The history of Mumbai is traced back to the formation of the original seven islands which constituted the region initially; those seven islands were Colaba, Mazagaon, Mahim, Parel, Bombay Island, Worli and Old Woman’s Island. This group of seven-islands was part of the Kingdom of King Ashoka, the Great Buddhist emperor of India. After the demise of King Ashoka, the ownership of these seven islands was passed-on and they were later colonized by a number of different rulers.
The Koli fishermen were the original inhabitants of these seven islands from the 2nd century BC; And even to this day, the vestige of this heritage culture can be found concentrated in the coastal areas of the city. These seven islands were governed by the Hindu dynasties from the 6th century AD until, the Muslim Sultans from the Kingdom of Gujarat annexed the region in the 14the century.
When Portuguese Gifted Bombay!
After many failed attempts by the Portuguese, this region was finally ceded to Portugal in 1534 by Muslim Sultan of Gujarat Kingdom Bahadur Shah Zafar. Back then, this region was not of great importance to the Portuguese and was merely held by them to keep hold on the other regions along the western coast of India.
The Portuguese used to refer to this region as “Bom Bahia” (meaning “the good bay”), due to its access to the sea and sea-port capabilities.
Later in 1661, when Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal King John-IV), married the then King of England, King Charles-II, these seven islands which constituted Bombay, were given away as her dowry by the Portuguese to King Charles II. By 1665, the British government took possession of the islands, but King Charles-II later decided to lease them out to the East India Company in 1668 for a nominal annual rent of UK £10.
Entry Of East India Company
Then referred to as Bombay (originally derived from Portuguese “Bom Bahia”), the East India Company developed this region as a trading port. Eventually the region flourished resulting in a spike of population as people from nearby areas started turning to Bombay for work opportunities; and in a matter of 7 years, the population rose from merely 10 thousand people to 60 thousand people in 1675. Realizing the region’s potential, the East India Company transferred its presidency from Surat to Bombay within 20 years of leasing out the seven islands.
Construction Of Iconic Bombay Fort
In the year 1769, the newly developed city had it’s first landmark in form of “Fort George”, which was built by the East India Company around the Bombay Castle as a defensive fort; remains of Fort George can be found in the city even today, the area is referred to as “Fort” by the locals and it serves as a business and art district in Mumbai at present.
Opposition Faced By Britishers
Even though this region had immense potential! As realized by the East India Company, when compared with Calcutta (Present day Kolkata) and Madras (Present day Chennai), Bombay was still not a great asset to the Company. Apart from helping the East India Company maintain a hold on the west coast region of India, the company couldn’t exploit Bombay’s full potential. This was mainly due to the strong opposition which the East India Company faced here from the Mughals in the north, The Marathas- led by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the surrounding regions and the territorial rulers of Gujarat; all of whom had interest in Bombay.
By the end of 18th Century however, many external events helped the East India Company gain strong foothold in the region. The decline of the Mughal Empire in the north, intense rivalries between the Mughals & Marathas; and instability of rule in Gujarat led to many merchants migrating from Gujarat to seek refuge in Bombay. All of this, finally allowed the East India Company to expand its operations and increase its activities in Bombay. It was from here on, that Bombay began to steadily grow!
Bombay Reclamation & Infrastructure Development
Although Bombay kept growing steadily during the 18th century, it remained much isolated from its surrounding regions until the British defeated the Marathas and annexed substantial portions of western India by 1818. Almost half a century after completion of the iconic Fort George, a massive and ambitious land reclamation project was initiated under William Hornby, the then governor of Bombay. The aim of this project was to merge the seven islands into a single landmass to accommodate the growing population and to fulfil their commercial interests.
In 1845, the seven small islands which constituted Bombay, were finally merged into one single landmass. Post this, rapid economic activities started taking place in the region, the Bombay Port helped Britishers immensely in trade and to connect with the European region. To facilitate smooth transportation of goods, in 1853, country’s first railway connection was established between Bombay & Thane. In 1864, after establishing its control over majority of India, the British began massive construction activities in Bombay, the fort walls were torn down and several new buildings were erected for administrative and business activities; giving city its grand colonial style, glimpses of which can be seen even today in the southern region of the city.
Massive Textile Industry Of Bombay
During the American Civil War, the trade between America and Britain suffered and Bombay took over as the principal supplier of cotton to Britain. Textile became a massive industry, generating a lot of money and employment in the region. By now, Bombay was well on its course to becoming the epicentre of country’s economic activities and people from various parts of India started turning towards Bombay for employment and business opportunities.
Impact Of Suez Canal
When the Suez Canal became operational in 1869, economic activities and development of Bombay reached new heights, as it had become easier than ever before to connect from Asia to the majority of western world; this alone had massive impact on Bombay becoming one of the major ports of the World!
Country’s First 2-Way Highway – Marine Drive
In the meanwhile, infrastructure in Bombay continued to develop; post World War II, country’s first two-way highway “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road” from Nariman Point to Malabar Point was completed in Bombay, this road is operational even today and is presently referred to as “Marine Drive”.
Bombay’s Role In Freedom Struggle
The city of Bombay also had an important role to play in India’s freedom struggle, the first Indian National Congress was hosted here in 1885. It was in Bombay in the year 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the “Quit India Movement” at the session of the All-India Congress Committee demanding an end to British rule in India. Post India’s Independence, Maharashtra & Gujarat were divided along linguistic lines and Bombay went on to become the capital of Maharashtra.
Post Formation Of Maharashtra
During this period the city expanded drastically on the already existing good infrastructure. A number of adjoining towns were included within the city limits. These adjoining areas which were later included within Bombay City limits came to be known as Bombay Suburban Region, this includes the present-day areas mainly between Bandra and Borivali.
With modern infrastructure of the time, towering constructions, skyscrapers, Asia’s first Stock Exchange – The Bombay Stock Exchange, well constructed tarred roads and booming economic activities in the city; Bombay city quickly climbed its way up to one of the top cities of India.
In 1960, Balasaheb Thackeray, a Bombay-based cartoonist launched the satirical cartoon weekly Marmik along with his brother Srikant. The publications mainly focused on issues of common Maratha Manoos (Marathi man) and included subjects like unemployment, influx of migrants, issue of reduction in Marathi workforce and so on. This started disseminating anti-migrant sentiments amongst the locals and on 19th June 1966, Shiv Sena was founded by Balasaheb Thackeray. The name Shiv Sena translates to “Army of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj”.
Tensions In Early 90’s
For the next few decades, regionalism movement and political tensions, slightly dented the multi-cultural harmony image of the Bombay city. Communal tensions increased in the city when approximately 800 people died in riots that followed the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in the year 1992. On 12th March 1993, a series of bombings again hit the city, killing more than 300 people and injuring several more; the Bombay Stock Exchange & Air India Building were also severely damaged in this attack.
Bombay Became Mumbai
In November 1995, the city’s name was officially changed from Bombay to Mumbai. The name Mumbai is derived from the name of a local Goddess named “Mumbadevi”, who has been worshipped right from the early Koli inhabitants from 2nd century BC to the present day by locals of Mumbai. The city has been rapidly and strongly moving away from its colonial past; many streets and public building of the colonial era which are still operational today, have seen their colonial names changed to local names. For example, the city Airports, Victoria Terminus railway station and Prince of Wales Museum have been renamed after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha leader and warrior. More recently, the famous Elphinstone Road railway station was renamed as Prabhadevi railway station.
Early 21st Century – Dark Phase
The city witnessed one of its darkest phase in the first decade of the 21st century when terrorist attacked the life-line of Mumbai, the bomb blasts in Mumbai local trains in 2006 which killed more than 200 people. The city was rocked by another terrorist attack on 26th November, 2008 when terrorists attacked city’s iconic structures killing more than 150 people. These were dark days for people of Mumbai! But Mumbai & its people, who are known for their high spirits and strong will; never bowed down or stopped by these unfortunate incidents. A true “Mumbaikar” characteristic inspired by the life and teachings of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who was known for his bravery!
Present Day Mumbai
The local people and government took all possible measures to understand the security lapses from these incidents and made all necessary arrangements that made sure that such incidents were never repeated again. Now, high security measures are followed throughout the city, across prominent landmarks, heritage properties, administrative buildings, financial centres, religious places, shopping complexes, etc.. With a population of over 20 million to manage, the Mumbai Police has played an important role in keeping the city safe and secure for a common Mumbaikar.
Meanwhile, Mumbai continued its growth trend in the 21st century, with improved infrastructure and a number of new express-ways and highways, technological advancements, modern public transit systems, CCTV surveillance of city, expansion of the seaport and airports facilities. However, with its already large and ever growing population, issues like overcrowding, traffic jams, pollution, unemployment and poverty still exists.
Today, Mumbai is the business and financial backbone; and one of the largest cities of India. As Mumbai marches on towards becoming a Global Financial Hub, it continues to inspire and provide platform to many young Indians to chase and fulfil their aspirations towards making a better tomorrow, for themselves and for the society.
A typical defiant Mumbaikar spirit is to never give-up on your dreams; if you can dream it you can achieve it! where else, other than in Mumbai! Amchi Mumbai!
The comment section below, is for a reason! Use it wisely, refrain from making personal and/or insulting comments towards anyone; also, this is not an ideal platform to discuss political or religious views. Here you are free to express how you like our content, share your own experiences, engage with other commenters and give suggestions to us regarding our content, if any.
Thank you for subscribing to District Mumbai newsletter! If you haven’t already, here’s your chance to do it Subscribe to District Mumbai Newsletter. We will keep bringing to you the latest content from Mumbai City & Surrounding Areas, so keep checking out this space regularly.
Also, consider joining our Telegram Channel for up-to-date updates about our new content that we post across various platforms. If you’d like to advertise with us then you can reach out to us by filling-up our contact form on the contact us page.