Jun 19, 2010
“Char full Haji Ali” I said to the bus conductor when I and my friends boarded the bus outside St. Michael’s church at Mahim. My friend John said “Mount Mary chalte hai first” to which the conductor said “Mount Mary ke liye doossra bus le lo, ye nahin jaayega…” to which I said “Char Haji Ali de bhai”… This was way back in 2003 one day before our B.Com exams…That was our tradition a day before our results every year to go to St. Michael’s Church at Mahim, Haji Ali Dargah, SiddhiVinayak temple, a Gurudwara, Mahaganapati Temple, (Titwala Ganpati), Parsi Fire temple at bandra, Mount Mary’s Church, or Goddess Durga Temple.
Mumbai formerly called “Bombay” is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra with a population of approximately 14 million. What binds most of this 14 million is the acceptance of various faiths among these people. We all know that Mumbai is a truly cosmopolitan city with people of all race and religion living in harmony. But what most people do not know is that most mumbaikar’s aren’t hesitant to visit different places of worship irrespective of their religion especially the younger generation.
A visit to mosques, churches, temple’s, etc by people of various religions is common in Bombay. Many Mumbaikar’s do that. The visits that actually get noticed are the ones by the film stars, politicians, celebrities etc as they attract a lot of attention and more importantly it causes traffic jams.
During college days, we visited all the places of worship to pray on the crucial occasions of our college life. Like the day before our results, the day when parents were called for shortage of attendance, the day when our college id card was confiscated for weeks etc etc... Anyway, let’s not discuss that in detail. I always believed that my visits to these shrines/places of worship would stop after college. But it has become a part of my life even after college is over. Even today, any troubles, any happiness or to just get some peace and tranquility, I still visit these places alone or with friends.
I recall my first visit to Haji Ali Dargah. It is a mosque and dargah (tomb) located on an islet off the coast of Worli in Southern part of Mumbai. The accessibility to the dargah is dependent on the tides. As the causeway is not bound by railings, when it gets submerged during the high tides it becomes inaccessible. Therefore, the dargah is accessible only during low tides. During the high tide, the dargah seems completely isolated with no access. It looks more like a little island. This walk on the causeway, with the sea on both sides, is one of the highlights of a trip to the shrine. I had gone there with a group of my college friends during my first year of junior college. I was a little hesitant to visit a mosque but then the vendors, the people and the surroundings made me feel very comfortable. We felt as if we have been accepted at this place. We all were hesitant as to what do we do inside Haji Ali Dargah as we had never visited a mosque before. A local worshipper smiled and just showed us around and told us “You don’t need to kneel down, it doesn’t matter how you pray, all that matters is what’s in your heart”.
After Haji Ali Dargah, we got into a BEST bus to go to SiddhiVinayak Temple. The Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Mandir is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh. It is located in Prabhadevi. It’s said that on Tuesday’s this temple draws a huge crowd and one has to wait for hours to get inside the temple. We were lucky, however, as our day of visit wasn’t Tuesday. Despite that, we had to wait for 20 minutes and we finally managed to get inside. One guy came up to us and asked “Do I need to put the red teeka or the yellow teeka on my forehead?” to which we answered “We too aren’t sure as it’s our first visit”... he introduced himself as Nakul and said that he is from Calcutta (Kolkota) and hads moved to Mumbai recently for his education. Later he asked us directions for Mount Mary Church to which we invited him join us as we too were heading towards the same place. The Bigger, the merrier, as the saying goes, was what prompted us to invite him. During the journey from Siddhi Vinayak Temple to Mount Mary’s church, we got a proper introduction from him. My friend Kevin asked him “Why are you visiting temples and churches? Are your results out tomorrow as well?” to which he laughed and said that his elder brother is sick back in Calcutta and he wants to pray at all the possible places of worship. I asked him what prompted him to visit these shrines and he said his roommates at the hostel had advised him to visit all the places of worship and he readily accepted. “WOW” I thought in my mind, there are some others like us who also believe in this religion called “MUMBAI”.
After changing two buses and battling the traffic, we finally reached Mount Mary’s Church. I always wanted to share this with all you guys that there is something special at Mount Mary’s church. The silence, the tranquility and the peace will instantly relax anyone. We went inside the church prayed for a while and then headed towards the oratory opposite the church with a few candles. As mentioned before, the oratory is as beautiful as the church. Just stand there and you’ll understand why.
We finished the church visit and asked Nakul whether he would like to join us for the Fire Temple visit to which he agreed. Before venturing towards the temple, we thought of grabbing a bite of some chaat items as our stomachs were badly grumbling. After the quick meal, we hoped on to a bus and within 15 minutes we reached the Fire Temple located in Bandra. A fire temple in Zoroastrianism is the place of worship for Zoroastrians (Parsi). After a few minutes, we came out and it was almost 6 in the evening and was time to go home to which Nakul responded “I have one more place on my list – The Gurudwara”. Before he could invite us to join him, I and Kevin said “Bus mein jaate hai ya train mein”