Crowds throng the streets for a last day of Navratri celebrations. Soon, those costumes of shouting colour studded with mirror work and the dandiya sticks will be packed away for this year. As dancers put an extra spring in their step as a final farewell to nine nights of revelry, a historic temple in a crowded corner of South Mumbai is readying to open a new chapter in its long existence.

Eye for excellence: Artistes from Assam giving final touches. Pics/Bipin Kokate  


The Mota Mandir at Bhuleshwar of Lord Balkrishnalalji and Lord Shree Daujidayalji and other deities, holy site for Vaishnavites in the city is getting a facelift. This 200 year-old temple established sometime in 1810 is now deep in the throes of reconstruction. The making of the main temple is to be in Makarana white marble with deep carvings.

Character: This jharonka’ style, gives the temple a haveli flavour

This temple, which is an iconic South Mumbai landmark, was established in 1810 by one Shree Gowardhaneshji Goswami. There is plenty of lore associated with the genesis of this temple, but to cut a long story short, the Vaishnavs of Mumbai the temple history books say, had invited Goswamiji to bring this deity to Mumbai and establish the temple here.

Now, so many generations later, an extensive R & R (no, not Rest & Recuperation) but in this case, Reconstruction and Renovation, of the temple is underway. The deadline for completion is 24 months.

A while ago, the Mota Mandir had a ‘chappan bhog’ for the Lord. The special occasion in which 2,500 dishes were put in front of the Lord and where there were close to 1 lakh devotees, was to mark Phase I of the completion of restoration and renovation of the temple.

Says B R Bhattad, temple trustee, “The renovation has been divided into three phases. We started one wing in 1999 and completed it in 2007. Then, the balance work began in 2009 now 60 per cent of the work has been completed. We are doing is a lot of carving, on the ceiling and columns of the temple. We have carvers from Gujarat and Rajasthan and Orissa working here, often till 9 pm.”

Point made: B R Bhattad, temple trustee

The operative words are detailed and intricate as the carving is very rich, according to Bhattad, of the ground plus two floors structure. The jaronkhas (canopies) especially need a lot of detailed, marble work. Bhattad also claims the Mandir is being made “earthquake resistant” without elaborating. One can only say not even an earthquake can shake the faith of millions.

Some of the work is going on at Makarana (Rajasthan) and there are at least 60 carvers split between Makarana and Mumbai. “Our plan is that the temple lasts for another 1,000 years at least,” says Bhattad.

Since the past year, the temple has also installed 53 closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) for “vigilance and surveillance.” The trustees say that though the temple is a south Mumbai iconic structure for Pustimarg Vaishnavs especially, they need to keep pushing the envelope to get more young people to visit the temple on a regular basis.

Detailed: Intricate carving work is stunning

They are also wary about giving a ballpark figure for renovations though, they peg it as “approximately Rs 10 crore, which is self-generated.” There are plenty of plans on the anvil. The temple is to get some gold work on it and there is also going to be a musical fountain to be included. Now, the challenge is to get the younger generation within its precincts.

This is an age when even aartis are done online and time is scarce. Add to this, the serpentine lanes of Bhuleshwar, where access is a problem because of the parking crunch and the Mota Mandir seems to be a difficult destination. The management though, is confident of overriding hurdles.

Tomorrow, an archer will take aim with a fiery arrow to set ablaze the effigy of Ravana. Gold and orange will glow brilliantly in the dark as the fire devours Ravana’s ten heads. Dussehra is the time for the advent of a new season. For Mota Mandir, this festive season is also all about renovating the old, with the fire of a new vision and ambition.  

Taking shape: The structure undergoes renovation

Holds a special place in hearts
Several regulars have a favourite Mota Mandir memory. For Deepak Kapadia, president, the Bombay Halai Bhatia Mahajan Association it was when he would accompany his grandfather and father to Mota Mandir or, “Vada Mandir as we called it then,” he said. “At that time, I used to live at Princess Street, so there was the added attraction of proximity of the temple and home,” said Kapadia. Princess Street, Vithalwadi, Kalbadevi, Ramvadi and Gaiwadi were Bhatia dominated areas in the city. “Then,” says Kapadia, “Flat prices started rising and the suburbs developed.

Many Bhatia families also started losing their hold in several businesses. With homes becoming too small for their expanding families, they moved to the suburbs where one could get a big flat for the price of a small one, in many cases, a big flat for the price of a one room home in S Mumbai. Because of this South Mumbai to the suburb migration crowds started thinning out at Mota Mandir.” Kapadia says he particularly remembers a less crowded, more silent Mumbai all those years ago, when “We used to go to take the mangala darshan at 6 am. The cool marble floors, the pealing of bells as families walked to the temple, it still plays in my mind at times.”

While modernisation, renovation and an attempt to make youngsters keep visiting the temple is all very well, Kapadia says that a stricter adherence to timings for different darshans would help. “We live in a time conscious world,” he says. “Also the approach road to the temple should be improved and some provision for parking would also facilitate easier access,” ends Kapadia, who believes that several South Mumbai residents have also started frequenting other temples like the Babulnath temple. He ends though saying, “Like so many of my generation, the Mota Mandir is an important part of my childhood memories. Its divine aura would hold me in thrall. Now, so many years later, this Mandir’s memories and the way it shaped me, are still as fresh and cling to my mind, like dew on a leaf.”     

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