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History of Mumbai

Mumbai, Bombay or Bambai, the name of the financial hub of India has been a derivative of Mumba, the Hindu Goddess. The place owes its creation to the Portuguese in the 16th Century with the name Bombaia. The British a century later simplified it to Bombay though the locals still called it Mumbai. The legacy of the British was finally erased from the official books in 1995 with the acceptance of Mumbai.

The Beginning of Mumbai

The origin of the city of Mumbai has not been accurately documented but the region existed during the reign of Ashoka the Great. The region had seven islands of Mahim, Parel, Wadala, Colaba, Mazagaon, Matunga and the Island of Old Woman. Today these islands have become a long stretch of land joined together by reclamation and the city extended way beyond the original pearl of seven.

The Transition

The rule of Ashoka did not leave any tell tale marks on this land but later the Mohammeds of Gujarat did put down their footprints. Mahim even today has a mosque which was built during 15th century. The Portuguese juggernaut which swept over major trading centers on the west coast in the early sixteenth century defeated the Mohammeds to take control of Bombay. The Portuguese built fine churches on the land though the lone survivor today is the St Andrew’s Church at Bandra. The name Bombaia, or “Fine Bay” was the coinage of the Portuguese. Even today the name lives on in the “Bombaia Style” made famous by Amitabh Bacchan movies of the eighties.

British Raj

The islands of Bombay were never a valued possession of the Portuguese though they did develop fortifications on a few of them. About a century and half later the land of Bombay came as part of dowry of Princess Catherine for hubby King Charles II. The East India Company looking for deeper ports for bigger ships acquired these islands on lease for an annual pittance of a few pounds of gold. The rise of Bombay began with the relocation of Company Headquarters from Surat in late seventeenth century.

The first British Governor of Bombay was Sir George Oxenden but the man to develop it as a commercial hub was his successor Gerald Aungier. He persuaded Gujarati traders, ship makers, Parsi and Muslim manufacturers to develop their businesses in the land. He provided security by constructing defenses and fortifications, stability by establishing courts of law and profitability by streamlining tax collection.

But the vision of the Governor was soon distorted with exorbitant taxes and a ‘grazing fee’ even on grazing of cattle. The famous story of Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy introducing free grazing on the grasslands he purchased near Thakurdwar projects a humane picture of today’s Mecca of commercialization. The development of Bombay continued through the next century with construction of causeways and roads to connect islands and also the stories of largesse of the Jeejeebhoys in these developments continued.

The Inception of the Indian Railway

The first railway line from Victoria Terminus, Mumbai to Thane was inaugurated on 16 April, 1853. The 21 mile beginning brought about the establishment of Bombay Baroda & Central Indian and Great Indian Peninsular Railway less than a decade later in 1860. The cotton from Gujarat followed the route Baroda-Bombay-Lancashire and woven cloth retraced its path back to Gujarat, bringing jobs and fuelling industrialization in Britain. The American Civil War and opening of Suez Canal opened the flood gates for fortune hunters as Bombay became a prominent trading and shipping center. Businessmen, traders and merchants from all over India were pouring into Bombay and its population grew fifty times in less than a century. The sleepy islands of Mumbai found its million mark in population by 1907 and has never looked back since.

The Building Boom

The famous attractions of Mumbai Victoria Terminus, the Crawford Market, the General Post Office, the Museum of Prince of Wales, the Old Secretariat, the Gateway of India and the Bombay University were constructed after mid 19th century. This was the golden period for the shipping industry with the establishment of the Bombay Port Trust. The Wadia Shipping Company was the mainstay for the British Navy and built an average of one war ship every year from 1735 to 1863. The progress march of Bombay continued with minor hiccups through the Gadar of India.

All India Congress Committee and Independence of India

Mumbai is also associated with the birth of All India Congress Committee in 1885 at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in 1885. Later the history of independent India began with Quit India Movement in 1942 from the same venue. Mumbai, the Gateway of India saw the last of the colonial regime leaving in 1947, on the 15th of August, 282 years after they stepped on the land given to them in dowry. The ground today is appropriately named “August Kranti Maidan”. Congress party continued to hold sway on the political scene for a little less than four decades before being ousted by the Shiv Sena – BJP combine in 1994.


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