One day in the year 2008, during my first sojourn in Bombay, I was going through a particularly trying time. During this period, I happened to be spending a Sunday afternoon with some new friends in Mumbai, unaware that my stress levels were evident to others, if they cared to look. One of my friends, perceptive and with the pretext of showing me some new sides of Mumbai, suggested we go visit a temple he knew about.
Now, I am far from being a religious person. That’s just not my thing. At best, I am agnostic. At worst, well, I am worse. But, given my situation at the time and my general low frame of mind, I agreed.
When I think Hindu temple, and especially when my friend tells me about a “famous temple”, I imagine something quite elaborate and perhaps even a bit ostentatious. I guess that comes from too much emphasis on Tirupati when growing up. I was really in for a surprise, because the quaint and simple place that my friend took me to was nothing like I had imagined.
Later I was to discover that this temple is called Shree Ghanteshwar Hanuman Mandir. It is located next to a small park in the wonderfully green and tree-rich suburb of Khar.
Legend goes that people seek the blessing of Lord Hanuman here. When their wish is fulfilled, they return to the temple and offer Hanuman a bell (thus “Ghanteshwar” which literally means lord of bells). Therefore, thousands of densely packed brass bells of various sizes hang above and around the temple, which in and of itself is a modest sized place, no more than a large verandah. A few of the bells shine like they have been recently hung, while many more are crusted and darkened with time.
So, on that afternoon in the monsoon of 2008, I visited this temple for the very first time. Somehow, perhaps given my low spirits at the time, I felt a sense of peace and calm, and yes, even strength come upon me around this place. It was partly my imagination, and looking back, I am also certain that it was caused by wanting badly that something, anything, help to mitigate my current troubles. Since I had made the effort and the trip to the temple, I took the trouble to also offer up a prayer and a wish.
Fast forward to late 2010. Times have changed for me in a couple of short years. It is time to visit the temple again. Because it does not matter how much skepticism I may have for the rituals of religion. When I made a wish, I also made a promise. When the wish was fulfilled, it was time to fulfill a commitment. Whether I believed or not.
I headed off to a market in Khar where I was amazed to find shops that actually stocked and sold the bells specifically for the disciples of Ghanteshwar. They didn’t blink an eye when I asked for one. I bought a “nice” sized brass bell – neither too big and obnoxious nor too small and trivial. It was just the right size. In my eyes.
Then, I set off for the temple once again, this time with a different friend (here’s the map btw, in case you are ever in the neighborhood).
We stand in the long line to get to the priest. Behind us is an older gentleman. He’s in a talkative mood. Plus he has spied the bell in my hand, so he is curious. He says, he’s not a religious person and he doesn’t really believe in all these rituals. He adds that he never visits temples. But, he says, this is the exception. Don’t ask me why, he says, but every time I have asked for anything here, I have been granted the wish. So, I can’t stop visiting. He gestures curiously at the bell. So, he asks, same for you, haan? Trying not to be too emphatic about it, I do nod in a fashion. Then we move forward towards the priest so that he can take the bell I have brought with me out of my hands. With that, he will not only take the weight of the bell off my hands, but the weight of obligation off my mind.
Somehow, though, something tells me that this is not my last visit to see this Hanuman. Next time, will my excuse be that I was just passing through and decided to stop? Or that I simply love Khar? Or…? No doubt, I will find something creative to justify the trip.
Photos by: vishalphotography.com