Overview and History
Mumbai is the world's fourth largest urban area; it was called Bombay up until 1996. It is the world's single most populated city by definition of proper city limits!
The name Mumbai comes from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. Mumbadevi is one incarnation (Mumba) of the Mother Goddess "Devi". Mumba was the patron of salt collectors and fishermen, who were the original inhabitants of the seven islands making up the city of Mumbai.
For the record, the word Bombay comes from the Portuguese name of this city, which originally was "bom bahia" or "good bay". Portugal conquered Bombay in 1508 AD, winning it from the Arab Sultanate of Gujerat. The Arabs had been calling it "Al Omanis." Portugal eventually gave away Bombay to Britain as a dowry in the marriage of a Portuguese princess, but that's all recent stuff.
Back in the beginning, the seven islands of Mumbai formed part of the kingdom of Ashoka, the famous Emperor of India from the time of 300 BC. Ashoka is among the world's greatest Emperors -- he basically ruled the entire Indian subcontinent. After successful military conquest of lands stretching from Pakistan to Bangladesh and everywhere south of them, he embraced Buddhism and devoted himself to spreading it through the practices of peace, tolerance and truth. His name means "without sorrow," which could be a reference to the avoidance of inevitable suffering by following the noble eight-fold path of the Buddha.
After the death of Emperor Ashoka the islands of modern-day Mumbai passed through the control of many Hindu rulers, a period lasting until 1343 AD. In that year, Mohammedans from Gujerat took control and held power for about two centuries. Finally the Portuguese arrived and linked what was then Bombay into the British Empire, which brings us almost to modern history.
English King Charles II took Bombay by arrangement in his marriage to Princess Catherine of Braganza in 1622 AD. Almost immediately the English East India company came to manage the islands with a lease that cost only 10 pounds per year! Admittedly this was worth a lot more in the seventeenth century than it is today, but it was still dirt-cheap in terms of real estate. The price shows how little value the British Empire placed on this location.
To their amazement and delight, the deep-water seaport of these seven islands exploded in commercial traffic and made a fortune, literally, for the East India Company. It was the British who morphed "Bom Bahia" into the name Bombay after the East India Company moved their headquarters there in 1687.
Early development of Bombay came as the British attracted Gujerati traders, Iranian ship-builders and Muslim and Hindi manufacturers, protecting them all with the Bombay Castle. The population of Mumbai grew steadily and saw the development of effective laws, roads and railways. The first railroad in India was a twenty one mile stretch of line connecting Bombay to Thana.
It wasn't all milk and honey however. As in many other countries around the world, the nineteenth century saw rebellion and revolution. The First War of Independence came in 1857. (The British called the "Sepoy Mutiny".) Its result was to return control of the islands to the British Crown, with accusations of mismanagement against the East India Company. By 1862 Bombay had a new British Governor and construction of the modern city began. Major city landmarks dating from this period of construction still remain in place, such as the Victoria Terminus railway station, the General Post Office and the Municipal Corporation Building.
India's independence from British rule came in 1947 after the All India Congress Committee was held in Bombay. It was at this meeting that Mahatma Ghandi issued the "Quit India" call and launched the national movement to peacefully evict Britain. The last British troops left through the "Gateway of India". Following independence, Bombay became the financial hub of India. Their stock exchange was the first in Asia, preceding the one in Tokyo by three years.
Cinema arrived in Bombay in 1896 when silent films at the Watson Hotel were unveiled. India's first film of their own production came out in 1913 and by the 1930's, social protest films were hugely influential in promoting awareness of injustice. The prevalence of social themes in popular Indian cinema probably went a long way to make a pre-existing support for the Quit India movement when it arrived after WWII.
The first International Film Festival of India was held in 1952 in Bombay and it made a tremendous impact on the world. From there, Indian cinema splashed through uncountable escapist fantasies, action thrillers and romantic musicals. A new wave of cinema broke in the mid-seventies as a response to these wildly fantastic popular films. The new wave movies were more realistic with believable characters and artistic sincerity. In the 1990's cinema began returning to the large-scale musicals of the early film boom.
The incredibly high output of Bombay's film studios earned it the title "Bollywood", as it became the second most prolific movie-making city in the world. The new generation of movie-goers are obsessed with popcorn of course, but traditionally the movie snack of choice is the samosa. Samosas are the delicious Indian cousin in the dumpling family, with relatives like ravioli, empanadas, spring rolls and even tacos. Finger-food family of the world, unite!
The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is Mumbai's main airport, it's wont eh "Aeronautical Excellence" and "Best Airport in Public-Private Partnership" awards recently.
With twenty million people in the city, you can bet that public transportation is Big Business. Look for one of the blue & white COOL CABS when you want a taxi, they're air conditioned and can be hired for a pre-negotiated fee. You can also hop on the bus; now be advised that you enter by the rear doors and exit in the front! Local trains are the best way into and out of the suburbs; they run on the West, Central and Harbour lines. You can get a daily, weekly or monthly bus pass if you're in town shooting a movie or something. Metro lines are currently in the proposal/ construction phase, keep an ear to the ground for more information.
People and Culture
People in Mumbai live the same fast-paced life that you will find in any other teeming metropolis, full of ancient & modern contrasts. Mumbaikars have their own dialect despite diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Wherever you look there will be music, art, dance and food overflowing with colors and smells to welcome you into the party that is life here.
Things to do, Recommendations
Here's the Flora Fountain, located in the center of the city. Although it's named after a Greek goddess, originally it was intended to be a monument to the British Governor Sir Baartle Frere. He was responsible for building the causeways which allowed land reclamation and the construction of modern Bombay's layout.
Before you leave town, try to get up high for a good look around. You can try the Rajabhai Tower at the University of Mumbai but we're not sure if they offer tours. Have fun!
Text by Steve Smith.