Mumbadevi is now in the news, reminding those who were ignorant of her that she’s the goddess who reigns over Mumbai. Neither during Covid outbreak nor during the three Navarathri’s that have gone by was Mumbadevi’s name brought into media attention, but her name is now being used over a political controversy that’s dominating national headlines.
Once the fishermen’s protector, today Mumbadevi reigns over India’s financial hub Mumbai: a city synonymous with Bollywood, industrialists, Gateway of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Reserve Bank of India. The 12th wealthiest city in the world, it accounts for 87% of the Maharashtra state economy. Though best known as India’s financial capital, Mumbai is also one of India’s major migrant magnets, the ultimate big-city dream for small-town Indians wanting to prosper. Mumbai is home to countless success stories from across the generations, with innumerable celebrities who came here penniless and hit the jackpot.
And yet, very few know of Goddess Mumbadevi, from whom the city derives its name, thecity’s guardianwho protects and watches over her people. “Our presiding Deity of Mumbai ensures that anyone who comes to Her abode seeking success is not deprived of realizing their dreams. She not only fulfils dreams but is the protector of this city,” says HemantJadhav, manager of Mumbadevi temple.
“No one who comes to Mumbai seeking a better life remains unsuccessful. Whether they stay on the footpath or in mansions, the Goddess gives them their bread and butter, she is a wish-fulfilling Goddess”, says UmeshBajpai, a local businessman. He had met with a terrible accident some years ago and attributes his completemiraculous recovery to Mumbadevi, to whom his family had prayed.
Devotees vouch for the powers of the deity and narrate innumerable instances of Grace where their prayers have been answered.
Jadhav relates, “A lot of people, even those living here for generations, are not aware of this ancient Mumbadevi temple. I have met so many people who are in their sixties and seventies who are coming here for the first time despite being in Mumbai from birth.”
The Temple’s Story
Locals narrate a legend where the Goddess killed a demon, Mumbarak and to honor his last wish she agreed to join his name with Hers; and hence the name Mumbadevi. Her temple was originally built 500 years ago by the Koli fisherman community, when Mumbai was a collection of seven islands with just 10,000 residents. She was their presiding Deity. The present murti is made of sand and is believed to be over 400 years old.
Around 1737, when the Bombay Government began enlarging the fortifications of the old town, the original temple was demolished. That first location is unknown, but in the 1800s Mumbadevi temple was in BoriBunder where the ChatrapathiShivaji Terminus railway station stands today. In 1845 a large reclamation project consolidated the seven islands into a single landmass. Thereafter the population grew rapidly.
In 1853 the British built a railway station at BoriBunder, which also served as the headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. The temple continued to exist on the railway platform.
In 1888 the magnificent architectural structure Victoria Terminus (now ChatrapathiShivaji) railway station was built to replace the BoriBunder station. Mumbadevi temple was shifted to nearby PhansiTalao in the Esplanade. Subsequently the Esplanade was acquired by the British for parades and the temple moved to Dhobi Talao. At last, in the late 1800s, it made one final move to its current location. It now stands two miles north of the Gateway of India in the midst of Zaveri Bazar, Asia’s biggest jewellery market, which receives the majority of the country’s gold and rough diamond imports. The temple is also surrounded by the lucrative cloth, steel and iron markets.
The construction and management of the new ornate temple was entrusted to Pandushet Sonar, a merchant of considerable influence with the then government in Bombay. He took care of the temple, and his family inherited its management. Through the decades, management of the temple changed hands several times. As Mumbai expanded and its population grew, shops and houses mushroomed in the modest lanes around the temple.
In 1952 the Charity Commissioner took over the temple’s affairs, and by court order a management trust was registered. The nine-member trust board is presently comprised of solicitors, chartered accountants, doctors and an industrialist. About 15,000 people visit daily, with the number going to over 25,000 on festival days.
Despite the cramped location and huge crowds, the temple is well maintained, clean and organized. As soon as one enters, it is impossible not to connect with the Goddess. Mumbadevi sits majestically on Her lion, infusing power and confidence in Her devotees as they surrender to Her. Adjoining the sanctum sanctorum of Mumbadevi is the imposing shrine of Jagadamba with Annapooraneshwari (both forms of the Goddess), showering benevolence on worshipers. The ornate walls with exquisite paintings of Gods and Goddesses blend into the divinely charged ambiance.
Mumbadevi temple is one of the richest in the city. Its income is used to administer the temple and conduct festivities. “We are handling public money. We engage in charity and run an old age home in Ahmedabad. We provide scholarships to deserving students and medical aid to the poor. We also help other institutions engaged in social service,” confirms Jadhav.
From the Ambanis to Bollywood stars and singers, innumerable people who came to this city seeking greener pastures, many of them with humble beginnings staying on pavements and railway platforms, have become rich and famous
A few years back the temple ran into a controversy with reports of a government takeover. An investigation into the temple’s finances and administration by the Charity Commission found nothing amiss, and the issue was dropped. Following the infamous bomb blasts in 1993, three of which were in the vicinity of the temple, Mumbai police have greatly increased security in the area.
Whether Mumbai residents are aware of Mumbadevi or not, whether they visit her shrine or not, it is strongly believed that She protects anyone who comes to Her land. From the Ambanis to Bollywood stars and singers, innumerable people who came to this city seeking greener pastures, many of them with humble beginnings staying on pavements and railway platforms, have become rich and famous. Mumbadevi has remained true to Her legend as the wish-fulfilling Goddess who protects Her people.