Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra.
Mumbai is India’s most dynamic, cosmopolitan and crowded city. The country’s financial centre and its busiest port, Mumbai is also home to the world’s biggest cinema industry, popularly known as Bollywood. Some 14 million people, from billionaire tycoons to homeless pavement dwellers, live in this teeming metropolis.
Consisting of seven swampy islands when the Portugese acquired it in 1534, Bombay (from the Portugese Bom Bahia or “Good Bay”) came to the British crown in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Finding little use for the islands, the British leased them to the East India Company, which quickly realised their potential as an excellent natural harbour in the Arabian Sea. The rise of Bombay began in the late 1600s, when the company relocated its headquarters here. By the 18th century, Bombay had become the major city and shipbuilding yard on the western coast, and by the 19th century, land reclamations had joined the islands into the narrow promontory that it is today. The promise of commercial opportunities lured communities of Gujaratis, Parsis and Baghdadi or Sephardic Jews to Bombay giving the city its vibrant multicultural identity. The city has reverted to its local name, Mumbai, from Mumba-Ai (Mother Mumbai), the eight-armed goddess worshipped by the Koli fishermen who were the islands’ original inhabitants.
Mumbai is a city of striking contrasts. Skyscrapers stand next to stately Victorian and Art Deco buildings, traditional bazaars adjoin glittering shopping malls, and opulent neighbourhoods are surrounded by sprawling slums. Swelling Mumbai’s population are migrants from all over the country who continue to flock to this “land of opportunities” in search for fame, fortune, or just a small part in a Bollywood movie.
Maximum City, the City of Dreams, India’s economic capital and melting pot – you can throw epithets and superlatives at Mumbai all day, but it refuses to be understood on a merely intellectual level. Like London and New York, it’s a restless human tapestry of cultures, religions, races, ways of surviving and thriving, which evokes palpable emotion, and whether you hate it or love it, you can’t stay unaffected.