Mahim

Name-Changing Anyone?
The different epithets that Mahim has had:
Bimbsthan – Prabhavati – Mahikawati – Maijim – Mahim

Map of Ancient Mahim

The former island of Mahim has a romantic and chequered history. It is one of the seven islands that originally made up Mumbai.

Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, and often called the city of dreams, is located on the west coast of India, in the state of Maharashtra. Mumbai is to India, what New York is to the U.S of A, or what London is to Great Britain.

The seven islands which together were called Bom Baia by the Portuguese meaning Good Bay were:

Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Worli, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion.

This group of islands, which have since been joined together by a series of reclamations, formed part of the kingdom of Ashoka, the Mighty Emperor of India who reigned from 273 B.C to 232 B.C. After him the island was ruled by several Hindu rulers till the 14th century (A.D).

Mahim, or Mahikawati as it was known, was the capital of Raja Bhimdev, who reigned over the region in the 13th century. Raja Bhimdev’s origins are not clearly known. He may have come from Anahilwada-Patan in Gujarat or from the dynasty of Yadavs in Deogiri. He built a palace and a court of justice in Prabhadevi, as well as the first Babulnath temple.

During his reign he brought various communities to these islands, such as the Pathare Prabhus (the first settlers), Palshis, Pachkalshis, Bhandaris, Vadvals, Brahmins, etc. The Bhandaris were originally toddy tappers; the Vadvals were gardeners. He also introduced many fruit-bearing trees, including coconut palms to the island. Today, we cannot think of Mumbai’s landscape without its swaying coconut palms.

In 1343, this island was possessed by the Mohammedans of Gujarat. It was in their reign that the old Mahim mosque was built. Dargah of Makhtum Fakir Ali Paru was built here in 1431.

In 1543, the Portuguese then took possession of the island of Bombay by force of arms. By then they were already in possession of other trading centres on the west coast such as Panjim (in Goa) and Daman & Diu. They built several churches; the St. Andrew’s Church in the suburb of Bandra has the distinctive Portuguese-style facade which is very much visible even today.

A hundred and twenty-eight years after the Portuguese captured the island, it passed into the hands of, who else, but the British. This tale too is not without its romance.

In 1662, these islands were given to the English King, Charles the II, as a part of the wedding dowry for the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza.

In 1668, Bombay was acquired by the English East India Company, on lease from the crown, for the annual sum of 10 pounds in gold (!). The British built the Mahim Fort here in order to protect themselves from the Portuguese.

This heritage structure has perhaps not been given its due, for today it stands virtually in ruins – a sad testimony to our times.

Anyway, continuing with our historical journey, in the 1670s, a convent of Our Lady of Salvation was built, and a Franciscan church constructed in what is now Dadar.

The East India Company shifted its headquarters from Surat to “Bombay” (corrupted by the British from “Bom Baia”) in 1687. Thus Mumbai (from “Mumbadevi”-the goddess of the fisher-folk), acquired even more importance as a trading centre – it became the gateway to India, which of course was called the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. The Causeway connecting Mahim and Bandra (corrupted from “Bunder” meaning port) was completed in 1845 at a total cost of Rs.1,57,000 donated entirely by Lady Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, wife of the first baronet Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy with a stipulation that no toll would be charged to citizens for its use by the government.

In 1847, a small group of Scottish missionaries decided to start a new school. Charitable, god-fearing and humble, they stayed in the background working unobtrusively and leaving no trace of their names. Nevertheless, they paved the way for a glorious future for Bombay Scottish School. On 28th February 1878, the construction of the Bombay Scottish Orphanage was completed at a cost of Rs 84,015 and opened by his Excellency, the Hon. Sir Richard Temple Bart, G.C.S.I, the then Governor and President in Council.

In 1913, the Bombay Municipal Corporation opened up Mahim for development as a suburb. This was done by building three major north-south access roads, now called the Western Express highway, N. M. Joshi Marg, and Tulsi Pipe Road. And so to now, circa 2000 A.D. For such a small area, Mahim houses several places of worship. It boasts of temples, churches, mosques, and a Gurudwara – in short, something for every person of every religion. It is also in close proximity to the remarkable Maharashtra Nature Park. This park has been created out of a garbage dump, and houses a bird sanctuary. It houses 12,500 varieties of plants and several rare birds including flamingos.

With several restaurants, businesses, stores and places of entertainment, Mahim can truly be likened to a buzzing beehive.

And today, Mahim is well connected with rest of Mumbai by Western railway, Harbour railway and Mahim Bus Depot, which has buses travelling to the far south Mumbai, Colaba and also to far north Mumbai, Dahisar.

Mahim Fort

For a large part of this last millennium, barring the last 55 years, India had many rulers. Be it the Mughals, Portuguese, or British, there has been no shortage of folks who wanted to rule this part of the world – after all, India was once called the land of milk and honey.

The city of Mumbai has several historic monuments and heritage sites, each telling its own tale. The Mahim Durgah, the Portuguese Church, or for that matter the Gateway of India, are all legacies of the ruler of that era.

Of these, the Mahim Fort is a relic from the British Raj. This fort is actually a fortress – a part of the larger “Bombay Castle” or St. George’s Castle. This castle was an important base during the time of the British Empire, but now all that remains are a few ramparts scattered about the city.

The Mahim Fort has cousins in Sion, Worli, Shivri and Mazgaon. The fort was built by the then Governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier, in the year 1669, in order to strengthen British defences. He also made Bombay more populous by attracting Gujarati traders, Parsi shipbuilders, and Muslim and Hindu manufacturers from the mainland.

A man named Thomas Grantham then strengthened the fort’s ramparts in 1684. In the year 1772, 111 years after Bombay was taken from them, the Portuguese attempted to attack this fort. The British replied with cannonballs and thunder. In fact, the Bandra church also bore the brunt of their fire. By all historical accounts, there were apparently 100 soldiers and 30 cannons in the Mahim Fort at that time.

It is therefore anti-climactic that today, in all probability, all one can find are encroachers and hutments in the area. It is sad that a heritage site with such a glorious past, has been allowed to run to seed. The fort which was once visible from the Mahim Causeway and Bandra Reclamation, is barely visible now. The Mahim Fort needs to be restored and given the status of heritage structure.

A case of Mahim Fort, Mahim, Mumbai, submitted by Swetal Kanwelau of the Kamala Raheja Institute of Architecture & Environmental Studies, Mumbai, won the second prize at the Second IAHH International Student Design Competition. The results were announced in February 2004. The competition was aimed at investigating the issue of urban decay and degradation to evolve a more enlightened approach to planning, design and management of revitalisation, restructuring, redesign, conservation and redevelopment of such urban areas.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in its budget proposal for 2005-2006 has intended to pay special attention to Mahim Fort.

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