geography you learn in school coming alive in front of you.
A place where ancient Mumbai can still be seen living as lively as ever, the Mumbaikars proudly say, “Welcome to Bhuleshwar…”.