Marathi Mumbai city, capital of Maharashtra state, India, and the country’s financial and commercial centre and principal port on the Arabian Sea. It is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. Bombay is located on a site of ancient settlement and took its name from the local goddess Mumba—a form of Parvati, the consort of Siva (Shiva), one of the principal gods of Hinduism—whose temple once stood in what is now the southeastern section of the city.

Bombay has long been the centre of India’s cotton-textile industry, but its other manufacturing industries are now well-diversified and its commercial and financial institutions strong and vigorous. It suffers, however, from the chronic illsof most large, expanding industrial cities – air and water pollution, slums, and overcrowding. Expansion of Bombay is confined by its island location, and the city, which has one of the highest population densities in the world, seems ready to burst at its seams.


Gateway of India, Mumbai

Gateway of India, Mumbai

The Kolis, an aboriginal tribe of fishermen, were the earliest known inhabitants, though Paleolithic stone implements found at Kandivli, in Greater Bombay, indicate human occupation during the Stone Age. The area was known as Heptanesia to the ancient Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy and was a centre of maritime trade with Persia and Egypt in 1000 BC. It was part of Aˆoka’s empire in the 3rd century BC and was ruled in the 6th to 8th century AD by the Calukyas, who left their mark on Elephanta Island (Gharapuri). The Walkeswar Temple at Malabar Point was probably built during the rule of Milahara chiefs from the Konkan Coast (9th–13th century). Under the Yadavas of Devagiri (1187–1318) the settlement of Mahikavati (MahYm) on Bombay Island was founded in response to raids by the Khaljy dynasty of Hindustan in 1294. Descendants of these settlers are found in contemporary Bombay, and most of the place-names on the island date from this era. In 1348 Bombay was conquered by invading Muslim forces and became part of the kingdom of Gujarat.

A Portuguese attempt to conquer Mahym failed in 1507, but in 1534 Sultan Bahadur Shah, the ruler of Gujarat, ceded the island to the Portuguese. In 1661 it came under British control as part of the marriage settlement between King Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, sister of the king of Portugal. The crown ceded it to the East India Company in 1668.

In the beginning, compared to Calcutta and Madras, Bombay was not a great asset to the company but merely helped it keep a toehold on the west coast. On the mainland the Mughals, the Marathas, and the territorial princes in Gujarat were more powerful. Even British naval power was no match for the Mughals, Marathis, Portuguese, and Dutch. By the turn of the 19th century, external events helped stimulate the growth of the city. The decay of Mughal power in Delhi, the Mughal–Maratha rivalries, and the instability in Gujarat drove artisans and merchants to the islands for refuge, and Bombay began to grow. With the destruction of Maratha power, trade and communications to the mainland were established and those to Europe were extended; Bombay’s prosperity had begun. In 1857 the first spinning and weaving mill was established, and by 1860 Bombay had become the largest cotton market in India. The American Civil War (1861–65) and the resulting cutoff of cotton supplies to Britain caused a great trade boom in Bombay. But, with the end ofthe Civil War, cotton prices crashed and the bubble burst. By that time, however, the hinterland had been opened, and Bombay had become a strong centre of import trade.

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Bombay prospered, though slums and unsanitary conditions steadily multiplied with its increasing population. Plague broke out in 1896, and a City Improvement Trust was established to open new localities for settlement and to erect dwellings for the artisan classes. An ambitious scheme for the construction of a seawall to enclose an area of 1,300 acres (525 hectares) was proposed in 1918 but not finished until the completion of what is now Netaji Subhas Road from Nariman Point to Malab(r Point—the first two-way highway of its kind in India—after World War II. In the postwar years the development of residential quarters in suburban areas was begun, and the administration of Bombay city through a municipal corporation was extended to the suburbs of Greater Bombay. The city had served as the former capital of Bombay presidency and Bombay state, and it was made the capital of Maharashtra state in 1960.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bombay was a centre of both Indian nationalist and regional Maratha political activity. In 1885 the first session of the Indian National Congress (a focus of both pro-Indian and anti-British sentiment until independence) was held in the city, where subsequently, at its 1942 session, the Congress passed the “Quit India” resolution, which demanded complete independence for India. From 1956 until 1960 Bombay was the sceneof intense Maratha protests against the two-language (Marathi–Gujarati) makeup of Bombay state, a legacy of British imperialism, which led to the state’s partition into the modern states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.


Marine Drive, Mumbai

Marine Drive, Mumbai

The city of Bombay occupies a peninsular site originally composed of seven islets lying off the Konkan Coast of western India. Since the 17th century, drainage and reclamation projects, as well as the construction of causeways and breakwaters, have joined the islets to form a larger body known as Bombay Island. East of the island are the sheltered waters of Bombay Harbour. Bombay Island consists of a low-lying plain, one-fourth of which lies below sea level; the plain is flanked on the east and west by two parallel ridges of low hills. Colaba Point, the headland formed on the extreme south by the longer of these ridges, protects Bombay Harbour from the open sea. The western ridge terminates at Malab(r Hill, 180 feet (55 metres) above sea level, which is one of the highest points in Bombay. Between the two ridges lies the shallow expanse of Back Bay. On a slightly raised strip of land between the head of Back Bay and the harbour is the fort, the original nucleus around which the city grew; it is now chiefly occupied by public and commercial offices. From Back Bay, land slopes northward to the central plain. The extreme north of Bombay Island is occupied by a large salt marsh.

The old city covered about 26 square miles from Colaba in the south to Mahym and Sion in the north. In 1950 Bombay expanded northward with the inclusion of the large island of Salsette, which was joined to Bombay Island by a causeway.By 1957 a number of suburban municipal boroughs and some neighbouring villages were incorporated into Greater Bombay. Since then the Bombay metropolitan region has continued to expand. During the early 1970s, in an effort to relieve congestion, Salsette Island was linked with the mainland by a bridge across Thana Creek, the headwaters of Bombay Harbour.

The natural beauty of Bombay is unsurpassed by that of any city in the region. The entrance into Bombay Harbour from the sea discloses a magnificent panorama framed by the Western Ghats (mountains) on the mainland. The wide harbour, studded with islands and dotted with the white sails of innumerable small craft, affords secure shelter to ships, particularly when storms lash the coast. The largest of the harbour’s islands is Elephanta, which is famous for its 8th- and 9th-century cave temples.

Typical trees in the city include coconut palms, mango trees, and tamarinds, as well as banyan trees. Salsette Island was once the haunt of wild animals, such as tigers, leopards, jackals, and deer, but these are no longer found on the island. Animal life now consists of cows, oxen, sheep, goats, and other domestic species. Birdlife includes vultures, pigeons, cranes, and ducks.


The climate of Bombay is hot and humid. There are four seasons. Cold weather prevails from December to February, and hot weather from March to May. The rainy season, brought by monsoon winds from the southwest, lasts from June toSeptember and is followed by the post-monsoon season, lasting through October and November, when the weather is again hot. Mean monthly temperatures vary from 91° F (33° C) in May to 67° F (19° C) in January. Annual rainfall is 71 inches (1,800 millimetres), with an average of 24 inches falling in July alone.


Bombay’s literacy rate is much higher than that of the nation as a whole. Primary education is free and compulsory; it is the responsibility of the Municipal Corporation. Secondary education is provided by public and private schools supervisedby the state government. There are also public and private polytechnic institutes and institutions offering students a variety of degree and diploma courses in mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering. The Indian Institute of Technology, operated by the central government, is also located in the city. The University of Bombay, established in 1857, has some 130 constituent colleges and more than two dozen teaching departments. Several colleges in Goa are also affiliated with the university.

Bombay’s cultural life reflects its polyglot population. The city has a number of museums, libraries, literary and other cultural institutions, art galleries, and theatres. Perhaps no other city in India can boast of such a high degree of variety and quality in its cultural and entertainment facilities. Bombay is the stronghold of the Indian film industry and has an open-air theatre. Throughout the year Western and Indian music concerts and festivals and Indian dance shows are performed. The Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, housed in a building of Indo-Saracenic architecture, contains three main sections of art, archaeology, and natural history. Nearby is the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay’s first permanent art gallery and centre of cultural and educational activities.

Bombay is an important centre for the Indian printing industry and has a vigorous press. Newspapers are printed in English, Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Sindhi, and Urdu. Several monthlies, biweeklies, and weeklies are also published in thecity. The regional station of All-India Radio is centred in Bombay, and television services for the city began in 1972.

Krishnagiri Forest, a national park in the north of Greater Bombay, is a pleasant vacation resort located near the Knheri Caves, site of an ancient Buddhist university; the more than 100 caves contain gigantic Buddhist sculptures dating from the 2nd to 9th century AD. There are several public gardens, including the Jijamata Garden, which houses Bombay’s zoo in the city proper; the Baptista Garden, located on a water reservoir in Mazagaon; and the Pherozshah Mehta Gardens, the Kamala Nehru Park, and the Sloping Park—all on Malabar Hill.

Cricket matches, which are popular throughout India, are played at Brabourne and Wankhede stadiums. Athletic and cycling track events are held at the Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium. Juhu Beach is the most fashionable area for bathing and swimming.


Bombay’s growth since the 1940s has been steady if not phenomenal. At the turn of the 20th century its population was 850,000; in 1941 it had doubled to 1,695,000; and by 1981 it had grown to more than 8,200,000. The city’s birth rate is much lower than that of the nation because of family-planning programs, and the high overall growth rate is largely attributable to the influx of people in search of employment.

Bombay has one of the highest population densities in the world. In 1981 Greater Bombay had an average of more than 35,000 persons per square mile, and in much of the city’s older section at least three times that was recorded, though such areas as Girgaum, Bhendi Bazaar, and Bhuleswar, all near Back Bay, had lower population densities. Some parts of the inner city have nearly one million persons per square mile, perhaps the world’s highest density.
The city is truly cosmopolitan, and representatives of almost every religion and region of the world can be found in Bombay. Almost half of the population is Hindu; but the city also encompasses important communities of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Jews.

Almost every Indian language and many foreign languages are spoken. Marathi, the state language, is the dominant Indian language, followed by Gujarati and Hindi. Others include Bengali, Pashto, Arabic, Chinese, English, and Urdu


Mumbai is the economic hub and commercial and financial centre of India. Its economic composition in some respects demonstrates India’s peculiar fusion of the nuclear and cow-dung ages. The city contains the Indian Atomic Energy Commission’s establishment, which includes nuclear reactors and plutonium separators. In many areas of the city, however, traditional biogenic sources of fuel and energy are still in use.

The cotton-textile industry, through which the city prospered in the 19th century, is still important but is in relative decline. New growth industries – metals, chemicals, automobiles, electronics, engineering, and a host of ancillary enterprises – as well as urban industries such as food processing, paper making, printing, and publishing have been at the core of expansion of manufacturing employment.

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