History of Mumbai - Land and Real Estate (Chapter 1)

All, Realty, Project Management & Advisory

History of Mumbai - Land and Real Estate (Chapter 1)


The bustling metropolitan city of Mumbai is known as the Land of Dreams – a title that rings true in more ways than one. 

Forged from the murky depths of the Arabian Sea and the raging fires of the industrial revolution, the port city of Mumbai has changed hands multiple times over its long and storied history, defining and redefining itself as it went.

A cornucopia of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco, and modern contemporary architectural styles, Mumbai is an intricate tapestry of interwoven cultures, embellished with lasting remnants of its colonial past.

As part of our quest to foster a deeper connection with the land we call home, we explore the vibrant history of the nation’s financial capital.


The Kolis

The history of Mumbai can be traced back to the bloodlines of its earliest inhabitants. 

Residing and thriving in the hidden ‘Koliwadas’ of the city— a term that means “A home that opens to the sea”— the Kolis, an over 500-year old aboriginal fishing tribe, remain a lasting influence on the coastal waters of the region. 

Back in the days when Mumbai went by the title of Bombay— one of seven sister islands, including Colaba, Old Woman's Island, Bombay, Mazagaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim— the fishing tribe aided in the development of harbours and coastlines. 

The islands of Kolbhat (now Colaba), Palva Bunder (now Apollo Bunder), Dongri, Mazagaon, Naigaum and Worli were named by the Kolis, with the name ‘Mumbai’ being attributed to the deity of ‘Mumbadevi’, worshipped by the tribe.

Captured from the Silhara dynasty and surrendered to the Portuguese in the year 1534, the area took on the title of ‘Bhom Bhaia’, meaning, ‘the good bay’


East India Company

As the English made port in the early 17th century, the area, and its surrounding islands, were gifted as dowry to King Charles II in 1661.

Unimpressed by the prospect of ruling such a remote region, the King leased the islands to the East India Company for a sum of 10 pounds of gold a year.

In 1687, the Company chose the island of Bombay for their headquarters, upon discovering its natural harbour. 

The area, now known as Fort, is a thriving art and commercial district, deriving its name from the defensive fort, Fort George, built by the Company in the area surrounding Bombay Castle.



Bird's eye view of Mumbai 'Island City' peninsula

Courtesy: http://www.noel-murphy.com/rotch/2013/08/19/evolutionary-mumbai-making-of-the-island-city/


The Mercantile Exodus to Colonial Bombay

In the 17th Century, coinciding with the Company’s move to Bombay, the previously booming mercantile society of Surat went into decline, as its port silted over. 

Still, in the early stages of development, the Company encouraged the traders of Surat to set up their trade and merchant activities in the newly established and fortified British port.


133-year-old photo of American Singer’s Sewing Machine Company in Mumbai, taken in 1887 AD.

Courtesy: Twitter/ @GujaratHistory


With allowances being made for the establishment of homes and warehouses around the Fort area, a mass exodus of Surati traders to the virgin harbour of Bombay began.

Amongst the hordes were members of the Hindu community, the Ismaili Khoja and Dawoodi Bohra sects, as well as the colonially-favoured Parsi community, who were given licences to operate newly-built jetties along Ballard Pier.

It was also around this time that the Persian Gulf port of Basra in Iraq became a trading centre of the Company and Baghdadi Jews made their way to India, escaping the growing anti-Semitic sentiments of the region. 

While the great Indian freedom struggle saw traders depart the city en masse for their homelands, remnants of the Surati merchant lineages are still alive in the city of Mumbai today, visible in the intricate stone and wooden mansions constructed by the Parsi traders of Darukhana, at the Mazagaon Docks, and in the Gujarati and Marwari dominated business hub of Kalbadevi. 


The Great Fire of 1803

The segregation of this new Colonial Bombay within and around the Fort area was dictated by the perceived class hierarchy of English ideology, with colonial rulers and ‘elite’ Indians allocated residences within the fortified structure.

Smaller traders, white-collar workers and the working class were allotted residence outside the fort walls in largely congested areas, further divided on basis of class and regional identities.

This redistribution of the population onto newly-reclaimed land and within the Fort area paved the way for the establishment of Asia's first dry dock, the Bombay Dock, commissioned by the Wadia family of shipwrights and naval architects from Surat in 1750.

This concentration of rapid urbanization in the Fort area continued until a massive fire broke out in 1803. Attributed to the congestion of the area, the fire completely engulfed the fort, as well as the residential and commercial areas around it.


A view of Bombay from Malabar Point.

Courtesy: www.bl.uk (British Library)


Upon identifying the cause of the fire, the Company turned their attention towards improvements in urban development and land dispersal, leading to an expansion of the fortified town.

Land reclamation activities began in earnest. The task of joining the seven islands was completed by 1838, with the resulting landmass constituting what is now known as South Mumbai.

SILA Group, Mumbai’s most trusted Real Estate platform and project management consultant, was built upon the foundation of developing meaningful relationships, not only in our interactions with stakeholders and collaborators but also with the land we call our home.

Ensuring positive high-value addition to each interaction, we look at building respectful collaborations and partnerships that help strengthen all of our relationships by providing facility management and housekeeping services.

SILA also carries out project management in alibaug real estate with its luxury property – Inner Circle.


To be continued…


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