The moon was in its 5th waxing phase, in the Indian month of Shravan. The date as per the gregorian calendar was 1st August, 1775. The 7th head of the Kashi Math of the Goud Saraswat Brahmin or GSB community – Shrimath Madhavendra Tirth- sat in meditation and asked his sangha to create a samadhi structure around him. 244 years later, this Samadhi stands true in the Kashi Math of Banganga – a quiet oasis in the midst of the hustling bustling Mumbai city.
It is referred to as a “Jeeva Samadhi”. I have heard this word before and it was used to mean something a little different then. But stories of yogis asking to be put into permanent confinement aren’t unheard of in the Indian lore.
Such confinement is also well known in Buddhism. The Mummy of Gue Monastery in the Cold Spiti dessert comes to my mind. The mummy of the meditating monk still grows hair and nails albeit at a very slow pace. I visited this place on my Spiti trip earlier, but I couldn’t meditate there. It was REALLY cold and we were hard pressed to reach Tabo. But they are building a better structure and that might give people some space to meditate and experience the meditating-monk-mummy situation a bit better.
This Kashi Math is the first such location that I have visited in the Hindu lineage. I read on the Kashi Math site that Sant Dnyaneshwar of Alandi was also one such to take Jeeva Samadhi. And he took the samadhi at the young age of 21 years! This was way back in 1200s.
I have visited Banganga often and feel curious every time. I get the feeling that a lot of those temples and spaces hold many stories. But to access these stories I need to find some contact willing to give me a full low down. And it so happened that a friend of mine belongs to this GSB community. And her Dad is closely associated with the Kashi Math in Banganga. So, very happily I got a nice, in-depth tour of that space.
Being a Jain, I actually don’t have much clue about these Hindu Maths. I, of course, know about them. But I don’t have any clue of what they are all about. So this was also my introduction to a Hindu Math.
The Kashi Math in Banganga
The Kashi math building looks non-descript from the outside. But it is pretty much like a maze. It seems like some mix of old art-deco & haveli type structures. Maybe the initial structure was later extended to create non-typical architecture. This would explain the sheer number of staircases, multiple routes through the building and so on.
As you enter the structure you come right into the Jeeva Samadhi. Typical to this sect of the GSB folks they put a Hanumanji idol above a samadhi. This is the first time I have seen this. Hitherto, all the samadhi’s I have seen usually have a Shiv linga, nandi or padukas.
The Kashi Math is Vaishnava. Their main deities are Vyasa, Rama and Narsimha Vishnu avatar. Hanumanji being a great devotee of Rama, gets his place on the various Samadhis.
The Hanumanji idol also signifies the bhramacharya nature of these Kashi math gurus.
A lot of devotees who frequent this math today claim to feel a real presence of this Guru who took Jeeva Samadhi. And it is said that about 40 years back there was one man who challenged the truth of this claim. He decided to sleep in the temple to find out for himself. It seems that early in the morning this Guru would always go for his daily rituals to the nearby Banganga tank. And a lot of devotees feel his presence during this time or some even see him going about this routine. The man was deliberately sleeping right in the Guru’s path. When he woke up, he found himself to be in a different place in the hall. He had been moved out of the Guru’s path (by the Guru himself). And his opposition was thus quelled.
Behind this Jeeva samadhi, is another samadhi of another Kashi Math Guru. This too has a Hanumanji idol on it. This wasn’t a Jeeva Samadhi, it was a normal Samadhi where the Guru died of whatever causes and then he was buried with honors.
The temple room is spacious where devotees can sing bhajans. On top there is a bhojanalay where the community can have snacks – breakfast and such.
So if you are visiting Banganga or looking to take a break from Mumbai’s hustle bustle then this could be a good place to head for a quick meditation, change of pace and devotional bhajans.
While it is a Brahmin math, any religion / caste person is welcome to visit the temple and meditate and partake in the various activities. I have visited there multiple times and nobody has ever asked me about my origins. I took a couple of my foreigner friends here, and everyone smiled at them. We also got some prasad – they had brought out the bucket of the prasad milk for a while and many of us took a little to drink. But after that they put the bucket inside the fridge again so it was a good chance we got.
Have you been to Banganga or this GSB math? Share any stories you have.
And if you want my help to visit this math in Banganga, you can ping me. 🙂
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