Mumbai – The Cosmopolitan City


Mumbai is the second most populous city in India and the country's chief principal west seaport. Founded in 1672, Mumbai is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Mumbai's prosperity is largely due to its natural harbor. It is a major port of call for European and American vessels and handles over 40% of India's trade. Mumbai is the largest cotton textile milling center in India. One of the most interesting features of Mumbai is the architecture. A magnificent array of temples dating from the 8th century A.D. and earlier, reflects the cultural and religious mixtures to be found in the city. Mumbai is a great port of western India, with a large harbor, rail road, road communication, and the international airport at Santa Cruz.

Generally when you talk about Mumbai you have in mind all the seven islands of Colaba, Fort, Byculla, Parel, Worli, Matunga, Mahim which have been formed into a single land mass through successive reclamations. This is not surprising as the city of Mumbai extended only upto Mahim till recently when the greater Mumbai has not finally evolved, integrating with the city, the entire creek extending upto Bassein Creek in the north. It is quite misleading to call Mumbai an island today; for it is no more an island in the full sense of geographical expression; it is a peninsula attached to the main land. Certain historians are of the opinion that all the islands were part of the mainland during prehistoric times and that they have become so due to volcanic action.

Mumbai was once known as Bombay. The name Bombay may have been derived from Mumbai Ai or Maha Amba, the patron goddess of the Kolis, after whom the city was originally believed to have named; whether it was derived from Portuguese name Bombaim meaning good bay, or as some claim the name Bombay is after the slimy, little, finger fish like bombelli (better known as Bombay Duck) available in plenty in the bay, it little matters though. In 1962 John Vian named it Bombay, and that was the name that appears upon the rupee struck by the English in 1667.

Mumbai has kept pace with the march of civilization, both Indian and foreign. In its long chequered history, Mumbai has proved to be the Gateway of India for admitting into its mystic hinterland all that has been outstanding in the culture and civilization of different people. Mumbai, today, is nothing if not cosmopolitan and this confluence of varied currents and cross-currents has given it a unique position of being the most cosmopolitan city in the country. The population comprises of people of Koli, Bhandari, Indo-Aryan, Parsee, Jewish, Muhammadan, Arab, Portuguese, Armenian, English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh origin. Mumbai has developed into India's commercial capital with several leading financial, industrial and commercial centers located in this vibrant city.


The early inhabitants of the island could only have been cave men known as the Kolis. They subsisted by fishing and by cultivating the Tad, or the Palmyra Pam, from which they distilled juices, trades which they continue to ply in Mumbai to this hour. Later, Aryans settled in Mumbai and carried on trade with Babylon, Egypt and Persia. The island group came under the rule of Hindu and Muhammadan powers. The dawn of the 16th century brought yet another change of masters. On January, 1509, the Portuguese came to their shores, and returned soon after to establish a colony. By the treaty of Bassein, signed in 1534 on board the galleon St.Mattheus, Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat gave and bequeathed to the King of Portugal and his heirs for ever the city of Bassein, its territories, islands and seas. In this way Heptansia passed from Muhammadan into Christian hands. On June 23, 1661, marked the marriage treaty between Catherine Braganza and Charles II. As a part of the dowry to King Charles II of England, “his heirs and successors for ever” were given “ports and islands of Mumbai and all rights, profits, territories and appertainances thereunto beginning”. Mumbai passed onto the British by this alliance of marriage. The British till India’s independence in 15 August 1947.


GATEWAY OF INDIA : A kingly arch through which very important people once entered India. Today it is a part of the Apollo Pier. You may take a ferry ride from the gateway. The most important land mark of Mumbai and India.

MARINE DRIVE : One of the most beautiful drives in the world. When lit up at night it looks like "The Queen's Necklace".

NARIMAN POINT : Reclaimed from the sea and now built over with Mumbai's tallest and most elegant sky scrapers.

HAJI ALI DARAGH : A Muslim shrine on the sea shore.

RACE-COURSE : Attracts huge crowds and heavy betting.

HANGING GARDENS : A beautiful terraced garden landscaped on top of three reservoirs.

KAMALA NEHRU PARK : A new park where you can catch a view of the city at dusk. The view is even better from the Giant Old Lady's shoe that may be climbed.

NEHRU PLANETARIUM : An air-conditioned star theatre.

WEAVER'S STAR THEATRE : A place for silk screening, block printing and weaving of hand made textiles.

JUMMA MASJID : Mumbai's largest mosque.

JEHANGIR ART GALLERY : Opened on June 21, 1952. The outstanding works of art are exhibited here.

TOWN HALL : The Town Hall houses the Mumbai Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Library, the Central Library and the Stamps Office.

MUMBADEVI TEMPLE : The shrine of Mumba Ai, after whom Mumbai is named.

JUHU BEACH : An ideal venue to enjoy a day of swimming, sun bathing, picnic and adventure.

NEHRU SCIENCE CENTER : A "wonderland of science" for children.

THE FORT : Drive through the Fort along Rampart Row to the end of Hornby Road. The area known as the Fort corresponds with what is termed the City in London. It was originally the English town of Mumbai. It was surrounded by a fortified wall and a moat, with three entrances : the Bazaar Gate, Church Gate and Apollo Gate.

ROYAL ALFRED SAILOR’S HOME : At the crossing of Apollo Bandar Road rises a handsome Gothic Building characterized by a carved figure of Neptune, a tower and a flag staff. This is Royal Alfred’s Sailor’s Home, named after H.R.H the Duke of Edinburgh, by whom the foundation stone was laid in March 1870. Accommodation is provided for three hundred and sixty seamen.

BALLARD ESTATE : The Ballard Road marks the entry into Ballard Estate where you have foreign offices of leading Indian and foreign business houses. From the Ballard Pier you can see quite a bit of the rocks and a harbor.

AQUARIUM : A well planned aquarium teeming with fishes. Apart from the best of fish, the small tanks display invertebrate forms like corals, worms, sea flowers and sea horses. A slice of the best of sea-life.

PRINCE OF WALES MUSEUM : A museum of art, archaeology and natural history. Close by is the magnificent Prince of Wales Museum, dome crowned and stately. The place of honor in the grounds is occupied by a statue of the King-Emperor George V, who, on November 11, 1905, laid the foundation of Bombay’s grand new Ajibkhana, or House of Wonders. Shortly after the outbreak of War, in 1914, the building was converted into a military hospital. Since the conclusion of peace it has been temporarily utilized as an office for military records. Jehangir Art Gallery within the museum compound is worth a visit.

VICTORIA TERMINUS : On Jubilee Day, 1887, the superb station and offices of Great Indian Peninsular Railway received the name Victoria Terminus, in honor of the Queen Empress then celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of her long reign. Italian-Gothic in style, the building is surmounted by a large central dome crowned by a figure of Progress. Below in a niche under the clock is a statue of the Queen Empress.

GENERAL POST OFFICE : Built in Indo-Saracenic style, the General Post Office is constructed of local basalt, yellow Kurla stone and white stone from Dhrangadra in effective combination. The most interesting portion is the central hall, which extends up, without interruption, to the top of the vast dome. The interior arrangement of the various departments is admirable.

ELPHINSTONE CIRCLE : What is now known as Elphinstone Circle covers the area once occupied by Bombay Green, the old cotton mart, a spot which figures largely in eighteenth century prints, and descriptions of the city by writers of those days.

ST.THOMAS’ CATHEDRAL : This is one of the oldest and most interesting mementos of the early English community in Bombay. The Cathedral contains many monuments of much historical interest. Prominent among those lining the walls are memorials to Jonathan Duncan, Governor of Bombay from 1795 until 1811, to Stephen Babington in 1761, and to Captain Hardinge, R.N, who fell in the victorious naval engagement between the English and French fleet off the coast of Ceylon. Also worthy of note are three beautiful upper clerestory windows to the memory of Michael Scott, five lancet windows erected to officers of their corps by the Royal Engineers, the tessellated pavement in the chancel dedicated to the Archdeacon Fletcher. Among its cherished treasures are the monument chest numbers two ancient silver chalices, one the gift of Greenland Merchants of the city of York, 1632, and the other donated by Gerald Aungier, in 1675, to the Christian community of Bombay.

HIGH COURT : The High Court on Mayo Road is built in gothic style. The interior is distinguished by an unusual number of staircases.

RAJABAI TOWER AND UNIVERSITY LIBRARY : A temple well worthy of Saraswati, Goddess of Learning, is the noble and beautiful edifice containing the University Library. Planned by Sir. Gilbert Scott, RA, and completed in 1880. A fine stairway, lightened by stain glass windows of much artistic merit, leads to the library on the upper floor, a crucial form chamber suggestive of a medieval Gothic chapel. The arched ceiling is handsomely panelled, and the massive teak doors reproduce some of the best carved examples found in Hindu temples. Books line the walls, while the warm splendor of the sun is tempered to a cool scholastic glow as it filters through the subdued purple, crimson, blue and green panes of the stained windows. At the further end is a bust of Sir. George Birdwood, holding a small figure of Sarasvati in his right hand. The tower over the portico is one of the first landmarks to arrest the attention as ships enter the Mumbai harbor. The famous Rajabai clock in the gothic tower is fitted with sweetly chiming peal of sixteen bells, playing sixteen different tunes which change automatically four times a day.

THE SENATE : South of the library is the Senate, a sister building also designed in the thirteenth century by Sir. Gilbert Scott in French-Gothic style. Distinguishing features are a high gable roof and four square towers. The main attraction of the Senate is the principal chamber.

MAHA LAKSHMI TEMPLE : Maha Lakhsmi is the Hindu goddess of Good Fortune. Entrance is through a hall, its roof is adorned with colorful figures of sages. The image of Goddess Lakhsmi is placed at the center. To the right is the Goddess Kali and to the left Goddess Saraswati.

ZAOMBA’S RAMA MANDIR : This is a modern Hindu temple famed for the figures of its three principal deities. Said to be the most beautiful of any in Mumbai, the images stand on a marble altar enclosed by brass railings. In the center is a marble representation of Rama, otherwise Vishnu, in his seventh incarnation. The image in Zaoba’s Mandar is about three and a half feet high, and is remarkable for the curious expression of the gleaming eyes. The image is adorned in silk and jewels, and carries a bow and arrow in commemoration of the weapon with which Ravana was slain. On the left stands Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife, and on the right his brother, Lakhsmana, here popularly worshipped as an incarnation of Sesha, the great cobra deity.

ATESH BEHRAM : Atesh Behram means the “Fire of Behram”. This temple houses a marble pedestal, which supports a silver brazier holding sacred fire. The sanctum bells peal at each of the five Parsi divisions of the day. The priest takes care that the fire is free from impurities and is never extinguished. Adjoining its prayer hall, lies a richly carpeted square.

MALABAR HILL : Its fashionable eminence lies on the western side of Mumbai and terminates in a sharply pointed promontory on the south. The Malabar hill is a favorite residential quarter with handsome bungalows. The famous Babulnath Temple is situated on this hill.

TOWERS OF SILENCE : On Malabar Hill is the “Tower of Silence”. Every day a procession of mourners enter its yellow gateway into the walled territory where the vultures wait. A great silence broods over the place sacred to Sraosha, the guardian angel of the newly dead. The grounds contain five towers. Three of them are reserved for public use. A fourth, set somewhat apart is kept exclusively for suicides and criminals. The fifth and the oldest was erected in 1672 by Modi Hizi Wachha, one of the earliest Parsi settlers. It is now used by his descendants. Steps lead up to the only aperture in the walls, a small iron door set several feet above the ground. This, in each case admits to a circular platform composed of large stone slabs hollowed into spaces of a size and shape to receive one body. There is a big central well into which bones are swept after having been stripped clean by the vultures. No living being enters the Towers of Silence others than the white clad Nasaslars to whom are entrusted the last sad rites. All around the parapets and on the trees the vultures wait and watch.

WALKESHWAR : An open space sacred to the Sun God, Walkeshwar. In the center stretches the large water body called Banganga which is the home of turtles. Pigeons settle on the steps that lead to the water way. A dark patch in the corner reveals a sunken well believed to have a supernatural origin. The place is dotted with temples, shrines, minarets, towers and dwellings of the Brahmin community. On the seashore to the stairway is the Rama Kund, a square well believed to be pierced by the arrow of Lord Rama. The Lucky Rock is said to have powers of removing sins. The modern temple of Walkeshwar lies on the western bank. Constructed of stone it displays a fairly high dome and is reputed to contain the original lingam fashioned by Rama out of sand collected on the sea shore or nearby. Hence the name Walkeshwar, or the “God Made of Sand”.

VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM : The museum was founded in 1858 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s assumption of the title Empress of India. It has a library and a gallery of statues. The building is in Italian renaissance style. By the side of the museum stands an almost live size rock cut elephant. This is the elephant after which the famous caves and island of Elephanta are believed to have named.

VICTORIA GARDENS : Its new name is Veeramata Jeejabai Bhonsle Udyan. It has a museum, zoo and botanical garden. The grounds are beautifully laid out and abound in rare tropical vegetation and flowers. The garden is dotted with lakes. The gardens are a haven of birds and animals. Take a camel or elephant ride.

OLD GOVERNMENT HOUSE : Parel Road leads to the old Government House, now converted to the Mumbai Bacteriological Laboratory.

THE ISLAND OF ELEPHANTA : Elephanta is one of the most picturesque of the little islands in the harbor, about six miles from Mumbai and four from the shore of the mainland. It is less than five miles in circumference and consists of two long hills and a narrow valley opening somewhat to the south-east. An ideal picnic spot, surrounded by the deep blue sea and abounding in exotic tropical vegetation. The nickname of Elephanta was given to the place early in the sixteenth century because a large stone elephant that stood near the old landing stage on the south side. Later it was removed to its present position outside the Victoria and Albert Museum, Byculla. There are also references of a monolithic horse that stood rather south-east of the entrance to the great cave temple. World famous as containing one of the most noted collection of Hindu carving in existence stands the great cave temple. Entrance is through the overhanging face of the cliff, the protruding rock has effectively grown with such vegetation as can find a foothold. The great island sanctuary is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The main cave has nine carvings : Shiva as the King of Dancers, Shiva killing demon Andhaka, Marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Descent of the Ganges, Shiva as Maheshmurti, Shiva as Andha-nari-nateshwara, Parvati on the Kailas mountain, Shiva lifting Kailas, Shiva as an ascetic. Shiva is shown as the creator, preserver and destroyer.

AFGHAN MEMORIAL CHURCH : The foundation was laid in December 1847, by Sir. George Clerk, Governor of Mumbai. It is considered to be the most beautiful church in western India. Beyond the Church are the barracks and parade ground.

THE LIGHTHOUSE : Prong's Lighthouse sheds a warning ray a distance of eighteen miles. It stands on a particularly dangerous reef and is one of the greatest buildings of its existence.

THE MINT : Situated beside the Mumbai Castle, it consists of huge buildings reclaimed from the land of the sea.

MUMBAI CASTLE : An old castle lashed by the waves of the sea erected by the Portuguese and further strengthened and fortified by their English successors. An impressive yellow building with winding stone stairs, battlements, bastions and a flag staff.

THE HARBOR : The harbor consists of a deep arm of the sea between Mumbai and the mainland. It is illuminated by light houses on Kenery Island and Prong's Reef. The harbor is fairly well protected from monsoon winds. The docks lie on the west of the harbor. The chief imports are cotton, piece goods, metals, machinery, railway plant, kerosene oil, rice, sugar and timber. Exports principally consist of coal, cotton, grain, oil, seeds, hides, piece goods, twist, yarn and manganese ore.

BANDRA : Dotted with coconut palms it is well known for a Portuguese church and the Bandra Fort.

VEHAR LAKE : A crystal clear lake complete with an island. Ideal for a picnic. On the north stretches a ridge of hills.

KENERY CAVES : They are an art work of the Buddhist colony and date from the second century AD to the ninth. The interiors are carved with figures of Buddha, trees, elephants, dagobas, lions etc. Part of the area is deeply forested. The Great Chaitya Cave and Maharaja Cave are very famous.

BASSEIN FORT : Bassein is on the Konkan coast and has a modest quay. Upto the early 10th century, Sultan Bahadur Shah ruled here. Later on the Portuguese made a city state of Bassein with strong outer rampart walls. Inside the fortified walls were a State House, cathedral, convents, churches and an orphanage. In 1739 the fort was taken over by the Marathas. Today, the prosperous "Court of the North" lies in ruins.

VARESHWARI WARM SPRINGS : Overlooking the Vajreshwari Bazar, stands the Vajreshwari temple surrounded by fortifications almost resembling the Bassein Fort. The warm springs here are a mile from the temple. The spring water is rich in sulphur and has remarkable therapeutic properties for treatment of rheumatism and certain skin diseases. Near the temple there is an old temple dedicated to Shree Rameshwar Mahadev.

FILM CITY : India's Hollywood. Named Bollywood.

Festivals of Mumbai

Mumbai has a sizable population of Sindhis, Zoroastrians, Jews, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and tribals in addition to Hindus and Muslims.

Hindu Festivals

Ganesh Chaturthi : The festival is celebrated with installation of earthen images of Lord Ganesha ( the god of wealth) in every household.

Deepavali : The festival of lights is celebrated with great fervor in Autumn.

Holi : The festival of colors celebrated in spring.

Sindhi Festivals

Chetichards : Celebrated on Sindhi New Year Day which falls in March - April.

Tijri : This festival is celebrated in July - August by married women and unmarried girls. After worshipping the moon ladies break their day long fast. The married women pray for their husband's long life and the girls for a good husband.

Thandari : This festival is observed for two days in July - August in honor of Lord Shiva's consort, Sitladevi, the small pox goddess.

Mahalaxmi : The festival is observed in September - October in the honor of the goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth).

Sikh Festivals

Guru Nanak's birthday : This festival falls during October - November and celebrates the birth day of Guru Nanak.

Baishakhi : This festival is celebrated on 13 April each year. People wear saffron clothes and have ritual baths in lakes and rivers. On this day, Guru Gobind Singh, the last Sikh Guru took up cudgels against the Mughal emperors and was willing to fight to death to preserve faith.

Vasant Panchami : This festival falls in January - February and commemorates the day when the 6th Guru Har Gobind Singhji liberated 52 captives from Gwalior fort.

Jain Festivals

Danvan Panchami : This festival is celebrated in October - November. On this day religious books are worshipped.

Mahavira Jayanti: This festival is celebrated in March - April in celebrations of the birth of Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara.

Paryushana Parva : This is the most sacred festival of the Jains and is celebrated in July-August and September as and when the period comes. Recitals take place from the holy book and greetings are exchanged with relations and friends.

Jewish Festivals

The Jews of Maharashtra observe all the Jew festivals. They have however also given Marathi names to the festivals. The Jews normally celebrate Rosh Sashana, Feast of Gedaliah, Yom Kippur, Feast of Tavernade, Feast of Hannuccah, East of Tabet, New Years' Day of the Trees, East of Esther and Feast of Purim, and Feast of Passover etc.

Muslim Festivals

Muharram is a pious festival observed after fasting. Other festivals like Akbari Chader, Shambal, Milad-un-Nabi, Sahib-i-Bharat, Ramzan, Bakrid are also observed in Maharashtra.

Games and Recreation

 Games like cricket. hockey, football, golf, billiards and snooker, tennis, badminton, swimming, boat racing, horse racing are played in Mumbai.


Mumbai is a shoppers' paradise. You may buy cotton textiles, sandalwood, spices, perfumes of musk, carved black wood, silver jewellery. Crawford Market, Mangaldas Market and Fashion Street are the leading textile markets in Mumbai. 


More by :  Pallavi Bhattacharya

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