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History of Mumbai

The name Mumbai comes from ‘Mumbadevi’, the patron goddess of the Koli fishermen, original inhabitants of the seven islands that make up the city. The old name, Mumbai was adopted in 1996, not without resistance and its share of controversy, but its use has gradually spread though the city remains ‘Bombay’ to lots of people.

Like the rest of the Maharashtra, Mumbai has its share of ancient rock-cut caves, at Kanheri in the north (2nd to 9th century) and Elephanta Island across the harbour (8th century) dating back to the period of Buddhist and Hindu rule. For a long time, this cluster of seven islands remained in a time warp, home to only fisher folk, all the while sheltering a superb natural harbour to their east. Meanwhile, north and south along the coast, several thriving ports at Veraval, Diu, Surat, Janjira and Goa carried on maritime trade with other neighbouring civilisations.

Hindu domination lasted till the Gujarat Sultanate captured the area in the 14th century. Then in 1534, assuming it was of little importance, Sultan Bahadur of Ahmedabad transferred it to the Portuguese who, in turn, passed it on to the British as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married Charles II in 1661. The British government gave it on lease to the East India Company in 1668 -for the princely sum of $10 annually as rent!

The English securely established themselves by building a fort and then consolidated by building the city and attracting settlers – Marwaris, Kachchhis, Parsis (whose Persian ancestors landed in neighboring Gujarat in 700 AD), Gujaratis and Goans. This laid the foundation for its economic growth and the base for a multicultural society.

Bombay soon developed as a major trading port, its steady growth helped along by the arrival of steamships, the construction of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in the 1850s, exports of cotton to Britain during the American Civil War, opening of the Suez Canal and large-scale expansion of the port and dock facilities. Meanwhile, a massive land reclamation project commenced in 1862, which joined the seven islands together and spurred further industrialization and prosperity.

The city played an active part in the independence movement, being host to the launch of the ‘Quit India’ movement in August 1942. With independence it was made the capital of the Bombay Presidency. Then, in 1960, it took on the mantle of Maharashtra’s capital when the Bombay Presidency was split into the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.


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