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India: Mumbai (Bombay)


Mumbai is the commercial Capital of India. The island city of Mumbai is situated off the west coast of India, south of the tropic of Cancer. Because of a wide bay between the city and the mainland, Mumbai has been a natural harbour and trading centre. Many large business houses have their corporate offices in this city. Mumbai is also the prime centre for the film industry.

Gateway of India, Mumbai

The city was called Bombay for much of the last four hundred years and the name is often said to come from the Portuguese phrase "bom baia" meaning good bay. The original name Mumbai is attributed to the local goddess Mumbadevi. The name of the city was changed to Mumbai by an act of the parliament in 1997.

History

The city of Bombay originally consisted of seven islands, namely Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman's Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion. The history of this group of islands located on the west coast of India goes way back to the stone ages. Stone age implements have been found at several sites in these islands. The coastal regions, and presumably the islands were the home of the Koli fisher folk in the distant past.

In third century BC, these islands were part of the Magadhan empire under Emperor Ashoka. After his death, the islands changed hands from one king to another for two thousand years. They belonged to the Silhara dynasty till the middle of the 13th century. The oldest structures in the archipelago, the caves at Elephanta, and part of the Walkeshwar temple complex, probably date from this time. Modern sources identify a 13th century Raja Bhimdev who had his capital in Mahikawati, present-day Mahim, and Prabhadevi. Presumably the first merchants and agriculturists settled in Mumbai at this time. In 1343 the island of Salsette, and eventually the whole archipelago, went to the Sultan of Gujarat. The mosque in Mahim is the only nostalgia from this period.

In 1508 Francis Almeida and his men sailed into the harbour of these islands, which they called Bom Baia (the Good Bay). Bahadur Shah of Gujarat was forced to cede the main islands to the Portuguese in 1534. The Portuguese built forts and a few chapels for the converted fishermen. The St. Andrew's church in Bandra dates from this period. In 1662 Mumbai came in pocession of Charles II as part of the dowry of his wife Catherine of Braganza. In 1668 Charles leased Mumbai to the East India Company at an annual rental of ten Pounds Sterling.

Corporation Building, Mumbai

The British decided to develop these islands into a city and a centre of commerce. They have started factories in many places and many commercial treaties were signed with local rulers. In the four hundred years since then, the city has grown by a series of land reclamations, which now link the original islands into one mass. The British lured skilled workers and traders to move to this British holding. The opportunities for business attracted many Gujarati communities. The population of Bombay was estimated to have risen from 10,000 in 1661 to 60,000 in 1675.

Through the 18th century British power and influence grew at the expense of the local rulers. The shipbuilding industry was shifted to Bombay from Surat. Artisans from Gujarat like goldsmiths, ironsmiths and weavers moved to the islands. Following the 1817 British victory over the Marathas, the British embarked upon reclamations and large scale engineering works in Bombay. The vellard at Breach Candy (1784) and the construction of the Mahim Causeway (1845) are the milestones of this period in which the seven islands were merged into one landmass. In 1853, a 35km long railway was built between Thana and Bombay, the first in India. Four years later, in 1854, the first cotton mill was founded in Bombay.

Following the first war of Independence in 1857, Bombay was reverted to the British crown. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, exports, especially cotton, from Bombay became a major part of the colonial economy. The construction of Imperial Bombay continued well into the 20th century. Some of the landmarks from this period are the Gateway of India, the General Post Office, the Town Hall (now the Asiatic Library) and the Prince of Wales Museum.

The freedom movement reached a high pitch and with many campaigns in the following years, the end of the British imperial rule in India was foretold by the Quit India declaration on August 8, 1942. India became a free country on August 15, 1947. Bombay became the capital of State of Bombay. When State of Bombay was renamed Maharastra, Mumbai retained its position.

Tourist InformationTravel Guide

Mumbai is best to visit from October to March when the climate is pleasant. Throughout the year the maximum temparature is almost steady(29oC ~ 33oC). The minimum temparature will be between 16oC and 26oC. The Monsoons are during June - Sept. Mumbai has one international terminal and one domestic terminal to handle the air traffic. 40 percent of the air traffic to India is handled by Mumbai airport.

Relevent travel guidance can be obtained from Government of India Tourist office at 123, Maharshi Karve Road, Opposite Church gate Railway Station or from MTDC Head Office, 9th floor, Express towers, Nariman Point. MTDC tourist information counters are located at international and domestic airports, railway stations and bus terminals. Most of the star hotels also provide tourist information for their inmates. For more details follow the link Travel Guide.