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One of the Most Beautiful Places in Bombay

February 17, 2012

Pope John Paul II said that the most beautiful element of any culture or society is how they reach towards God.

Most days, I don’t know where I stand on the religious spectrum. But I do know one thing: observing the rituals of religions is endlessly fascinating to me. I maintain that one of the best ways to see a city is to head straight to their most famous religious site. I made a practice of this when I was exploring Europe and found that if you head to the Cathedral, you’re sorted. For sure, you’ll see some beautiful architecture. It’s also highly likely you’ll end up in the heart of the city.

One of my favorite places in Mumbai sits on Malabar Hill: the Jain temple near the hanging gardens.

 

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In India, people don’t just go to Church on Sundays. They live their beliefs everyday in a very visible way. Example: every morning, I awake to the sung-mantras of the Brahmin man who lives behind my building. His melodic cries of “Sita-Ram” are a private moment between him and his god, but the entire apartment building experiences it. (This man actually has a gorgeous voice, and I love to listen). In the US, if you prayed every morning, it’s highly likely that no one else would know.

Walking by an idol-image of Shiva or Ganesh, the Hindus in your party might consciously or unconsciously make some small physical action in respect for the god. Touching their eye or their forehead, quickly genuflecting-while-still-standing-all-in-one-movement (oh wait, that’s called bowing…but somehow “bowing” doesn’t seem to describe all of the motion contained in the action).

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Another interesting thing I’ve found in India is the fluidity of religion. I live in a very Catholic area of Bandra, and devout Hindus flock to the churches on Catholic holidays. My first landlord in Mt. Mary was a tiny, sari-clad, hunched, elderly Hindu woman. She went to the Catholic church to say her prayers on Wednesdays because it was “a good day to go to Church.”  Indian friends of mine happily accompany me to the Jain temple and say their own prayers in there.  God, or the gods, or the Gods….is/are everywhere, and people take their opportunities to worship. It’s fascinating.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post: my favorite temple in Mumbai:

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