Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mumbai Heritage: Prince's Triumphal Arch Clock Tower, Mahalaxmi.

Who doesn’t love bumping into treasures?

But it’s not always easy since when did treasures ever come with a map?!

In fact, the entire surprise element that lies woven in the treasure hunt is what exactly makes accidently bumping into them just so amazing!

As a kid, finding treasures for me, was all about embarking on my own mini (mis)adventures, which often meant digging deeper, into the known and unknown corners of the house, and discovering something entirely new.

Growing up, now, I realize, nothing much has changed, for finding treasures still remains very much about embarking on my own mini (mis)adventures, which often means digging deeper, into the known and unknown corners of the house world, and discovering something entirely new.

So, imagine my delight when I bumped into an unobserved, easily overlooked and hardly ever talked about monument staring right in my eye on one fine day as I was casually walking by!


I saw the ‘Prince’s Triumphal Arch’ while on my way out of the famous Mahalakshmi temple in Mahalakshmi, Mumbai on a beautiful balmy morning.

One glance at the clock tower and I'd sense - this isn’t any ordinary structure.

By the looks of it, the monument passed every test of a historic structure – pale ochre in color, the arch is supported by little ornate Corinthian pillars domed by a beautiful clock at the top.

Not only did the tower look impressive in its built and make, the design reeked of British taste in architecture.

The year – 1905 - imprinted in numerals right above the clock, stamped my speculation right in.

There was a BMC garbage van standing beneath it (which is the reason why I omitted clicking the bottom part in the picture) and people walked by casually.

From this point, the street passed in a straight line on one side to the Mahalakshmi temple and through a flight of stairs on the other side via the entrances of Shri Tulsidas Gopalji Charitable and Dhakleshwar Temple Trust, past the Shri Trayambakeshwar Mahadev Mandir, till the main access point to the Bhulabhai Desai Road.

Mumbai Undiscovered - Prince's Triumphal Arch Heritage Clock Tower at Mahalaxmi
Don't these gnarled branches look they are giving a guard of honor to this epoch beauty?
Which takes us to the next question: In whose honor or memory was the 'Prince's TriumphAl Arch' at Mahalaxmi really built?

Seen from any side of the street, the arch is identical in make. The blue windows on the sides of the clock give it a nice antique touch. There is a small verandah besides the clock with a ladder going right up used when winding the clock and cleaning the monument.

In a city about whom so much has been written and so many great buildings, iconic structures and historic towers gracing the city with its unique character since centuries documented about - it was hard to believe that here was this modest historic marvel, unknown and unnoticed, standing nearly obscured in anonymity.

A sense of delight and thrill ran down my senses, as I stood in the shadows, marveling at the sight of a remarkable treasure jumping out live from the pages of history.


As I wondered of the untold story of the triumphal arch, I stumbled upon another very interesting trivia associated with the time zones followed in India during the British Era:

During the British Era, India followed two official time zones, established in 1884 – the Bombay time and the Calcutta Time.

While Bombay time was 4 hours and 51 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time or GMT (39 min behind IST), Calcutta time was 5 hours, 54  minutes in advance of GMT (24 min. ahead IST.).

There was a third one too, railway time, standardized on Madras time (MT) as MT was between Bombay and Calcutta times, and often this, rather than Bombay time, was used in Indian timetables from the late 1880s onward.

While India adopted Indian Standard Time or IST (which is GMT plus 5.30 hrs) as its official time zone in 1906 – the quintessential city that Bombay is, continued to run on its own local time as late as until 1955.


Prince Triumph Al Arch time shown on the clock tower

The clock was striking 7:52 by the show of its hands when I clicked it. Since I wasn’t carrying my mobile phone (I like it that way), I couldn't confirm the exact time at that point.

After reaching home, I checked in my digicam and it showed 8:06 as the time I had clicked the picture which means the clock was running approximately 14-15 minutes behind IST.

So, the clock does not exactly show Bombay time as I initially thought miscalculated it to be. But as per my find, there is some time difference for sure.

If you happen to see this monument in Mumbai or
know more about the Prince's Triumpal Arch in Mumbai,
do write in the comments section -
I'd love to hear all about it!

Mumbai Undiscovered - Prince's Triumphal Arch Heritage Clock Tower at Mahalaxmi

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Morning Walk To Haji Ali Dargah.

The tomb of Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

Khuda apne valiyon se hota hai raazi
Milegi ye dar se hamein sarfaraazi
Yahaan dil se maango, yeh Haji Ali hain
Khuda ke vali hain.
~A.R. Rehman, Movie Fiza.

God is pleased with the ones who spread the same message as He speaks
From this door, we gain our dignity/respect
Ask whatever your heart desires, this is Haji Ali
He is the messenger (dedicated follower) of God.
(English Translation)

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It’s Friday morning, and this beautiful song by A.R. Rehman plays in my mind as I am on my way to Haji Ali Dargah - all by myself. The fact that I was here only after a couple of odd months back in the monsoon season, on the second day of Bakri Eid, helps in making this all by myself yatra less of a challenge. Then the skies were grey, the seawater levels considerably high and the waves crashed vociferously on the shore. Today however, it’s a bright beautiful day with the sun just beginning to make an appearance in the sky.

Morning walk to Haji Ali Dargah at Mahalaxmi, - One of the must do things in Mumbai.

Located a few minutes from the Mahalaxmi station on the western railway line, one can reach Haji Ali Dargah through a short BEST bus ride (Number 77) or kaali-peeli share-taxi ride from the Mahalaxmi station.

Before proceeding for my walk towards the Haji Ali Dargah, just next to the famous Haji Ali Juice center, I pause for a few moments… breathing in the beautiful panoramic view splashed in front of my eyes –

... on one side of me, is the relentless din of a restless Mumbai city while on the other side is a content reservoir of a sacred site insulated by a never ending sea of peace and tranquility.

The dargah and the high rise buildings of the maximum city...

Haji Ali Dargah and Mumbai high rise buildings, Mumbai

Such a contrast!

And yet... everything seems to be in absolute harmony, coexisting, giving verve to one another. In the middle of the vast sea, as if out of nowhere rises the dargah, its semi circular dome pointing upwards towards the sky, the sun creating a divine halo around the pencil thin minarets. A fresh gust of breeze caresses my face and I close my eyes to this haloed sight… a sense of calm seeps within - something that I keep doing at regular intervals during my 10 minutes odd walk on the narrow pathway that goes through the sea to a tiny islet towards the dargah, around 500 m off the coast.

Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, India
The dargah rainbow-washed in a divine halo!

The alleyway is as mystically placed as the aura of the dargah itself – being right in the heart of buzzing traffic in the southern part of Mumbai doesn’t help, neither does it being the alleyway to one of the most famous and recognizable iconic landmarks of the place - it’s so easy to walk past this point without even noticing it especially if you are a first time visitor to the place.

Haji Ali Dargah causeway, Mumbai
Walking to Haji Ali Dargah on a tiny islet, around 500 m of the coast.

There’s a distinctly medieval world charm you cannot not notice as you start your walk. Huddled side to side are numerous makeshift shops selling chadar (cloth), caps, religious paraphernalia, flower trays, sweets, incense sticks, prayer books – as offerings to Shah Bahadur Peer Haji Ali Bukhari Dargarh.

Chadars for the saint being sold at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Would you like to buy this floral chadar for Haji Ali?

'Didi, ek chadar le lo', 'Didi bismillah kar do', 'Didi, Didi… ' prod most of the shopkeepers the moment they see me, egging me to make the first purchase of the morning from their respective shops. But little do they know about the poor me who only brings her humble self to offer in Baba's feet today.

Constructed in 1431, the Haji Ali Dargah stands as a testimony to the compassion the wealthy Muslim merchant, Sayyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, had for every drop in the ocean of humanity...

Belonging to Bukhara, in present-day Uzbekistan, the saint was a traveler himself who travelled all over the world in the early to mid 15th century. During the course of his travels, he once chanced upon a poor woman holding an empty vessel, crying bitterly. On inquiring, it dawned on him that the poor woman had slipped accidentally, spilling the oil and was now in dire distress thinking about the ensuing wrath of her husband.

Haji Ali Dargah seen from the causeway, Mumbai

Filled with empathy, the saint thrust a finger in the soil and out poured oil with which the woman gleefully filled her vessel back up and returned home.

Gradually, Sayyed Pir Haji Ali started getting nightmares that he had harmed the earth by jabbing his thumb in the soil in such a forceful manner. Disturbed, he travelled to Mumbai with the permission of his mother and as his health improved, he decided to stay on and from his new home somewhere near the Worli sea shore; and he decided to spread the message of Islam and indulge in social work for the benefit of humanity.

Worli seaface as seen from the Haji Ali Causeway.

Haji Ali passed away while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and as per his will, his shroud / kafan was lowered in the sea such that it should be buried by the people at the place where it was found.

Miraculously, the casket floated back to the shore, back to Bombay, resting peacefully by the stones in the Arabian Sea in Worli, to the place from where he had started his pilgrim journey, his home. The dargah was built later, housing his tomb, where he resides eternally, planting a promise of solace and refuge in hearts stuck in grief and pain.

Haji Ali Dargah on an islet in Mumbai

Time moved on... taking in its folds the people and the city, centuries came and went, constantly flowing like water. But the dargah remained – the path where the fakir once walked, where the oil flowed, where the mortals cried and the heaven danced – it’s all present, lingering in the winds that blow and waves that lap, reminding us all of a magnanimous heart who showed that peace was as real as any precious material commodity and very much tangible in THIS very moment.

A few more steps and the big wide sea opens up on both sides of the alleyway. The chadar shops now give way to shops selling purses, ittars, toys, caps and other such knick knacks.

Knick knack shops at Haji Ali Dargah causeway, Mumbai
Tiny shops delight the devouts on the causeway.
Boats stand still in the sea as if bewitched by the impending calm while migratory birds flutter around them. Looming out of the sea beyond are neatly packed buildings and skyscrapers of all sizes and shapes forming the much illustrious Worli seaface protected by tetrapods. Ascending from somewhere behind the buildings is the brilliant morning sun, scattering pearls and diamonds in the placid waters of the sea. The waters lap gently, a distinct contrast to what one sees in the monsoons, as if bowing at His feet.

A boat in the arabian sea, Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Boats stand still in the Arabian sea.

My gaze follows the stretch of the sea until it locks, at the place where the sea meets the horizon... That place which is blue, which is pallid, which is like an open window closing in the music I seek. that the place where the earth and the heavens meet?

Arabian sea at Haji Ali Dargah causeway, Mumbai

.. where the ends go above and beyond,
as seen from my mortal seat ?
to a place that, threaded by faith,
resonates in the melody of an unseen, unknown beat…

A short walk of 5-10 minutes and I am at the Dargah...

A medieval archway leads to an open verandah that faces the tomb of Sayyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, or more fondly Haji Ali. Just past the gateway; on the right is a food stall. People here can be seen squatting on the floor and in the seating spaces beneath the coconut trees having vada pavs, bhajiyas, biryani, etc.

White marble mosque of Haji Ali in Mumbai
White Marble edifice of Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Stark white dome of Haji Ali Dargah as against a clear blue sky, with the occasional bird flying - is striking!

In the heart of this peaceful space, the modest whitewashed dome of Haji Ali’s mausoleum rises rapturously towards the heavens. There are separate entrances for men and women to seek the blessings of the saint. Before entering the dargah premises, you have to remove your shoes and traditionally cover your head.

Tall minarets at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Haji Ali dargah with its pencil thin minarets is a brilliant work of Indo Islamic architecture.

Roofed by the giant vaulted dome, inside the dargah chamber, is a golden canopy (chattri or umbrella) embellished in glittering chips of mirror speckled with the ninety nine names of Allah calligraphed in Arabic. Encircling the walls of the canopy are inscriptions with verses from the Holy Quran while a dazzling golden chandelier hangs in the center.

Inscriptions of Holy Quran at Haji Ali Dargah ceiling, Mumbai
On the walls are ninety nine names of Allah in Arabic.
Ornate ceiling at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Calligraphy inscriptions in Arabic at Haji Ali Dargah ceiling, Mumbai
Verses from the Holy Quran above the tomb of Haji Ali.
Beneath the canopy is the semi circle tomb, Baba Haji Ali's final resting place, covered in red, green, yellow zari bordered chaddars and supported by a shimmering silver frame. A jaali separates, both men and women, from touching the tomb but one can feel the striking energy of Baba’s resting place.

Inside the Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
Tomb of Syyed Haji Pir Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

Whether you are a first time visitor, or a regular one, whether you yearn for a stronger bonding of love with the Divine or to see Haji Ali’s resting place, standing under the dome housing the tomb is a blessing which holds a gentle assurance for every believing heart… for every faithful, who offers his dua, the prayers, presses his forehead against the jaali and bows in an unreserved humility.

A devout offering dua at the revered mosque of Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

The ornate interiors pulsate with ethereal beauty and though it’s not at all crowded, the air is filled with the incoherent din of the faithfuls. Yet, in the cacophony, is an instant sense of calm that envelops one and all - simply.

I stand there too… with my forehead pressed, my back bent, my lips kissing the altar… while the priest blesses me gently with a peacock feather fan.

Just outside the mausoleum, is a seating area where women can always be seen sitting, busy reading the Quran, muttering their prayers or simply meditating in silence.

Prayers at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

Before tracing my steps back through the causeway, I amble through the courtyard, along the circumambulatory path of the dargah… there is a meditation hall on one side. I peep through the  window and the sight of a lone man praying inside the hall in solitude moves my heart.

Meditation hall at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

The soft music from the waves kissing the shore at the backside moves my feet....

The glittering arabian sea at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai
There's music in the waves kissing the shore.

Amid both, a riot of red jumps out at me... bold, bright and deep, adding an element of character to the erstwhile beauty in white. I roll my hands over the knotted red colored strings and a sea of consciousness comes alive.

Sacred threads tied at Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

Foreigners, tourists, the curious and the inquisitive, people from all walks of life, from different castes and creeds – they all come here, to the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai in search for various things – deliverance from grief, strength to bear their circumstances, hope for a bright new day… 

What binds - them, me - us all?

The sea, the sky, the earth and... these threads – not just threads but silent words that carry the sweet resonance of faith for our beloved, Haji Ali, for the all pervading light that the saint inspired everyone to see, reminding us of the urgency of empathy, acceptance and interdependence of all religions and beings in the common colors of strength, of determination, of… love –  binding us all in one single interwoven fabric of humanity, worn by the spirit, and cherished by life.

What is the best way to reach Haji Ali Dargah?

If you’re in Mumbai, catch a local train and alight at the “Mahalaxmi” station on western line in Mumbai.

Make sure to catch a SLOW train as fast trains don’t stop at this station.

From the Mahalaxmi station, you can find many share taxis towards the dargah. Buses play too at regular intervals, I took bus number 77.

After getting down from the bus, there’s a huge crossing one has to maneuver to get to the other side of the road, and get into the Haji Ali alleyway that takes you towards the mosque. Once you alight from the bus or the taxi, cross towards the side of the sea and use the pedestrian subway (to be on the safer side) to get to the alleyway.

By foot, Haji Ali Dargah is around 25-30 minutes from Mahalaxmi station. I would suggest you take the bus / taxi instead.

For travelers outside Mumbai, the city is well connected to most of the other cities by flights and trains. To avoid any hassles, plan in advance and book yourself a train via IRCTC or keep an eye out on a good online deal for cheap flights!

Haji Ali Dargah Timings:

The dargah is open to all from 6 in the Morning to 10 at night.

Tips for travelers after reaching the Haji Ali Dargah:

- CHECK for high tide timings before planning to visit Haji Ali Dargah especially in the Monsoon season, as the causeway leading to the dargah is closed during those hours.

- There is a shoe keeper near the entrance; you can keep the shoes with him. There is no charge but he will ask you for a willing donation. I paid him Rs. 4 for my lone pair.

- For women, to cover your head, a duppata or scarf is mandatory. But in case you don’t have one, you can easily borrow one provided by the dargah just before stepping into the shrine.

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Places to visit in Mumbai - Haji Ali Dargah - Incredible India