For years I wanted to visit it and finally, yesterday when I saw the lights and open windows, I asked the watchman standing outside and he said that Datta Jayanti was today and to come early at 7 am to beat the rush.
I am glad that I went there today at 7 am as not only I got to see a 110 year old temple but also had a long chat with Mr. Sachit Dabholkar, the grandson of Shantaram Narayan Dabholkar who built it in 1898 for family use and not for the general public.
The history goes as such… Narayan Dabholkar (the same gentleman after whom a road has been named off Nepean Sea Road where the rich, famous and our ministers live) came to Mumbai from Vengurla with his parents and lived at Sardar Griha, opposite G.T. hospital. (The same place where Lokmanya Tilak used to live). The family was not very well off and after he lost his father to the plague, he had to earn a living. He loved horses and so he started training people on horse riding. He was helped out by a British woman who he was training. Her husband was a Captain in the British army. He got him a job at P & O shipping company where after a lot of hard work and dedication rose up the ranks. Later he started supplying material to the shipping companies and thus became very rich. He used to own a lot of property in Bombay including the place where Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan stands today(their family bunglow was at this very place), bunglows in bhuleshwar and hundreds of square meters of land in Matunga. He also bought a house for 60,000 rupees at Nepean Sea road (on the same road that has been named after him). He had a premonition that he would die at 41 and thus made a will. He died when he was 41 in the same Narayan Dabholkar road house during an inspection of its restoration and repairs when it collapsed on him.
Due to the immense wealth left behind and due to his immense faith, his son Shantaram Dabholkar built the temple in 1898. The exterior of the temple is built with soft Porbunder stone (now covered with white-wash) which was ideal for carving. The interior has Italian marble floor and Burma teak wood doors and windows. The nine feet tall Devhara (main shrine holder) was ordered from Italy and is made of grey Italian marble. This was ordered by Shantaram Dabholkar in 1897 based on the architectural design made by him in Mumbai. It had to be shipped in nine parts and assembled here.
This temple was restored in 1998 in its centenary year and was awarded an urban Heritage award (for religious places).
Mr. Sachit Dabholkar who is seventy six years old has been looking after the maintenance of the temple for many years. He estimates that around 14,000 people come on the Datta Jayanti day and he remembers that one year when there was so much rush, even his wife (who is no more) had to wait in the line to get in. He attributes this to the absence of too many Datta temples in the city and also to the immense ‘shraddha’ that people have for Lord Dattatreya and the temple. He knows that there have been many regulars who have been coming there every year for the past 30-40 years and also from far and wide.
When I was chatting with him, I could sense that people had huge respect for this humble gentleman, who was an advertising professional having worked with JWT. He seemed to know everyone who was lining up. They were bowing down at him and he kept telling them pointing towards the Devhara, “bow at Him and not me”.