Mumbai: Nomeclature

Being a hardcore Mumbaiite, the first thing that would come to a person’s mind is trains. And a curious soul like me would often wonder the story behind all the names of various railway stations in and Mumbai and its suburbs. I was lucky enough to find some amazing stories behind the naming of a few of those 150 railway stations spread across the map of Mumbai. In the words of Perry Mason – Let us begin from the beginning.

Mumbai

The city derives its name from the temple of Koli Goddess Mumba or Maha Amba.Aai in Marathi means mother. Mumbai is built on an archipilago of seven islands: Bombay Island, Parel, Mazagaon, Mahim, Colaba, Worli, and Old Woman’s Island (also known as Little Colaba). And with this lets briefly visit the other parts of Mumbai and find out the story behind their names:

Andheri

Quite interestingly Wiki suggests that Andheri is quite ironically derived from the name of Udaygiri hills (Bright Mountain) that houses the Mahakali Caves complex! But I did not find any other concrete evidence

Antop Hill

Possibly named after a Hindu resident resident N. Antoba who possesed properties at Girgaum and Varli. Antoba (or Antob) got corrupted to Antop in English.

Crawford Market

This market was opened up by the then Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, Arthur Travers Crawford.

Bandra

Bandra is most probably derived from the Persian word Bandar for a port. In Marathi, the word for a port is Vandre, which explains why  many rickshaw-wallahs and bus conductors call it by this name i.e. Vandre.

Bhuleshwar

This place is named after a financer of a temple – Bhula/Bhola/Bhulya, a rich Koli, giving it the name Bhuleshwar or Bhla’s God

Byculla

It is said that one Sir J. Campbell coined this name from ‘bhaya’ & ‘khala’. If you are wondering then, ‘Bhaya’ is the Indian name for Cassia Fistula, or Amaltaas & Khala means ‘low ground’ in Marathi. One would wonder if the place was once abound with these trees.

Charni Road

According to one account, this name is derived from a then-present locality near the Thane railway station called Chendni. Many residents of Chendni migrated to an settled near Girgaum and thus the name Chendni Road which became Charni Roadlater. Another account traces the roots to ‘charon’, the grazing of cattle.

Chowpatty

This is now synonymous with any sea beach in Mumbai, though initially it was meant only for the Girgaum Chowpatty. Chowpatty is derived from ‘Chau-Pati’ or four creeks.

Chinchpokli

This is derived from ‘chinch’ (Marathi for tamarind) trees that grew in the area.

Churchgate

Named after one of the three gates leading to the old fort. Interestingly Churchgate was called ‘Pawan-chakki Gate’ also, possibly on aacount of a wind mill at the location sometime in the late 18th century.

Colaba

The fishermen are called ‘Koli’ in Marathi (Interestingly, Koli means a spider – one who weaves a web or net). They were one of the earliest residents of Mumbai. Colaba probably derives its name from ‘Kolbhat’ meaning the residence of Kolis. Or, it could have originated from ‘Kol-ab’ (ab meaninng water in Persian) i.e. dwelling of Kolis near water. The Persian word ‘Kalbeh’ meaning a neck of land jutting into the sea could also have been an etymological origin for the name Colaba.

Cuffe Parade

Named after Mr. T.W. Cuffe, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Corporation 1901-02. He suggested the raised footpath on the Cuffe Parade Road that distinguishes it from other roads in Mumbai.

Dadar

Dadar means ladder in Marathi. Bombay was a set of seven islands and the villageof Dadar would have been a ‘ladder’ leading to the main island of Bombay. No wonder, You still have sug a big crowd at the Dadar railway station even in these times.

Girgaum

This is probably derived from ‘giri’ and ‘gram’ from its location at the foot of the Malabar Hills.

Kalbadevi

This place is named after a Kali (Kalika Devi) temple which was relocated to this area from Mahim.

Kurla

Derives its name from ‘Kurli’, meaning crab, which were found in abundance in the marshy areas surrounding the area.

Mahim

This is derived from the word Mahi, meaning earth. Mahim is a corrupted form ofMahikavati, (again, derived from Mahi) the capital of the 13th century ruler Bhimdeo.

Malabar Hill

Possibly derived from the pilgrims from the ‘Malabar’ region (South India) who used to visit the temple (Wlakeshwar/Ban Ganga temple) atop this hill in large numbers.

Matunga

Matunga (a neighbourhood of Mahim) is supposedly the place where 13th century King Bhimdeo of Mahikavati (today’s Mahim), used to station his elephants (elephants are called matanga in Sanskrit).

Mulund

Historical records of Mulund date back to the time of Mauryan empire . In those days Mulund and nearby suburbs together were known as Muchchalind. Mulund is the earliest planned suburb of Mumbai city, a gridiron plan was designed by architects Crown & Carter in 1922, which extends from present day Mulund station to Paanch Rasta junction in Mulund (West). Mulund station falls on the central line of Mumbai.

Parel

This is another tree-named locality of Mumbai named after the Paral or Padel(Marathi for the ‘trumpet flower’)

Powai

The village of Powai is named after a 10th Century temple of Godess Padmavati located on the banks of the Powai Lake (exact location being within the premises of IIT Mumbai). The ancient name of the village was Poumvi. The word Powai is a corruption of the original name by the Portuguese. It is said that the village of Powai has been in existence for over 1000 years!

Prabhadevi

Named after the temple of Shakambhari Devi, the Patron goddess of King Bhimdeo. The temple, originally built in the 12th – 13th century, was destroyed by the Portuguese and rebuilt by one Shyam Nayak (a Pathre Prabhu) in 1715. Hence, the name Prabhadevi (possibly, derived from Prabhu).

Santacruz

The name comes from the Portuguese word meaning Holy Cross. This was the name of a church that existed on the site presently occupied by the Sacred Hearts Boys School.

Sion

Sion or शीव(as it is referred to in Marathi) is derived from the Marathi word शींव(Shinva) meaning boundary. The village of Sion was the boundary between theisland of Bombay and Salsette.

Thane

Throughout recorded history the city has left its mark under various names. The earliest evidence of Thane appears in the works of the Greek geographer, Ptolemy, who, in his writings ( 135 – 150 AD) refers to a place called Chersonesus, which, according to researches, is the area around Thane creek. It is also believed that this place was referred to as ‘Sri Sthanaka’,named after a temple of Lord Ganapati. Later it was baptized to ‘Cacabe de Tana’ by the Portuguese and then ‘Thana’ by the British.

Vasai

Probably one of the most important places in the history of Mumbai. It was known as Bassein during its long Portuguese rule. According to Wiki, the name “Vasai” appears on stone inscriptions in the Kanheri Cave writings and as “Vasya” in theKarla Cave inscriptions. Vasai is mentioned as “Bussy” in Ain-I-Akbari. Vasai was the seat of the various political powers such as the Peshwas, Mughals, Portuguese and the English.

The Treaty of Bassein was an important landmark in the history of British supremacy in India. Bajiro II, the late 18th – early 19th century Maratha ruler, was seeking refuge in Bassein after the Battle of Poona. To restore his Peshwaship, he had to agree to this Subsidiary Alliance that empowered the English to station 6,000 soldiers in the region against a payment of two and a half million ruppes to the East India Company as protection money. The treaty was intrumental in the downfall of the Maratha Empire.

Such historical importance, and I always thought of Vasai as just some far flung suburb of Mumbai.

Virar

Virar derives its name from the Eka Veera Devi temple, also called the Jivdani Mata. Legend has it that Pandavas visited the temple and carved out caves there (now called Pandav Dongri)

Ville Parle

Ville Parle was originally a set of two villages Idla (probably what is called Irla now in Ville Parle West, the house of the famous Alfa market) and Padla. Quite contrary to the belief that the suburb is named after the Parle Biscuit factory, it in fact is the other way round.

Worli

Worli is derived from Varli. Varli in Marathi means upper, relating to the northern location of the Varli islands with regards to Bombay.

The small stories like these are hidden in all the pockets of the city. Making one even more lovestruck by the city!

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