views updated May 14 2018


It is only in the context of the history of India that the history of Bombay (Mumbai) can be properly understood. For the British, the establishment of a fortified trading post on Salsette Island—the origins of the city of Bombay—rapidly evolved into a bid to penetrate and gain hegemony over the hinterland. Bombay was for them above all a gateway, an entry point to the whole of the Indian peninsula. For the rising Indian educated class, Bombay was to become a window to the West. Unlike many other Indian cities, Bombay did not develop around a pilgrimage shrine or a royal court.

In the seventeenth century, Bombay consisted of seven islands, its original inhabitants being the Koli community of fisherfolk. In 1665, on the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II of England, it was given by the Portuguese to the British Crown as part of the future queen's dowry. The commercially unproductive islands were transferred within three years to the East India Company (EIC), leased at the paltry sum of nine pounds sterling per annum. The English factors would soon realize the value of their new acquisition. By 1687 the directors of the EIC had transferred the seat of administration from Surat to Bombay. Its deepwater natural harbor offset the demerits of what Samuel Pepys called "a poor little island." It was believed that Bombay would become as beneficial to the English as Batavia was to the Dutch. Bombay lived up to expectations, and in the nineteenth century became the most important city in India.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Bombay had become a metropolitan city, as special religious and economic privileges were offered to people to entice them to come and settle there. Eminent merchants and skilled Parsi shipwrights such as the Wadias were among those who migrated to Bombay from Surat. Expert weavers were induced to come from the hinterland areas of Chaul, Thana, and Bhivandi. Early governors of Bombay, like Sir George Oxinden (1668–1669) and Sir Gerald Aungier (1669–1677), can be described as the true architects of the city. Administrative, judicial, and commercial systems were initiated, shaped on the British model. Bombay's historical identity undoubtedly rests on its image as a colonial city.

The original British settlement was a walled town, with both British and Indian inhabitants, the former in the south and the latter in the north. James Forbes in his Memoirs of 1780 records that the town of Bombay was about two miles in circumference, and surrounded by fortifications. Bombay's urban nucleus was Bombay Castle, the administrative, commercial, and military stronghold of the British, adjoining the harbor. Around it was built the semi-circular Esplanade. Landmarks included St. Thomas Church and the Mint. An old resident, Sir Edward Arnold, returning in the 1880s after a twenty-year absence was inspired to remark, in the style of Augustus describing Rome, "I left Bombay a town of warehouses and offices; I find her a city of parks and palaces." (S.M.Edwardes, The Rise of Bombay, A Retrospect, Times of India Press, 1902, p. 327).

As the English historian Pamela Nightingale stresses, nineteenth-century Bombay's political hinterland was expanded for the purely commercial reason of gaining control over areas of cotton production. It stretched in a broad arc from Kathiawad and Gujarat in the north to Malabar in the south. As the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum, Bombay started to export raw cotton to the new cotton mills of Manchester and Liverpool. This trade was also supplemented by the opium trade, mainly with China.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Bombay's economy experienced a boom due to the American Civil War, which cut the raw cotton supply to England, making Bombay the major exporter. This newfound prosperity stimulated prolific construction of various symbols of British imperial grandeur. Edifices that survive today include Bombay University and Elpinstone College (founded in 1857 and 1860 respectively), the Municipality, the General Post Office, and the High Court buildings. The railway station, named Victoria Terminus and designed after St. Pancras station in London, is today a World Heritage site.

The Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway and the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, the very first railways in India, made their appearance in Bombay, starting from Victoria Terminus. Marshy lands were reclaimed, and causeways were built at Mahim, and between Cumballa Hill and Worli, to drain the "Great Breach," the area then known as Breach Candy. Wharves and docks were constructed on a large scale. In the mid-nineteenth century, after the opening of the Suez Canal, Bombay port became a focus of steamship navigation. Companies such as the famed Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, the Messageries Maritimes Company, the Bombay Steam Navigation Company, the Austrian Lloyd Company of Trieste, and the Rubattini Company of Genoa set up offices in Bombay. Sailing clippers were also engaged in the tea and opium trade. Agency houses of the British became a common feature of Bombay city. Modern milling technology was introduced through the construction of cotton mills, the first one being started in 1854. A supply of cheap labor from the neighboring areas (mostly the Konkan and Deccan) led to a massive influx of population. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the population grew from an estimated 200,000 to almost a million.

The culture of the city has been and continues to be pan-Indian rather than provincial. From the beginning, ethnic multiplicity was reflected in the population, which included Parsis, Gujarati "Baniyas," and the Muslim trading communities of Bohras and Khojas. Contributions to the development of Bombay were made by affluent members of the indigenous entrepreneurial class, such as Jagannath Shankarseth and Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. With the formulation of his famous Drain Theory, Bombay's Dadabhai Naoroji took his place as India's leading economic nationalist. In 1885 Bombay played host to the founding session of the Indian National Congress. During World War II, the industrialists of the city brought forth detailed proposals for the economic development of the country in their "Bombay Plan." By the end of the war, Bombay was well established as the industrial hub of India: it had 477 metal industries, 210 printing presses, 75 chemical plants, and 94 other industries, while 184 textile mills were still in operation (David 1998, p.249). Bombay strongly supported the Civil Disobedience Movement and Mahatma Gandhi, and was the site of heroic working class struggles, as it had a large labor force, mainly cotton mill workers. In the immediate postwar period, the Bombay Naval Mutiny, strongly supported by the organized trade unionists and Left parties, sent a clear signal that Britain's hold on India could not much longer be maintained. Once India gained independence, Bombay overtook Calcutta to become the unquestioned economic capital of independent India.

In the nineteenth century the city of Bombay was once described as "the connecting link between Europe and Asia," the point where two civilizations meet and mingle. This description might also be appropriately applied to the contemporary cosmopolitan social structure of the city, as well as to its internationally focused economy. It could also characterize the physical image of Bombay. Like other British colonial ports of India, Bombay has been an architectural hybrid, presenting an evolving juxtaposition of Indian and European concepts of environment. Bombay has in common with Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata) that it grew from a small fortified trading settlement into a sprawling commercial metropolis. Because of its physical setting, however, Bombay has been in many ways unique. Bombay began as seven small islands, and through gradual reclamation, was a single land mass by the end of the eighteenth century. The physical formation of Bombay has thus necessitated extensive reclamation and land-filling activities. There have been two twentieth-century landfill projects, the Backbay Reclamation (creating the seaside Marine Drive) and Ballard Estate. In the post-Independence years, two additions were made to Bombay's land surface, Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade. Land has thus been scarce and expensive, a factor that has continued to promote dense building patterns and a predominant use of multistoried structures. Industrial prosperity has been accompanied by environmental deterioration and traffic congestion.

Bombay remains a city of immigrants and a commercial metropolis. It continues to be known as a seaport, railhead, air traffic hub, and center of finance, as well as a textile mill city and a high technology pole. It is also dubbed "Bollywood," as it is the center of the world's premier cinema industry.

see also English East India Company (EIC).


Albuquerque, Teresa. Bombay: A History. New Delhi: Rashna/Promilla, 1992.

David, M. D. Bombay: The City of Dreams. Bombay: Himalaya, 1998.

Dossal, Mariam. Imperial Designs and Indian Realities: The Planning of Bombay City, 1845–1875. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Gupchup, Vijaya. Bombay: Social Change, 1813–1857. Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1993.

Kosambi, Meera. Bombay in Transition: The Growth and Social Ecology of a Colonial City, 1880–1980. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1986.

Maloni, Ruby. "Surat to Bombay: Transfer of Commercial Power." Itinerario 26, no. 1 (2002): 61-74.

Nightingale, Pamela. Trade and Empire in Western India, 1784–1806. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Patel, Sujata, and Alice Thorner, eds. Bombay: Mosaic of Modern Culture. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Tindall, Gillian. City of Gold: The Biography of Bombay. Calcutta: Penguin, 1982.


views updated May 11 2018


BOMBAY India's modern metropolis of Bombay, known for its fashions, films, financial industries, cotton mills, skyscrapers, and squalor, was once an archipelago of seven sleepy islands, inhabited only by Buddhist monks and the tribal deep-sea fishermen called Kolis, whose stone goddess, Mumbadevi, gave the principal island its present name, Mumbai. For the British, Bombay was their main harbor and the nucleus of the British East India Company's fort on Mumba Island, from which the modern city grew. Present-day Bombay, or Mumbai, stretches from Dongri (the congested inner city, one of the oldest parts of Bombay) on the east to Malabar Hill on the west. The other islands include Colaba—the most expensive real estate in the world in 2005; Old Man's Island, also called Old Woman's Island; Mazagaon, famous for its mango groves; Worli, known for the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque-tomb named after a Sufi saint; Parel, which is possibly named after the Shaivite Parali Vaijanath Mahadev temple of the thirteenth-century kingdom of Raja Bhimdev (the island is also called Matunga, Sion, and Dharavi); and Mahim, the capital of Raja Bhimdev to the west of Parel, north of Worli, named after the Mahim River.

Bombay changed hands many times, from the Buddhist Mauryan emperor Ashoka to the Muslim rulers of Gujarat to the imperial Mughals, remaining marginal to Indian history because neither the Hindu rajas nor the Muslim rulers placed much importance on maritime trade—and whatever maritime trade flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries in the Indian Ocean was limited to Aden (Yemen), west coast cities of Africa, and Calicut, south of Bombay on the Malabar coast. However, under both the Ahmedabad sultans and the Mughals, Bombay experienced Islamization. The oldest surviving Hindu structures in the archipelago are the Elephanta Caves containing fresco paintings and, possibly, a portion of the Walkeshwar Temple Complex, both dating back to the late thirteenth century. The mosque in Mahim dates back to the Ahmedabad sultanate period.

With the advent of the Europeans in the sixteenth century in the Indian Ocean, Bombay was soon pushed from the margins of Indian history to center stage. Soon after Francis Almeida in 1534 sailed into the deep-water natural harbor of the island that the Portuguese called Bom Bahia (the "good bay"), the Portuguese realized Bombay's potential importance. The Portuguese, who already controlled Goa, Daman, and Diu off the west coast of India, forcibly occupied Bombay until 1662, when it was given to England's King Charles II in dowry on his marriage to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Under the Portuguese Jesuits, Christianity came to Bombay, with the building of churches and vigorous attempts to proselytize the indigenous Kolis. The Portuguese built a fort in Bassein. Still, the Portuguese never realized Bombay's full potential as a strategic natural harbor or a vital commercial center of imperial power.

The British first reached Gujarat on 24 August 1608, when Captain William Hawkins of the East India Company dropped anchor off Surat, at the mouth of the Tapti River. Hawkins found the port city crowded with Indians, Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Portuguese, Dutch, and other merchants engaged in a trade of goods encompassing luxuries as well as necessities: indigo, cotton, carpets, and satin, ready for export. Hawkins feared that Portuguese Jesuits "had helped convert Indian apathy and neutrality toward Englishmen into a positive aversion." But the Anglo-Portuguese rivalry culminated in Hawkins's victory over the Portuguese fleet off Surat in November 1612. However, the growing demand for indigo and salt-peter, combined with the famine of 1630 in Surat, persuaded the British to look for a new location. The archipelago of Bombay, considered worthless by the British, was turned over by Charles II to the East India Company for an annual rent of only £10 in 1668.

George Oxenden became the first British governor of Bombay, but it was Gerald Aungier, the second governor, who had the vision to turn the archipelago into a trading port that would rival other ports in the Indian Ocean. He first secured the island by building a fort (a small portion of the wall has survived), and through a variety of inducements he attracted skilled workers and traders from Gujarat: Parsis, Bohras, Jews, and Hindu Banias. Bombay's population soared from 10,000 in 1661 to 60,000 in 1675. Bombay soon displaced Surat as the western gateway to India.

After finally defeating the Hindu Marathas in 1818, the British embarked upon reclamations of land and large-scale public works projects in Bombay. From 1784 to 1845 the British successfully fused Bombay's seven islands into a single landmass. In 1850, Thana (a suburb) was linked with Bombay by a 21-mile (35 km) railway line, and in 1854, the first cotton mill was built. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, cotton exports from Bombay became an important part of the colonial economy. The Bombay Municipal Corporation was founded in 1872 and its Stock Exchange opened in 1875. The city witnessed the erection of several imperial monuments well into the twentieth century, including the Flora Fountain, Victoria Terminus, Hanging Gardens, Gateway of India, General Post Office, and the Prince of Wales Museum. The British employed High Victorian and Edwardian architectural language, fused with features derived from twelfth-to fifteenth-century English, French, and Venetian Gothic, augmented by elements of the Indo-Saracenic style.

As a result of the efforts of Governor Mountstuart Elphinstone in the 1820s, Bombay became India's center of English education and social reform. The establishment of the Bombay University in 1857 provided a new impetus to English-language education: Indians gained proficiency in English in the hope of economic success and social mobility. With the spread of English education came printing presses, newspapers, periodicals, libraries, and cultural and political associations that would initiate reform movements whose impact would be felt throughout India. Inevitably, Bombay became an important center of Indian nationalism; the first meeting of the Indian National Congress was held there in 1885.

In postcolonial India, Bombay witnessed a surge in its population as its economic growth attracted Indians from all parts of the country. In 1960, Bombay state was bifurcated into Maharashtra and Gujarat, based on linguistic differences, with Maharashtra retaining Bombay city as its capital. With the completion of the back-bay reclamation project in the early 1970s, Nariman Point (named after the former mayor K. F. Nariman) became the hub of commercial activity. Bombay itself was renamed Mumbai in the late-1990s, which also witnessed the computerization of its stock exchange. The Bombay Stock Exchange itself was shifted to the twenty-eight-story Phiroze Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy Towers, named after its former Parsi chairman. Bombay was also the home of the famous Parsi industrialist Sir Jamsetji N. Tata and several nationalist leaders, including Dadabhai Naoroji.

How this city of over 18 million people will cope with overcrowding, health problems, pollution, and sanitary issues is difficult to predict. But the Mumbaikars are completing Navi Mumbai (New Bombay) across the bay as a possible solution to overcrowded old Bombay, much as the British built New Delhi as an alternative to overcrowded Old Delhi.

Ravi Kalia

See alsoUrbanism


Daivd, M. D. Bombay, the City of Dreams: The History of the First City in India. Bombay: Himalaya Publishing House, 1995.

Furtado, Joseph Vernon. Bombay the Beautiful. Bombay: Thacker, 1957.

Kalia, Ravi. Gandhinagar: Building National Identity in Post-colonial India. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press; New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Mehta, Suketa. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Tindall, Gillian. City of Gold: The Biography of Bombay. London: Temple Smith, 1982.


views updated May 23 2018


BOMBAY (today Mumbai ), capital of Maharashtra and the proverbial "gateway to India." Bombay enters Jewish history after the cession of the city to the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th century. Then a small fishing island of no great economic significance, Bombay was leased out around 1554–55 to the celebrated *Marrano scientist and physician Garcia da *Orta, in recognition of his services to the viceroy. Garcia repeatedly refers in his Coloquios (Goa, 1563) to "the land and island which the king our lord made me a grant of, paying a quit-rent." After the transference of Bombay to English rule the Jew Abraham *Navarro expected to receive a high office in the Bombay council of the East India Company in recognition of his services. This was, however, denied to him because he was a Jew. In 1697 Benjamin Franks jumped Captain Kidd's "Adventure Galley" in Bombay as a protest against Kidd's acts of piracy; his deposition led to Kidd's trial in London.

The foundation of a permanent Jewish settlement in Bombay was laid in the second half of the 18th century by the *Bene Israel who gradually moved from their villages in the Konkan region to Bombay. Their first synagogue in Bombay was built (1796) on the initiative of S.E. *Divekar. *Cochin Jews strengthened the Bene Israel in their religious revival. The next largest wave of immigrants to Bombay consisted of Jewish merchants from Syria and Mesopotamia. Prominent was Suleiman ibn Yaʿqūb or Solomon Jacob whose commercial activities from 1795 to 1833 are documented in the Bombay records. The Arabic-speaking Jewish colony in Bombay was increased by the influx of other "Arabian Jews" from *Sūrat, who, in consequence of economic changes there, turned their eyes to India.

A turning point in the history of the Jewish settlement in Bombay was reached with the arrival in 1833 of the Baghdad Jewish merchant, industrialist, and philanthropist, David *Sassoon (1792–1864) who soon became a leading figure of the Jewish community. He and his house had a profound impact on Bombay as a whole as well as on all sectors of the Jewish community. Many of the educational, cultural, and civic institutions, as well as hospitals and synagogues in Bombay owe their existence to the munificence of the Sassoon family.

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Arabic-speaking Jews in Bombay did not assimilate the language of their neighbors, Marathi, but carried their Judeo-Arabic language and literature with them and continued to regard Baghdad as their spiritual center. They therefore established their own synagogues, the Magen David in 1861 in Byculla, and the Kneseth Elijah in 1888 in the Fort quarter of Bombay. A weekly Judeo-Arabic periodical, Doresh Tov le-Ammo, which mirrored communal life, appeared from 1855 to 1866. Hebrew printing began in Bombay with the arrival of Yemenite Jews in the middle of the 19th century. They took an interest in the religious welfare of the Bene Israel, for whom – as well as for themselves – they printed various liturgies from 1841 onward, some with translations into Marathi, the vernacular of the Bene Israel. Apart from a short-lived attempt to print with movable type, all this printing was by lithography. In 1882, the Press of the Bombay Educational Society was established (followed in 1884 by the Anglo-Jewish and Vernacular Press, in 1887 by the Hebrew and English Press, and in 1900 by the Lebanon Printing Press), which sponsored the publication of over 100 Judeo-Arabic books to meet their liturgical and literary needs, and also printed books for the Bene Israel. There were also a number of Bene-Israel journals published in Bombay (Bene Israelite, Friend of Israel, Israelite, The Lamp of Judaism, Satya Prakash).

The prosperity of Bombay attracted a new wave of Jewish immigrants from Cochin, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bukhara, and Persia. Among Persian Jews who settled in Bombay, the most prominent and remarkable figure was Mullā Ibrahim *Nathan (d. 1868) who, with his brother Mūsā, both of *Meshed, were rewarded by the government for their services during the first Afghan War. The political events in Europe and the advent of Nazism brought a number of German, Polish, Romanian, and other European Jews to Bombay, many of whom were active as scientists, physicians, industrialists, and merchants. Communal life in Bombay was stimulated by visits of Zionist emissaries.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

Contemporary Period

After the establishment of the State of Israel and India's Independence the Jewish community of Bombay started diminishing due to emigration. In the early 21st century the Jewish population of Bombay (Mumbai) was estimated to be about 2,700. The city remains the last major center of organized Jewish life in India. There are eight synagogues in Mumbai – six belong to the Bene Israel community and two to Baghdadi Jews. Mumbai is also a home to the Indian branches of *ort (Organization for Technological Training) and ajdc (*American Joint Distribution Committee).

[Paul Gottlieb /

Yulia Egorova (2nd ed.)


Fischel, in paajr, 25 (1956), 39–62; 26 (1957), 25–39; idem, in: huca, 29 (1958), 331–75; S. Jackson, The Sassoons (1968), index; C. Roth, The Sassoon Dynasty (1941), index; D.S. Sassoon, History of the Jews in Baghdad (1949), index; idem, Massa Bavel, ed. by M. Benayahu (1955), index; Soares, in: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch, 26 (1921), 195–229; A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Areẓot ha-Mizraḥ, 2 (1940), 52–82. contemporary: S. Strizower, Exotic Jewish Communities (1962), 48–87; World Jewish Congress, Jewish Communities of the World (1963), 40–41; S. Federbush (ed.), World Jewry Today (1959), 339–40. add. bibliography: J. Roland, The Jewish Communities of India (1998).


views updated Jun 11 2018

Bombay. An island off the west coast of India originally in Portuguese possession. It was given to Charles II in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. In 1673, the English East India Company moved its west-coast station there from Surat. Initially, the town grew quickly, reaching a population of 60,000 by 1677. But it stagnated through the 18th cent. under the shadow of the Maratha empire on the mainland. Following the defeat of the Maratha Peshwa in 1818, Bombay city became the capital of a large presidency embracing Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Sindh. Its port thrived on trade to China and the Far East and was served by a cosmopolitan commercial community. From the 1860s, it began to develop as an industrial centre. By 1901 its population had reached 850,000, making it the third largest city in the British empire after London and Calcutta.

David Anthony Washbrook


views updated May 11 2018