The largely Gujarati Viashnav precinct of Bhuleshwar owes its name to a shrine – not a Gujarati one, but the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin community’s Shiva temple built more than 300 years ago. The present temple is about 200 years old and is known for the swayambhu (self-formed) lingam which is believed to owe its origin to a meteorite. As a land trapped between three tanks – CP Tank, The Mumbadevi Tank and the Bhatia Bhagirathi Tank (all of which are lost currently), Bhuleshwar is more than its offer of temple run. But for the sake of this post, lets focus on the area around CP Tank.
CP Tank aka Cowasjee Patel Tank was built in 1776 by a Parsee philanthropist Cowasjee Patel with the purpose of providing safe drinking water to the locals in Girgaon. The tank was later filled up in order to create a traffic island and stem the mosquito outbreak that was plaguing the city of Mumbai. Is the Tank truly lost? Typical to the modern day idiom that ‘Nothing is truly lost. Definitely not on internet’, the ugly building under construction/demolition marks the original site of the Tank.
An interesting association of Bhuleshwar will be with its neighbouring area, Pydhonie, which etymologically derives its name from the Marathi word ‘Py’ which means feet, and ‘dhone’ which means to wash. Hence the name loosely translates to wash your feet before entering the city. The story goes on to state the location of Pydhonie and Bhuleshwar used to be nothing more than a marshland. As per the need and requirement, the land was reclaimed from the sea. Since people started venturing further into this land, hence as per Indian custom of washing feet before entering your home. Considering the story of feet washing, the irony does hit you hard when you hear the story of how in 1929, Bhimrao Ambedkar led a protest at Bhuleshwar temple to ensure entry for Dalits (before his famous protest at Nashik’s Kalaram temple in 1930). The temple opened its doors to all comunities in 1932.
I usually tend to keep a distance from all animals; nothing to be scared or ashamed about. It’s just something that I am not fond of. So imagine when you are walking down a street visiting one temple another, noting down some forgotten historical snippet and clicking pictures and you come across an animal shelter named as Bombay Parsee Panjrapole which was built in 1834 by Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Amichand Shah after the Britishers passed a shoot-at-sight order to control the nuisance of stray dogs and pigs on Bombay roads. I am not that much of an extremist towards my ambivalence towards animals, but it was nice to see a 172-year-old shelter still functional, providing home to nearly 2000 cows, and other animals. Incidentally, the milk thus produced is distributed across all the temples located within the precinct of Bhuleshwar.
From animal refugee centre, next stop is the human refugee centre. Ok, refugee is a strong word here in this context. Built in the early-20th century, along the busy Vithalbhai Patel Road in the market areas of Bhuleshwar area, the haveli-style Sukhanand Dharmashala offers cheap shelter to individuals who used to venture into the promiseland of Mumbai for medical reasons. Architects and heritage enthusiasts identify the building as Grade III “Baroque revival grey stone” building designed in the “hybrid Colonial style of architecture”. The façade uses a combination of elements – semi-circular arches, segmental, round and rectangular fenestrations as well as a colonnaded projecting balcony supported by carved stone brackets as the showpiece of the main façade, over the grand entrance archway. The entrance archway is flanked on either side by decorative columns and decorative carvings within the spandrels of the arch.
Walking through the narrow lanes while avoiding brushing up or bumping into random people, one could appreciate how history speaks more through the impressions that are left behind. The pioneer of hindi publication, Hindi Granth Karyalay, established in 1912 is one of such example. Don’t be fooled by the faded signpost. Established by Pandit Nathuram Premi in 1912, Hindi Granth Karyalay is the oldest bookstore in Mumbai specializing in books dealing and pertaining to Jainology and Indology. The name may represent Hindi, but don’t you worry fellow bookworms! It has English and other languages for your perusal as well. In fact, the first publication was a Hindi translation of John Stuart Mill’s Liberty, titled Svādhīnatā translated by Pandit Mahaviraprasad Dvivedi.
This ground-plus-one structure has a footprint that is larger than the bookstore that also published Premchand’s Godaan. The Gothic facade of this building has Western ornamentation such as trefoils (a raised outline of a three-lobed leaf) and finials (slender, carved projections crowning the apices of its roofs). Numerous brackets at doorways boasts of animal motifs, while the lion and cow etched within the arch of Hira Baug, a Jain dharamshala, provides a glimpse to the Jain philosophy of ‘live and let live’.
Also Known as Hirachand Gomanji Dharmashala, the building was built-in 1905 at a cost of 125,000. However, what is more striking about this place is the fact that Hira baug is also the place where Mahatma Gandhi, known at that time as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, gave his first public speech in a ornate hall on January 1915 after his return to India from South Africa. Stepping inside the complex resonates strongly with the impression that you are standing at the very site where some of the greatest figures from Indian history stood and faught for my very privilege of exploring this city so blatantly. Beyond its role in the pages of history, planning of Hirabaug feels like a ode to human sense – the stone-paved courtyard hardly admits the din of traffic outside; the overall orientation of the premise designed to welcome the south-west wind, which sweeps through the building through louvered ventilators.
As chawls and towers coexist on the narrow roads where on one side, the placards of road names talks about obscure history, sometimes its just the name of a building. For instance, Khadilkar Marg played an important role in history by acting as a hosting location of Mahatma Gandhi during his first stint as a lawyer in the city. This was way before he made an appearance in Hirabaug. Lokmanya Tilak began the first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav from Keshavji Naik Chawl on this road. Even actress Durga Khote who is known as the first educated woman to enter the world of Indian cinema, has spent a quality of her childhood within these lanes.
There is another noteworthy association that is rarely remarked upon. The road houses the office of one of the oldest newspapers in the city, Navakal, and is named after the newspaper’s founder Krushnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar. Khadilkar was a reformist and a playwright. In the beginning of his career, Khadilkar wrote prose-plays, but achieved “even greater recognition” with plays like Svayamvara and Khichak Vadh. In fact, while the main plotline of Khichak Vadh was based on an episode of Mahabharata where Khichak was killed by Bhima for his attempt to molest Draupadi, theentire play was said to be a symbolism directed towards British rule. This molestation is used as a metaphor for the policies of the British colonial government in India. Kichak represented Lord Curzon: Viceroy to the King, just as Kichak was minister to King Virat; Draupadi represented India and Bhima represented an extremist nationalist, in contrast to Yudhishtar, standing for moderate nationalism. The Press Act of 1910 was enforced in order to spread the “lessons of Khichak Vadh” that were seen as seditious acts against the British government.
Khadilkar was often referred as “a prominent lieutenant of Lokmanya Tilak”. He was editor of Kesari, Lokmanya and Navakal. There is an unfounded story that mentions Khadilkar as a part of plot that envisioned the invasion of India by the king of Nepal. This invasion was to spark an uprising within the country in his support, so that India would be one sovereign Hindu state under the King of Nepal. Tilak’s trusted lieutenants Vasukaka Joshi and Khadilkar, entered Nepal, “where they set up a tile factory, as a respectale front for an arms and amunitions plant designed to supply to the invading Nepalese army.” While the remaining stories has many more twists and conspiracies, the plot never “even approached fruition”.
Khadilkar Marg is also home to what is perhaps one of the largest markets for invitation cards, with more than 200 shops selling them. These shops mushroomed in the area, which housed many printing presses, in the 1960s. Another such unremarkable lane in the maze of CP Tank leads to a line-up of three feet heighted shops, popularly referred to as the Liliput of Mumbai, which are located below the ground-level while the accommodation/ residential facilties are conveniently located on top of the shops itself. Talk about work-from-home life made simpler. The shops were built before the roads even came into existence.
Stopping for a quick coffee break brings you face-to-face with another forgotten landmark of the city. The greyish-brown art deco building founded in the mid-1850s, before the country’s stock exchange came into existence in 1875. Formally called the East India Cotton Association, the Cotton Exchange building at Kalbadevi came up in 1938, and stands as a witness to the Cotton boom that played a key role in setting up the history and context of Mumbai. Interestingly, the game of Matka (Satta) gambling involved betting on the opening and closing rates of cotton as transmitted to the Bombay Cotton Exchange from the New York Cotton Exchange, via teleprinters.
The most interesting part of the building is the bas relief panel located on the curvilinear facade, hidden behind the big ugly black board which shows the story of cotton – how cotton is grown, harvested, transported, transformed, and exported. Trading at the Cotton Exchange stopped years ago and post the textile mill strikes in 1981 and their subsequent closure, the cotton trade was virtually wiped out in Mumbai.
Talking about cotton trading invariably opens up avenue for silk route. Silk has been part of Indian culture ever since it was brought to the Indian Subcontinent in 2500 BC by Chinese traders. It wasn’t part of the first Silk Road trading route, but it was included in the route, pioneered by the Ming Dynasty. This route went from Canton down the China sea, across the Bay of Bengal and then up the Red Sea. The area around Mumbai, especially the Sadashiv lane which used to go by an alternative moniker ‘Resham gali‘ or ‘silk street’ , was a trade stop. This quirky connection to China also sets up the scene for the year 1919 which was a turning point in Indian history. A very remote connection, in my opinion!
With the end of First World War, there was rising tide of unrest and nationalism seen within colonial India. And thus, one of the most hated legislative act was passed by the British administration on 18th March 1919 – Anarchial and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, or commonly known as the Rowlatt Act. The ‘Black Act’ was a wartime legislation by Sidney Rowlatt that was modeled on the Defence of India Act 1915, and imposed on Indians during peacetime. As per the enactment of this law, the police were allowed ‘extraordinary powers’ and ’emergency measures’ against the people who were considered as a threat to national security while Britain was fighting a war. The aftermath of this was a spark of movements that were crucial to Indian history – Rowlatt Satyagraha was the first national-level movement by Gandhi, Arrest of Congress leaders Dr Saifuddin Kichlu and Dr Satyapal, and the most horrific Jaliawala Bagh massacre that took place in April 1919.
On 4th April 1919, the poster of the ‘Black Sunday’ appeared in The Bombay Chronicle. Directions to China Baug (and the poster both presumably drafted by Gandhi) were also given to the demonstrators to observe 6th April as a day to commence Satyagraha along with prayers and mourning for the Delhi tragedy. Early morning of 6th April, Gandhi was said to have walked from Mani Bhavan to Chowpatty beach to observe Black Sunday by taking bath in the sea, offering prayers and observing the fast. Every man, woman and children who attended the mass gathering were said to have worn black clothes as a sign of protest. Interesting fact – There is a popular belief about Chowpatty beach exclusively that says Shivkar Talpade flew an unmanned airplane in 1895 over the beach, eight years prior to the Wright Brothers. Bollywood, infact, released the movie Hawaizaada in 2015 based on the life of Talpade.
Whoever said “Men may come and men may go but legends go on forever” was completely right. There are men who remain to live and influence the world in their own way. Some live through their actions and take a prominent part in the annals of history. Only a handful of people exist who contribute so much to a certain field that forgetting them would mean losing an entire subject. There are many such forgotten stories that have shaped the history of Bombay. Such is the unknown story of Dhondo Keshav Karve, popularly known as Maharishi Karve, the man who pioneered women empowerment in India. The very man who led a discussion with one of the leading minds, Einstein during the International Conference of Education which was held in 1929 in Berlin. Bharat Ratna may have become a joke now, but honouring the man in 1958 was truly deserving.
The social reformer and educator established the widow Marriage Association in 1893 and in the same year, he shocked everyone after he opted to marry a widow himself, after the death of his first wife. He was ostracised for his decision at a great personal cost. Despite such adversity, he went on to found an educational institution, Hindu Widows Home, in 1896, in Poona to help widows support themselves, in case they were unable to remarry. Noting the actions of Christian missionaries, he propagated the idea of volunteering by establishing the Institution for Selfless Service.
In 1915, after reading a pamphlet on a Japanese women’s university, he came up with the idea for an exclusive Women’s University in India. It would have three main ambitions – to educate women and develop their personality, to enable them to play a better role as mothers and wives and to make them active citizens for nation building. The dream wouldn’t have come to fruition if it wasn’t for Sri Vithaldas Thackersey, a wealthy philanthropist of Mumbai who went on to donate 15 lakh rupees. At the time of its foundation in 1916, the institution had only five students, but today it has over 70,000 students in 26 colleges, three secondary schools for girls and 38 university departments, including art, management, technology, humanities and home science. The university has now been renamed to Smt. Nathibhai Damodardas Thackersey Women’s University, in honour of Vithaldas mother.
The education reform continues with Reverend John Wilson, a Scottish missionary and his wife Margaret Bayne who came to Bombay as Christian missionaries with the support of the Church of Scotland. He believed that to truly instill change within people, especially when it comes to religion, it is imperative to immerse within the local culture. Soon after their arrival in Mumbai in February 1829, Wilson and his wife Margaret Wilson began studying the local language of Marathi. Determined to set up educational institutions for the young in Bombay, John first established an English school (named as Ambroli English School) in 1832, it later saw several changes of sites and names, eventually being called the Wilson School. The collegiate section, from which Wilson College evolved, came about in 1836. With this school and Marathi being the chief medium of instruction and learning, John was able to introduce European education, examinations and textbooks to the people of the city. The idea was to ensure that the natives of the city are trained to translate the Holy Bible especially the Old Testament for their benefit.
John Wilson one of the founders of Bombay University, along with the Hon. Jugonnath Sunkersett and Dr. Bhau Daji Lad. As a passionate advocate for the preservation of Indian historical monuments, he was the Honorary President of what was then the Asiatic Society of Bombay. When the Bombay Cave Temple Commission was established in 1848, he was elected the first president. He was an important lobbyist for the establishment of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1861. He is also known to establish the Ambroli Church in 1831. The unusual name derives from Ambroli House chapel that stood on the site before the church’s construction in 1831. Ambroli refers to the Gujarati hometown of the migrants who settled in Mumbai. Wilson’s educational mission was planned at this site, which led to the founding of Wilson College and Wilson High School. The first service was held here on 20 February 1832 with 11 members and in three languages: Hindustani, Marathi and English. The church scripture is said to be written in Marathi.
Working on the religious tangent, let’s introduce another notable figure would be Dr Pandurang Vaman Kane. Bharatratna MahaMahopadhya (an honor given to Indian scholars since ancient times) Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane is the forefront expert in the subject of Indology. Despite being a prominent lawyer with Bombay High court, he exhibited a deep understanding of the dharma-shastras and matters related to Indian heritage. He was a master of the Sanskrit language and of his own interest, he had read the Vedas, Upaniṣads, the Epics, the Purāṇas, and other traditional works. He received India’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna in 1963 for his scholarly work that spanned more than 40 years of active academic research that resulted in 6,500 pages of History of Dharmaśāstra. The five-volume tome on the codification of conduct through religious and civil law in ancient and medieval India, published between 1930 and 1962 is a great source of reference for all debates about theology both for Western and Indian scholars.
On another weirdly shared tangent, did you know that the most common “fear” often exhibited by many Indian parents is based on the fact that the most common manifestation of their child’s disobedience would result in elopement and shame to the family name. This fear has strangely led to the misconception of Arya Samaj as an epicenter for all elopements. But the reality is far from the lies that are prevalent. History of Arya Samaj dates back to 1875 when Mula Shankar, a Gujarati Brahmin, popularly known as Swami Dayananda Saraswati set up the headqaurters within the busy lanes of Girgaon. There were two basic tenets behind the founding of Arya Samaj – Infallible authority of the Vedas and Monotheism.
The primary mission of the Arya Samaj is to eradicate – Ignorance (Agyan), Indigence or Poverty (Abhav), and Injustice (Anayay) from this earth. This mission is enshrined in the ten Principles. The four Vedas are the Source of Guidance since they did not propagate caste discrimantion and untouchability based on birth. Just before his death in 1882, two controversial movements were started, the Cow Protection movement, and the Shuddi or Reconversion programme. Even today, these principles are followed in Arya Samaj.
In 1892, the sect was split into Gurukul Group (conservative wing) headed by Swami Shraddhanand and the College group (radical wing) headed by Lala Hansraj. While the Gurukul group of educational wing founded their headquarters in Haridwar, the radical wing founded DAV College which promoted both English and Vedic education. Today, the movement has a presence in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia,, Canada, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, The Netherlands, Guyana, Trinidad, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Mauritius, Armenia etc.
Such tall and impressive stories isn’t it? I came across a saying recently that states “I’m small. I’m petite. But I’m a bit of a fighter inside.” For some reason, this quote is a perfect to the describe the next person – first Baronet Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit. The Petit surname is not traditionally Parsi and had come about in Sir Dinshaw’s great-grandfather’s time during the 18th century who used to work as a shipping clerk and interpreter for the British East India Company. French merchants who dealt with the lively, short Parsi clerk called him “le petit Parsi”. Difficult to say if this was the reason why the first Baronet of the Petit family went on to establish a gymnasium in 1891. Nevertheless, he stepped beyond the shadows of his ancestors to become the founder of the first textile mills in Mumbai – ‘Manockji Petit Spinning & Weaving Mills’.
He was also known as the philanthropist who aided the Zoroastrians of Iran who were persecuted by the Qajars. He contributed more than a lakh for the construction of a hospital for women and children as an extension of the Jamsetji Jijibhoy Hospital; founded a patho-bacteriological laboratory in connection with the Parel Veterinary College, subscribed handsomely towards the foundation of a gymnastic institution; and also presented the Government with the property known as the Hydraulic Press, valued at Rs. 3 lakhs, in exchange for the Elphinstone College buildings which were converted into the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute. The Petit Dispensary located adjacent to the Petit gym is another such contribution to Mumbai suburban which houses the office of Shree Dhootapapeshwar Ayurvedic Research Foundation.
Years prior to 1872, Late Vaidyaraj Shri. Krushnashastri Puranik (1839 – 1905) sowed the seeds of Ayurved aushadhi nirman at Panvel, near Mumbai. With great dynamism and a vision at play, alongwith his son Late Vaidyaraj Shri. Vishnushastri Puranik (1864 – 1914), this ignition led to the establishment of Shree Dhootapapeshwar Aryaushadhi Karkhana, a premier institute that manufactures extremely efficacious medicines, standardise the formulae to the satisfaction of Ayurved Vaidyas, scale-up to industrial scale and nation-wide distribution. Even today, Shree Dhootapapeshwar Limited and its in-house quality norms christened as Shree Dhootapapeshwar Standards (SDS) is well accepted as benchmark quality. SDS means a warranty for Efficacious, Shastrashuddha, Standardised and Safe Ayurved medicines.
Beyond their contribution to Indian economics and various philanthropist acitivities, the Petit family has a very interesting family tree especially when it comes to India’s political and social set-up. Ratanbai Petit, was the only daughter of businessman Sir Dinshaw Petit, the second baronet of Petit. Her brother, Fali who later became Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the third Baronet, married Sylla Tata thus joining the Tata family, one of India’s largest business conglomerates. The nationalist daughter of the 2nd Baronet was known within Bombay’s society as the “The Flower of Bombay”. But a more popular moniker of hers would be Ruttie Jinnah, the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, an important figure in the creation of Pakistan and the country’s founder. Her daughter Dina Wadia married Bombay Dyeing chairman Neville Wadia, of the Wadia family.
Ayurveda is the oldest and recognized branch of medicine in India. Appashastri Sathe’ was bestowed with various titles in the field of Ayurveda from various organizations and colleges in Maharashtra as well as other places like Kashi (Varanasi city) during various instances (1905, 1906, 1925) Because of his contributions, a road has been named after him as ‘Vaidyatirth Appashastri Sathe Rd’ in Girgaon of Mumbai city. However, beyond this signpost, not many people are aware of the fact that he has also written a compilation on Ayurveda titled as Gharghuti Aushade which is still considered as go-to for remedies to various ailments.
An interesting theme of confluence isn’t it? Culture, education, socio-political reforms all coming together in one hotspot that holds one of the many keys that led to the establishment of Mumbai’s identity.
Note: This was a curated walk hosted by Khaki Tours. Personally, 2-2.5 hours is the best way to learn about the secrets of a city.
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