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Bombay has grown from seven small fishing islands into India’s Leading business and financial metropolis. Had it not been for the British this perhaps would never have happened.

Bombay or Mumbai- What’s in a Name?

Bombay or Mumbai was never a planned city. Its origins were in a cluster of small islands close to western coast of India. It grew over the centuries from an original H shaped island along with six other small fishing islands into India’s busiest metropolis and financial center. The original inhabitants were fisher-folk and the islands were self sufficient. They grew rice and coconuts and the men fished in the Arabian Sea for pomfret, crabs and other delicacies. They prayed at the temple of their benevolent Goddess, Mumbadevi, after whom their little fishing village was named, Mumbai

The islands to the south were Colaba and Old Woman’s island, which was a corruption of the original name Al Omani, from where traders sailed to Oman. The other islands were Mazgaon, Worli, Salsette and Parel. The islands were first colonized by the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th Century. They realized the potential of its natural harbor and called this little haven Bom Bahia or the good bay. They fortified the islands and areas to the north of them against marauding Arabs. Their main purpose of occupying the region, however, was to preach and convert the locals into Catholics. The islands remained in the control of the Portuguese until they were given in dowry to King Charles the Second of England when he wed Catherine Braganza of Portugal in 1650.

Bombay grew and developed with the advent of the British and their East India Company. It became an important trading post and they encouraged British and Indian merchants to settle here. They built a fort on the eastern side of the main island of Bombay, the remnants of which exist even today. More than the physical structure of the fort, the names linger; the area is still referred to as Fort. Its three main gates may have disappeared long ago but the names of the roads leading out of them are still in use, namely Apollo, Churchgate and Bazaargate.

The city grew along with the new inhabitants. Each new community settled in its own specific area and the architecture of that area developed accordingly. The city gradually developed many cities within, each with their own community, trade and style of living. This was the origin of the cosmopolitan nature of Bombay, quite unlike the rest of India, a characteristic that is in evidence even today.

It became a leading cotton trading area and a busy port. People practiced different religions, spoke different languages and plied different trades. They all lived in harmony, giving much back to the city that had helped them proper.

In the early days the smaller islands were unconnected and were still fairly rural. As the city grew tracts of land were reclaimed from the sea and roads or vellards were built to connect the islands. The southern most island Colaba, was quite uninhabited initially.

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