Walter Langhammer (Austria, 1905-1977)
Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar temples, Malabar Hill, Bombay circa 1940-50
Oil on canvas laid down on board, signed lower right; Chemould Gallery, Bombay label on reverse
The oldest and largest centre of Hindu pilgrimage in Bombay, the tank called Banganga dating from the 12th Century, and it continues its function today as an oasis of traditional sanctity and charm amid the high-rise towers of Malabar Hill.
The site first became a tirtha-sthana (holy place; due to its natural setting and rock formation) for Bombay's original people, the Kolis, in the 9th Century. The stepped tank is surrounded by the Walkeshwar Temple complex with its associated dharmashalas (rest-houses), samadhis (memorials), matths (hermitages), peepal trees and streets of village character delightfully inaccessible to traffic. It stands on the south-west fringe of Malabar Hill, close to Government House at Malabar Point. It is now protected under heritage legislation, and hosts a highly-regarded annual music and dance festival amid its year-round temple routines and festivals (of which Mahashivatri is the greatest).
The original Walkeshwar temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. In 1673 the traveller John Fryer described: "on the other side of the great Inlet, to the Sea, is a great Point, and is called Malabar-Hill, a Rocky, Woody Mountain, yet sends forth long Grass; on its Declivity towards the Sea, the Remains of a Stupendous Pagod, near a Tank of fresh Water, which the Malabars visited it mostly for".
When the temple was reconstructed in the 18th Century and the complex developed, they stood in wild and wooded country; Malabar Hill held only occasional cultivated clearings and was passable only by footpaths. In the mid-19th Century Malabar Hill started to become the favoured residential area in Bombay due to its salubrious setting, and Walkeshwar was approached by a carriage road through a growing colony of fine bungalows set in gardens and parks. Although less wooded, Walkeshwar retained the enclosed and peaceful ambience which continues to this day.
Walter Langhammer (1905-1977) was an Austrian Jewish professor who fled the Nazi regime to Bombay and became a major figure in the artistic life of the city.
He was central to the Bombay Art Society (an institution important due to the lack of commercial galleries) and was an inaugural artist at Bombay's first gallery, the Chemould. He helped develop the art direction of the Times of India Group to a high level.