|Mahalakshmi Temple, Mumbai (Photo Courtesy: Internet)|
I first visited the Mahalakshmi temple as a kid, sometime in 1980. Since then, I have been lucky enough to visit the temple a number of times, and have not yet ceased to be fascinated about the place, especially its location right on the sea shore. Over the years, I have visited the temple at various times. The temple opens at 6AM and shuts at 10 PM, and I have been to the temple in the mornings, afternoons as well as evenings, but yesterday was the first time I visited at night, just before the temple was to be shut. This gave me the opportunity to gain some more information about the temple, something few people know about.
All day long, the idols of Parvati (Durga), Mahalakshmi and Saraswati are covered with beautiful golden masks. Indeed, they are beautiful, and it is how we know the Devi to be. However, what is less known is that the Devi is a 'swayambhu' - one who has not been carved, but has appeared on stone by herself - and we rarely get to see the original idol. The only way we can get a glimpse of her is to visit the temple around 9:30 PM. At that time, the masks are removed, and the original idols are open for darshan for about 15 to 20 minutes before the temple closes. The temple opens at 6AM directly with the Abhishek (bathing of the idol), after which the idols are covered as usual before darshan opens with the first Aarti.The original idol, being a 'swayambhu', is not carved, but just an imprint on stone, and is covered with sindoor, as is common in Maharashtra.
Incidentally, as I was trying to get more information about the temple, I stumbled on some more interesting information about the temple and its origin. Apparently, British engineers were engaged in connecting Worli and Malabar Hill - the area we know today as Breach Candy - and all their efforts were laid waste. Then, one of the lead engineers, an Indian, had a dream in which Goddess Mahalakshmi appeared, and directed him to a site on the beach, where she said he would find an idol of her. He followed her instructions and found the idol, which was installed in a temple on the location. Soon after, the engineers' efforts were successful, and they were able to make all the constructions as required.
This also reminded me of the story of the temple I grew up hearing. According to legend, Mumbai was then just a tiny island, home to none but fishermen, simple folk who ate what they managed to catch and were satisfied with their simple lifestyle. One day, Goddess Mahalakshmi was wandering around during her menses, and due to the restrictions, no one asked her to enter their home. She arrived at the island, where she was warmly welcomed by the fisherwomen, who weren't the least bothered about her impure condition at the time. She stayed overnight in simple comfort, and the next day, revealed her true self to the fisherfolk, and blessed them, and their land with prosperity and good fortune. She is considered to be the reason for the prosperity of this city, which is why crowds flock to the temple at all times of the day!