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History of Mumbai

The city of Bombay (as it was called till 1995) originally consisted of seven islands; Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman's Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion.

Over the centuries, the islands changed hands several times till it came into the possession of the Mohammedans of Gujarat in 1343. In 1534, the Portuguese, who by then controlled several important trading centers like Panjim, Daman, and Diu along the western coast, seized it by force. The main inhabitants of the islands are believed to be the Kolis, whose main livelihood remains fishing to this day and other local tribal communities like the Warlis and Mahadeo Kolis.

In 1662, the islands were given to English King Charles II in dowry on his marriage to Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza. Six years later, the East India Company acquired the islands on lease from the British government. The islands provided ideal condition for a deep water port to dock larger vessels and by 1687, the East India Company had shifted its headquarters to Bombay. Under the East India Company several different communities started to settle in Bombay. This included Gujarati, Parsis, Muslims and Hindus who were each engaged in different trades and crafts.

Overtime various reclamation projects, causeways and infrastructural projects were built that connected the seven islands into a single landmass. This included the 21-mile long railway line, the first in India, between Bombay's Victoria Terminus and Thane, which opened in 1853. Also, during this period Bombay enjoyed great economic wealth, especially trade in cotton, which was transported from Gujarat to Lancashire through Bombay port and the finished cloth, returned to the Indian market through the Bombay port.

In the wake of the unrest in 1857, the East India Company faced accusations of mismanagement and the British Government took over the islands once again. Most of Mumbai’s iconic landmark buildings were built in this period. This includes Victoria Terminus (now called Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus) , the General Post Office, the Municipal Corporation building, the Prince of Wales Museum, Rajabai Tower and Bombay University to name a few.

By 1860, pipelines were laid from Tulsi and Vihar lakes, which are presently located within Sanjay Gandhi National Park, to supply water to the growing city. However, the park itself did not come into existence till much later (SEE ABOUT SGNP section). Tigers are said to have roamed freely in the forests around Mumbai, especially Salsette island which contains present day Sanjay Gandhi National Park as well, till the end of the eighteenth century. In fact, in 1858 the Journal of Bombay Natural History records a tiger observed swimming to Mazgaon from the opposite bank. The only remnant of the forests that covered these islands are now found in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Tungareshwar Wildlife Forest and Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Tigers were part of this landscape “A large tiger was shot near Vihar Lake, Salsette in 1929. The author talks about the jungles which over the hilly portions of Salsette. That tigers were plentiful in Salsette in the end of the 18th century. In 1822 a tiger was seen on Malabar Hill. In 1858 two tigers were killed, one that was swimming to Mazgaon from the opposite shore and the other in Mahim "woods" where it mauled a Parsi cart-owner (Prater 1929).

Though only a fragment of the original fortifications remain, ‘Fort’ in south Mumbai used to be the fortified city. As the population of the city grew, people started moving out to suburbs like Byculla, Parel, Malabar Hill, and Mazagaon. Reclamation projects in the 1960s onwards created other famous areas of Mumbai like Nariman point, which served as Mumbai’s main commercial district along with the Fort area. The Bandra-Kurla Complex and other popular commercial districts were created many decades later.

The Stock Exchange at Bombay was established in 1875 as "The Native Share and Stockbrokers Association" and remains one of the oldest in Asia having preceded even the Tokyo Stock Exchange which was founded in 1878. In the early days the business was conducted under the shade of a banyan tree in front of the town hall. The tree can still be seen in the Horniman Circle Park. In 1995, the name of the city was officially changed from Bombay to Mumbai.


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