Technically an average middle-class Maharashtraian locality is usually unobtrusive for those who are passingby while trying to reach your intended destination on time for a change. But if you actually make an attempt to explore the meandering alleys of Lalbaug, you would learn the story behind one of the greatest metropolitan cities – from the rise of textile mills, arrival of migrant Konkani population in the late 19th century, to the closure of mills in the 1980s and urbanization of chawls. Khaki Tours has been making a tremendous effort to help bringing out the heritage of the city that has been lost and forgotten. For example, did you know potraits of Shivaji has always been depicted as the great ruler of Maharashtra with white complexion, at par with the ones of our foreign invaders? However, Bharat pointed out this unusual portrait of Shivaji. Living up to Indian complexion it seems!
Popularly known as a the landmark for the Ganesh festival, Lalbaugh has a rich and steeped history. The ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal Lalbaug’ was founded in 1934, simply because of a vow (Navas) which was promised to Ganesha in exchange for a permanent place when the old market place at Peru Chawl was shut down in 1932. With the consistent effort and support of the local Councillor-Late Shri. Kuwarji Jethabhai Shah and the local residents, the landlord Rajabai Tayyabali agreed to give a plot for construction of a market. Since the wish was fulfilled, the fisherman and the traders established the Ganesh Idol on 12 September 1934.
The idol was dressed in the customary fashion of fisherman and, since that day forward, the Lord Ganesh of this locality has become known for fulfilling the wishes of devotees. The Mandal was formed in the era when the freedom struggle was at its peak. Every year, 50 fisherwomen dance in front of the procession to honor the pledge that was taken. Can you imagine a 18 foot idol passing through this lane? I kid you not, it’s true!
While the history of Lalbaugcha Raja (‘The King of Lalbaug’) can be traced through all the documented images, many people are unaware that the original representation of the wish-fulfilling God exists at the corner of the road in the form of a plain black stone. The stone stays in that place for all 354 days of the year, unadorned and simple, and yet still evokes the strength of faith and belief amidst the locals.
The distinct red color of the chilies as seen in the Spice Market can also be another reason for the unique name of Lalbaug, meaning the Red Garden. Well, that is one of my hypothetical opinions.
While you might get distracted with the beautiful and colorful sights of the market, people usually forget to pay attention to the actual entrance of the Lalbaug Market. The stone structure that you can see amidst heavy greenery, belongs to the Petit Mansion that used to be located once upon a time.
22 years ago before the Titanic sank, Gujarat has its own shipping tragedy when ‘Vijli’ a steamer carrying 746 people from Mandvi to Mumbai, sank some 20 km off Mangrol coast, killing all. Oh don’t worry, I did not exactly capture the Indian Titanic. But I did capture the house of the owner Haji Kasam. It is said that his generosity resulted in him being granted a boon of owning 99 ships by Fakir. It is said that Vijli was the 99th ship that actually suffered the unfortunate moment. Unfortunately the house is currently undergoing reconstruction, hopefully into the original structure and not into another gigantic monstrosity.
My father always complains about how loud the city has become and how impossible it is to travel within the city. Most of us Mumbaikars have adapted to the concept of measuring the distance with respect to traffic and time of the day. Most of our plans are often built accordingly. Amidst the bustle of honking vehicles and the cruel and blistering sun and the ever-growing real estate development that has converted the city into a urban jungle, it was surprising to come across this beautiful 3 acre organic farm, solely dedicated to vegetables like okra, spinach, etc. The farm is owned by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) and has been farmed by the Gedia family for the past 90 years.
It’s amazing to watch the spread of Hindu religion pantheon beyond the simplicity of human imagination. While Bhuleshwar definitely tapped the highest score when it comes to its maze of temples, Lalbaug possess one of the most unique Temple of Mahsoba. Mhasoba is widely worshipped in Maharashtra and in parts of Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, mainly to overcome epidemics.
The name of Hindu God Mahasoba is derived from the term Mahisa, which means buffalo. Surprisingly for a Buffalo God, there is no human or animal representation. Some scholars consider Mhasoba as an example of animist form and hence the unique representation by a piece of stone with no distinct form or figure. He is usually enshrined under a tree or in small square structure built on the outskirts of a village or near the boundary wall of farmlands.
Located further between the meandering lanes, and surrounded by Hindu residential complexes on all sides, the 14th century Sayyed Hazrat Lal Shah Dargah or the Lal Shah Dargah is believed to be responsible for the name of the area ‘Lalbaug’. It is believed to be one of the oldest shrines of the city. Perhaps its the remodelling, but look at the beautiful Aegian color contrast.
The Chand Shah dargah was demolished during the Bombay riots of 1992. The new structure is currently under the care of a Hindu family.
Parsi Colony of Nowroz Bag is one of the first Parsi colonies located outside of South Mumbai. Wadia, an Indian labour activist and descendant of the ship building Wadias, built a country residence over 1,000 square yards here.
The first time I heard about Fire temples was during my high school history lessons. Ever since, I have always been curious about the concept of fire temples – how it looks? what does it do? is there an actual fire in the temple? Can a hindu enter the premises just to stroll around? I finally had my first encounter with a fire temple, and though I wasn’t allowed to step inside the temple exactly, my curiosity has been mildly abated.
Fire worship originates from Iran mainly due to the presence of natural gas emissions and is thereby considered as the origin of the concept of fire temples. Technically, there are three grades of fires:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Atash Adaran, and
• Atash Dadgah.
These three grades of fires have given rise to three principle (and somewhat arbitrary) grades of temples:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Agiary (in India) or Atashkadeh (in Iran), and
• Darbe Meher/Dar-e-Mehr.
Agiaries and Atashkadeh do not require a high priest and can be attended by Mobeds. The M.G. Wadia Fire temple or the Lalbaug Agiari is the first fire temple which has been built outside the Fort area of Mumbai. Unfortunately, a huge monstrosity of an apartment building towers above the fire temple, swallowing its simple structural integrity and simplicity.
The first homegrown safe was designed in the lanes of Lalbaug. Can you imagine the paradigm shift from religion to science? Godrej Group, established in year 1897 by the brothers Ardeshir Godrej and Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej, entered in security equipment & soaps segment and is now a $1.875 billion conglomerate. No one can imagine that such a magnificence inheritance started behind a garage.
Ardeshir Godrej was a great fan of Gandhi. The nationlistic movement that was gaining momentum in India at that point of time, inspired Mr. Godrej to develop a product that would be a worthy India-made competitor that could displace the foreign brands that were so prevalent in the market. He decided to manufacture locks using modern techniques and machines. His successful vision led to the development of India’s first home-grown safe in 1902. The success of the product was so grand well-received, the company was called upon to provide safes for the Queen of England herself.
Let there be light! Said some great person, and behold we have lights now. But it didn’t exactly start off like that for India. The first residential has light can be credited to Seth Ardeshir Cursetjee Wadia who installed a plant for producing coal gas at his residence in 1833. Seeing the ingenuity, the Governor of Bombay John Fitz Gibbon proposed the installment of gas streetlights. It took 10 more years for the idea to get the requisite approval. Though instead of the proposed gas lights, kerosene lamps were installed.
It was the lifestyle change of another Parsi in 1842, Framji Cawasji Banaji, who started the official instalment of the first gas lamps on Bombay roads in 1865. Bhendi Bazar, Esplanade Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) and Churchgate Street (now Veer Nariman Road) were the first roads that were chosen to be lit up. Later the Queen’s necklace on the Marine Drive was also lit up with gas lamps
Coal and wood fires for cooking gave way to piped gas supplied by the Bombay Gas Company with its head offices on Hornby Road and the gas works at Lal Baugh. Once a month or so the Gas Company employees would come to eject the water build-up in the underground gas pipes by means of a hand pump. The Company finally halted all its operations in the 1960s due to air pollution problems it generated in the Parel-Lal Baugh area.
Such a diverse and varied history of Lalbaug, but the narrow lanes have always limited and straggling movement. The number of redevelopments and upcoming high-towers paint a picture that is completely opposite of the rich history.
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