Historic Mumbai landmark 'Prabhadevi Mandir' turns 300

The scoreboard reads: ‘300 not out’, for the historic old Prabhadevi Mandir, located in the Prabhadevi area. The low-profile temple standing in the lane opposite the Reliance Digital Express building, near Sarang Snacks, is going to mark 300 years today.

The Prabhadevi temple exudes calm. Pic/Satyajit Desai
The Prabhadevi temple exudes calm. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The crowded Prabhadevi area, changing quickly demographically like so many vicinities in Mumbai, with smaller buildings replaced by high rises and banks, offices and enterprises changing this into a residential-commercial mix, is getting ready for a party.

The welcome sign on the road outside. Pics/Hemal Ashar
The welcome sign on the road outside. Pics/Hemal Ashar

The lane leading up to Prabhadevi Mandir has been painted and fresh white traffic markings are seen. There are Diwali-like lanterns everywhere in shouting orange with lines stating that the Prabhadevi Mandir is 300 years old (lest we forget).

Lanterns flutter heralding 300 years
Lanterns flutter heralding 300 years

The mandatory stage has been set up and banners with political visages are also part of the celebrations, reminding us that here, the personal is the political and the pious too is the political. It is one of the few times in so many years that this Prabhadevi Mandir will be so visible.

All roads lead to Prabhadevi Temple today
All roads lead to Prabhadevi Temple today

Otherwise, Prabhadevi Mandir prefers to live in the shadows thrown by the trees that line the pavement outside. Its existence is like a slight, cool breeze on a scorching summer's day, soothing relief but light enough to let only those who feel it, know it. “Yes, we are very low-profile,” laughs the bhatji or poojari, maharaj Jaywant Joshi who is inside the cool interiors of this edifice.

Trustee A Desai stands next to a board stating that the temple is going to mark 300 years today. Pic/Satyajit DesaiTrustee A Desai stands next to a board stating that the temple is going to mark 300 years today. Pic/Satyajit Desai 

Says Joshi, who is the third generation conducting pooja at this temple, “I was born here, in this very place. I continue the legacy left by my grandfather and father. For so many years, worshippers here have felt the power of God.” Joshi says there has been some renovation to the temple over the years, “but the spirit has remained intact.”

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Prabhadevi Mandir, has been silent sentinel to the transformation of the area. Joshi says, “Once, we had the mill population here. Now, the chawls and waadis have given way to high-rises. With physical changes, we have seen the mentality of people changing too. Earlier, families would come to the temple, now many youngsters come in alone but they seem to be to be in too much of a hurry even for God.” Joshi says that the shrill trill of the mobile has taken over the peal of temple bells.

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“Even here in the temple, people will be talking on their mobile, their attention is diverted. I tell them: never mind about God but when you come in here, give your mind a break, it is for peace so keep two minutes for yourself at least,” explains Joshi painstakingly, pointing to a young man who stands at the temple gate talking into his mobile as if to illustrate his point. “You are not doing any favour to God.” he sums up.

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In the end, Joshi says, “It is not about film songs and bands played on religious occasions like they are these days, it is about serenity and finding oneself in moments away from the hurly-burly of our lives,” signs off Joshi who then goes inside the temple for a pooja, as a number of people walk inside on a weekday morning to pray.

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Simplicity is key for the temple trustees who believe that a temple’s strength lies in its longevity and history, not the number of celebrities connected to it. Says trustee Milind Wazkar, “Today (Wednesday, April 29) we are going to have a 'havan' in the temple from 8 am to 2 pm.

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This is our way of marking the 300 years, a milestone that of course, I am very happy to witness.” Trustee Alark Desai says he is naturally “proud” of the moment and adds that, “Other temples in the area may be more famous thanks to media hype.”

While it may bask in the shadows otherwise, today the Prabhadevi Temple which gives the area its name, will be firmly in the spotlight. To twist the phrase a little, havan is a place on earth.

History of the temple
The idol of the main deity, Prabhavati Devi, belongs to the 12th century. At that time, the Goddess was known as Sakambari Devi and was the kuldevta of the Yadava king, Bimba Raja of Gujarat. Mughal attacks resulted in the Goddess being shifted to Karnataka. Later on, it was shifted to Mahim creek and subsequently, put in a well that used to exist opposite the present temple.

Then, it is said that a miracle happened in the 18th century. Goddess Sakambari Devi appeared as Prabhavati Devi in the dream of Shyam Nayak, a rich Pathare Prabhu. He then retrieved the idol from the well, which is just opposite the temple and constructed the temple in 1715. It is this ancient idol one can have darshan of in this temple.

The garbhalayam has idols of three Goddesses Prabhavati Devi, Chanika Devi and Kalika Devi. To the right of Chanika Devi, there is an ancient Siva lingam. The Goddess has four arms with Padmam, Japamala, varada, abhaya hastams. There are other small temples of: Lakhmi Narayaa, Siva, Hanuman, Sitala Devi and Khokala Devi. Every year in the Puhya month, a 10- day jatra is held, beginning on the full moon day (Sakambari Pournima). The locality is now known by the Goddess’s name as Prabhadevi.

The Jatra or fair: The Prabhadevi fair or Jatra as is locally known, is an annual affair and a looked forward to event. Stalls line the pavements outside the temple selling everything from toys to food, with the Malvani Khaja very popular. Traffic poses a huge challenge then, as the narrow lane is impossibly crowded during those days. But the Divine obviously smiles on both, the motorist and pedestrian.

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