In a crowded lane of the Ulsoor or Halasur Bazar in Bangalore is a temple where a goddess known as Plague Devi is still worshipped. Like the Sitala and Mari devis temples dedicated to the small-pox goddess across cities in India, thousands of such temples remember our past. Mumbai is no different, we have our fair share of Sitala devi temples and crosses that remember past plagues across the city and our region. Many of the gaon devis or village goddesses were probably dedicated to past epidemics and pandemics. But most of them could have been related to fertility too, agrarian or for humanity.
While the rich prefer the gods of luck do the poor prefer the devis of good health? That seems to be a pattern. You are likely to see more of shrines dedicated to health and fertility in the poorer parts of the city. However, not all shrines are about health and fertility or about luck and removal of obstacles, they reflect the amazing mix of people we are. They reflect the community, regions, caste, class, and even religion.
Walking around Mumbai with a camera, shrines are hard to miss. The city is filled with a spectacular variety of shrines to innumerable gods, goddesses, beliefs and other spiritual needs of the people. They speak for the people from all over the country who call this city their home.
In a city that is divided according to caste, the shrines become a symbol of identity. In crowded areas, the space around the shrine is often the only public space for the community. Religion in the city is more than an individual’s belief, it is the collectively lived. It is not restricted to one deity or faith, the boundaries are often fluid.
When it comes to religious events, Mumbai probably has some of the largest congregations of people dotting the calendar. The MCGM or BMC is probably one of the best organisers of massive congregations held in a tightly packed urban centre. The annual Ganesh Visarajan procession, the Muharram procession, the congregation at Shivaji Park and Chaith Bhoomi around December 6th and several smaller ones are managed with clockwork precision every year.
In this set of photos, we don’t look at the big congregations, instead, we look at a few shrines of everyday worship that dot our cities.