The ‘Banganga’ Tank and ‘Dhobi Ghats’ of Mumbai
They are the embodiment of their age and a receptacle for recalling ‘mytho-history’ of Mumbai as a Cultural Landscape
There is an expectation, that cities must continuously re-invent themselves by relinquishing established, but perhaps neglected, traditions in areas demanding urban renewal; thereby contributing to collective amnesia of these earlier histories. One of the last surviving freshwater tanks and the oldest Hindu place of pilgrimage in Mumbai, the Banganga tank in Malabar Hill merges contemporary acts of daily life with its religious function.
Built during the 12th century to meet the immediate water demands of the area’s residents, it quickly became a shared resource and a mutual public space. The introduction of piped water conspired along with declining water levels and rampant pollution, rendering the tank’s image — hazardous, unnecessary.
Nearby Dhobi Ghat (open-air laundry system), is actively affected by the autonomous relationship of Dhobis (washermen); this relationship gives them a political identity that serves their economy and also provides them with a cultural role.
These interactions are born out of, actively affecting and being affected by one physical feature, cleaning tanks, and the Banganga Tank. Water being an active resource compels Dhobis to live closely, thereby putting their social orders in direct contact with self-similar people within a defined territory. Furthermore, economic and environmental factors that are directly linked to the occupancies determine the eventual growth or decay of their spatial order.
Presently, transitioning with technology and automation, such systems tend to produce a kinetic architecture — a defenseless, mechanical, and shape-shifting architecture — which absolves from all external contexts to become an ‘endosomatic’ system (Luis Fernandez-Galiano). In such a case, the occupancy itself is a cultural phenomenon and needs to be preserved through the nature of the use of space, spatial memory, and social network. The paper delves into social landscapes that need to be preserved as a whole through strong mnemonic interventions.
Having suffered economic losses over the decade, various such work-dwell sites in Mumbai have decayed. However, Dhobis and similar entities can be retained as a functionary in society by realizing their social logics and redesigning spaces as cultural spectacles. The paper aims to cover possible social logics and mathematical reasoning of memory formation for work-dwell communities by exemplifying Dhobi Ghat, to provide legitimate arguments to the table, why such systems need to be given a place value.
Any building that is willing to transcend its original function to recognize a more critical function as a catalyst for the memories of its users becomes a monument. The mnemonic value of the building emerges to assist in spatial recall and remembrance. The particular inverted Spatio-temporal setting of Banganga Tank — revealing the surrounding as a patchwork of materials and spaces that seem to have been renewed over time to meet the inhabitants' needs — provides the pedestrian with a ‘fullness of time’. The ritualistic re-enactment of events happens with such intensity that it shapes the memory of the place.
Banganga Tank is a lens to understand buildings and cultural landscapes as the embodiment of their age, but primarily on the idea of ‘communicative movement’ (Dalibor Vesley) i.e. the togetherness of Banganga Tank, adjacent burial grounds (and a crematorium), and dhobi ghats, as a receptacle for recalling ‘mytho-history’ of Malabar Hill as a cultural landscape. We need to view their relationship as a source of mediation, identity, and constancy; to understand how any spatial order that has receded to a background condition is periodically brought to the fore by these ceremonial spaces, through collective participation and representation.
Co-Author: Yug Aggarwal