The city Mumbai, know as Bombay until 1995, is a great port city, situated on the west coast of the Indian peninsula. It is one of India’s dominant urban centers and, indeed, is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. Deriving its name from Mumba Devi, a goddess of the local Koli fishing peoples, Mumbai grew up around a fort established by the British in the mid-seventeenth century to protect their trading interests along India’s western coast. The city’s superb natural harbor provided a focal point for sea routes crossing the Arabian Sea, and Mumbai soon became the main western gateway to Britain‘s expanding Indian empire. The city emerged as a center of manufacturing and industry during the eighteenth century. Today, Mumbai is India’s commercial and financial capital, as well as the capital city of Maharashtra State.
Mumbai is an important rail center. Trains with colorful names, such as the Frontier Mail and Deccan Queen, set out from the city’s two main stations, Victoria Terminus (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and Mumbai Central, carrying passengers to distant parts of the country. The headquarters of India’s Western Railway and Central Railway are located in the city. The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation and other State and private companies provide bus service to and from the city.
Mumbai hosts a variety of major attractions for Indian natives, as well as visitors from overseas. The most popular of these attractions is the rock-cut temples on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor. Many sightseers travel to the island by boat from Apollo Bunder, the location of another famous attraction, the Gateway of India arch. Other sites of interest include the Crawford Market, the bazaars of Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar, the Parsi Towers of Silence, and Haji Ali’s Mosque.
With a population of 9.9 million people in the central city, Mumbai is the third-largest city in the world. Some 15.4 million live in Greater Mumbai (Mumbai and its suburbs). Though much of the city’s population are Marathas, inhabitants of Maharashtra and speaking the Marathi language, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city. Its inhabitants include diverse ethnic groups, such as Gujaratis, Marwaris, Sindhis, and people from other Indian states, as well as religious minorities, such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. Mumbai is home to the largest community of Parsis (Zoroastrians) in India, as well as a small population of Jews.
Mumbai city has many distinctive neighborhoods. The southern tip of Mumbai Island, Colaba, is known for the Gateway of India, a yellow basalt arch built in 1924 to commemorate the British presence in India. Just to the north lies the Fort Area, the site of the old British fort around which Mumbai was built. Its Victorian gothic buildings, such as Victoria Terminus and the High Court, are monuments to the city’s colonial past. Marine Drive, lined with high-rise apartments, runs along the shoreline of Back Bay from Nariman Point to Chowpatty Beach. Malabar Hill, an exclusive residential area, lies to the northwest of Back Bay. This neighborhood is known for the Hanging Gardens, as well as the Towers of Silence, where the Parsis lay out their dead to be consumed by vultures and crows. The crowded, bustling Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar bazaar areas north of Crawford Market were known as “Native Town” to Mumbai’s early European inhabitants. Other well-known city landmarks are the Taj Mahal Hotel, Oval Maidan, Cuffe Parade, Horniman Circle, and Flora Fountain.
Bandra and Juhu Beach are prosperous residential areas just north of the Mahim Causeway. Further north are many large suburbs, including Andheri, Kandivili, and Borivali. New Mumbai and Nhava Sheva, on the mainland to the east of Mumbai Harbor and Thana Creek, form part of the Greater Mumbai area.
The area of the Konkan coast where Mumbai 1ies has been settled since prehistoric times. It later came under the control of several states that ruled western India. These included the Buddhist Mauryan Empire (fourth–third centuries B. C. ) and the Hindu Satavahana, Shaka, and Rashtrakuta dynasties. The Chalukyas (A. D. 550–750) built the magnificent cave temples on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor. At the end of the thirteenth century, the Yadava rulers, who had their capital at Aurangabad, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the northeast, established a settlement at Mahim on one of Mumbai’s original seven islands. This was in response to raids on their territory by the expanding Delhi Sultanate.
Mahim was captured by the Muslim ruler of Gujarat in 1348. The Portuguese reached India’s western shores in 1498, Francisco de Almeida becoming the first Portuguese to enter Mumbai Harbor when he seized a Gujarati ship there in 1508. The Portuguese eventually forced Bahadur Shah, the sultan of Gujarat, to cede them Mumbai in 1534. Mumbai was acquired by the British in 1664 as part of Catherine of Branganza’s dowry when the sister of Portugal‘s king married Charles II (1630–1685; r. 1660–1685) of England. In 1668, the British East India Company leased the islands from the Crown for the nominal rent of ten pounds per year.
Recognizing the potential of Mumbai and its harbor, the East India Company set about strengthening the settlement’s defenses and soon shifted its administrative headquarters to Mumbai from Surat, in Gujarat. Mumbai’s second governor, Gerald Aungier (d. 1677), laid the foundations for the city’s future growth. Political stability, the promise of religious freedom, and land grants soon attracted large numbers of settlers, including Gujarati and Parsi merchants, to Mumbai. These, and later immigrants, contributed significantly to the growth of Mumbai as an important trading center. By 1676, Mumbai had a population of around 60,000. The very end of the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the construction of seawalls, breakwaters, and reclamation projects that eventually connected the original seven islands (Mahim, Worli, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Colaba, and Mumbai Island) into a single Mumbai Island.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mumbai lagged behind Calcutta and Madrasin importance. However, a series of events in the early and mid-nineteenth century propelled the city to a position of prominence. The continuing struggle for power between the Mughals (the Muslim rulers based in north India) and the Hindu Marathas created unstable political conditions in Gujarat and western India. Artisans and merchants fled to Mumbai for security, providing the stimulus for growth and expansion. This was further enhanced by the British defeat of the warlike Marathas and the expansion of trade both with the mainland and withEurope. In 1857, the first spinning and weaving mill was established in Mumbai, creating a cotton textile industry that was given a great boost by the American Civil War (1861–65), which cut off supplies of cotton to Britain. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was another stimulus to Mumbai’s growth, further enhancing its position as a major trade, commercial, and industrial center.
Mumbai’s size and economic power are reflected in its role in India’s modern political history. The city was an important center in India’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule. The Indian National Congress, which led the nation’s fight for freedom, was founded there in 1885. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), the Mahatma, spiritual leader of the independence movement, launched his “Quit India” campaign against the British in Mumbai in 1942. Linguistic tensions between Mumbai’s Marathi and Gujarati speakers resulted in violence in the city in the late 1950s. This led eventually to the separation of Gujarati-speaking areas from Mumbai state and the creation of Maharashtra State (1960).
During the early 1990s, communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai again shattered the myth of a tolerant, cosmopolitan city. Rioting led to the deaths of several hundred people (mostly Muslims) and culminated in the bombing (with numerous fatalities) of several buildings in March 1993. The Shiv Sena, a right-wing Maharashtra-based Hindu political party led by Bal Thackeray, was widely blamed for instigating Hindu violence against Muslims in the city. Subsequently elected to office, the Shiv Sena party in 1996 changed Mumbai’s name to “Mumbai,” the Maratha name for the city.