There’s one particular conversation with a Mumbai fisherman’s wife that I recall with such precision; one that really stuck in my mind. It was early afternoon and the young woman was waiting at the port with her twin daughters looking out at the sea, trying to spot her husband’s boat in the fleet that was approaching. He had been at sea for almost 5 days, catching fish to sell in the market. I could see her getting angsty – the sea had been rough the last two nights. “This anxiousness is part of our life,” she tells me. “You never know what happens at sea,” she sighed, walking further along the coast. This single conversation brought a fresh perspective to my life about fishermen in general. Just how vastly different their daily life was from mine – their struggles and challenges much more complex and their culture relatively undocumented. They always live at the mercy of the sea and their faith relies on the mercy of one tradition that they follow before they venture into the rough waters - seeking permission from their diety Golfa Devi who answers them in a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’.
Situated at Worli Koliwada in Mumbai, on a road eponymous to the goddess, the Golfa Devi temple is a beautiful, renovated marble structure that glimmers in white and stands out in the motley of colourful hutments around it. Inside, on a raised platform sits Golfa Devi in the form of a black coloured stone idol adorned with a heavily embroidered cloth. She is accompanied by two more goddesses Sakba Devi and Harba Devi, the idols of both which are kept on her either side. As soon as a fisherman comes in to ask if it is safe to take the boat to sea that day, the priest places two tiny silver coloured balls on the shoulder of the goddess. He says a few prayers and then asks the worshiper to ask their question- either aloud or in their heads. If the silver ball on the left shoulder falls first, then the answer is apparently a no. If the right one falls, it is a yes.
“The goddess till date has never been wrong. Such is her legend,” says Sadanand Worlikar, who has been the priest at the temple for the last 18 years. His entire family has been in the priesthood and he states that it was his ancestors who established the temple of Golfa Devi here almost 770 years ago after the goddess claimed this spot. His daughter, who was sitting below reading some scriptures, narrates a story of how the black stone idol was so heavily covered with vermilion, that the goddess had no face for a long time. “Then one day, we asked her if it would be okay to remove it and the silver balls on the right fell down. That is when we removed the vermilion and her face first became visible,” she says. Soon after this, more and more people started visiting and the temple complex was expanded, almost 15 years ago. “Golfa Devi has never failed her devotees. Her answers are final,” Worlikar adds. And almost everyone in Koliwada seems to believe that.
Though Golfa Devi is primarily visited by fisherfolk, other people too pay the goddess a visit to seek answers to complex issues such as those of doing investments, buying assets, planning marriage etc. People come not just from the coast of Maharashtra but also Gujarat, especially during Navratri. For many fisherfolk, Golfa Devi is a pilgrim spot. Though other Koliwadas in the city have their own goddesses such as the Gaon Devi in Mazgaon and the Jivdani Devi in Virar among others; the spiritual legacy of Golfa Devi is unparalleled and has inspired cooperatives, street names, a trust fund and an entire community.
“I remember some 15 years ago, a fisherman here from Worli Koliwada went into the sea despite Golfa Devi denying him the permission. In the wee hours of the morning, as the boat was nearing the shores, there was a sudden storm and the raging waves gobbled it up. There were no survivors,” narrates Anand Patil, a fisherman who had himself asked Golfa Devi that very morning if it is safe to venture into the sea that night. “She has replied in the positive,” he says happily, folding the fishing nets and getting his boat ready. Another fisherman who chose to remain anonymous states how Golfa Devi shook his entire belief system as well. “As a teenager, I always questioned this. But whenever someone has gone against what she advised, they have had to face the brunt of the universe.”
While at the Golfa Devi temple, my photographer and I too took the opportunity to ask our questions and test this ourselves. We were baffled at the goddess’ response rate as the silver balls fell almost instantaneously after we posed the questions in our head. The priest too sat at quite a distance and could not have interfered. We both thought of logical, scientific reasons that could explain this fantastical phenomenon but failed to find one at that moment. They say that faith works in mysterious ways and here at the Golfa Devi temple in Koliwada, this couldn’t be truer.
All photographs taken by Rashi Arora for Homegrown
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