Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, Bandra
Cures from the Mother
Although the building is only a 100 years old, the statue of the Virgin inside traces its roots back to the 16th century, when the island's Portuguese rulers brought it in from their country. The church was plundered in the 17th century by the Arabs, destroyed by the Marathas in 1738 and rebuilt much later. Colloquially known as Mount Mary, this Roman Catholic church’s week-long Bandra Fair honouring the birth of Mother Mary is why that suburb comes to a standstill in September. Lakhs of devotees come in from all over India, including many who don’t profess Catholicism. There are secular attractions too: food, stalls selling souvenirs, even Ferris wheel rides. The church’s midnight Christmas mass is also a time for celebrity spotting, with the city’s swishest coming to hear the sermon remembering the birth of Christ. It’s not just these special days that bring people here, though. Devotees swear that the church’s novenas can be the panacea to all their suffering, both physical and otherwise, and they come to make offerings, light candles and tell the Virgin Mother of their heart’s desires.
Siddhivinayak Temple, Prabhadevi
Remover of obstacles
Every Monday night, lakhs of people across the city start their barefoot pilgrimage to the Shree Siddhivinayak temple. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, and is visited by almost 25,000 devotees every day, who stand patiently in serpentine queues to pay obeisance to the elephant-headed god. It is also a favourite of many Bollywood celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. The architecture of the temple is arresting: a gold roof for the sanctum, and seamlessly carved wooden doors leading to the interiors. Siddhivinayak receives a huge number of donations, some ₹10 crore a year, making it the richest temple in Mumbai. If you can brave the crowds, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is the ideal time to visit. The temple offers free food and drink to devotees who stand in line for more than 24 hours, amidst very tight security.
Haji Ali Dargah, Worli
Jewel in the sea
The white dargah sparkles all by itself, framed by the Arabian Sea. Its intricate, beautiful Islamic architecture features arcs, minarets and carvings. The dargah is a mosque and the tomb of the Muslim saint, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, but is open to people of all faiths. A merchant, Bukhari gave up all worldly pleasures before embarking on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was also known to perform miracles and was a philanthropist. He travelled around the world in the 15th century before settling in Mumbai, where he vowed to spread the word of Islam to his dying day. Before his death, he asked his followers to let his coffin float in the ocean and then bury it wherever it was found. It came to rest on a rocky islet off the Worli coast, and that’s where they buried him and built the dargah in 1431. The islet is accessed by a narrow pedestrian-only causeway. A good time to visit is the early evening, when the setting sun gilds the pristine walls. On some Fridays, the dargah hosts Sufi musicians offering songs of prayer to the divine.
ISKCON temple, Juhu
In Krishna’s name
Like so many other places of worship in Mumbai, this temple is popular with those of other faiths. Built in a four-acre plot by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and popularly known by the organisation’s acronym, the Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Mandir was built by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1978. Aside from devotees, the structure also houses over 200 resident monks. It organises several activities like book distributions, youth programmes, forums for girls, and more. The delicious fare of the temple’s pure vegetarian restaurant, Govinda’s, is popular even with the less devout. Its Sunday buffet is especially famous. ISKCON also offers tiffin services for home delivery and it now also has a bakery, which also delivers. The complex has a library, a garden, Vrindavan, and a gift shop called Matchless.
Jalsa and Pratiksha, Juhu
In India, Bollywood actors are revered, so it’s only natural that visiting fans from all over the country will make their pilgrimage to Amitabh Bachchan’s home. There is actually a temple, in Kolkata, his hometown, where fans worship a statue of the superstar. But in Mumbai, every Sunday, scores of fans religiously gather outside Bachchan’s two homes in Juhu to see the man himself. Mr. Bachchan is no inaccessible deity: he greets his fans at Jalsa, then goes to Pratiksha to greet the fans there. This routine is a ritual, almost, one Mr. Bachchan takes seriously, often publicly apologising on his Twitter account when he misses a meeting with his fans. Traffic comes to a standstill at the time. If you’re lucky and brave enough to jostle through the throng, you might even get to meet one of his lookalikes.