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The Story of India’s Dream City: Mumbai

Crowded streets, flashy buildings, and luxury cars; that’s what most people imagine when Mumbai’s name comes up. And why not? After all, it’s the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India. And the image it has resembles a lot with reality.

But what’s more interesting is knowing how a mere group of seven Islands flourished into a “dream” city gaining international recognition. Here’s a brief insight.


The enormous city was initially a group of seven islands, home to the fishermen from the “Koli community.” The islands were under the control of successive indigenous rulers for centuries until the Portuguese found them. In 1498 AD, the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama landed in Calicut seaport for the first time. He was warmly received by King Zamorin, the local ruler of Calicut, and sent back with a rich cargo worth 60 times the cost of the expedition. In 1501 AD, Gama visited again. This time to set up a trading unit at Cannanore. Soon they began to spread their trade units successfully across the region.  Arab traders grew jealous of the success of the Portuguese traders and planned to mess up their relations with the local king Zamorin.

This eventually led to a war between the two. The King was defeated by the Portuguese and handed over military control. This marked the beginning of foreign rule in India.

The Portuguese kept ruling until Prince Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in 1661 and received the seven islands as dowry. After some time, the King realized it was a lot of trouble ruling this far-off city “Bombay” (as it was called then). So, he leased it to the East India Company for 10 pounds of gold annually.

The East India Company was formed by a group of English merchants called the ‘Merchant Adventurers’ in 1599 who was inspired by the Portuguese traders. This was the time when Bombay flourished and all the developments started happening although most of it was for trade purposes.

Development Phase

Gerald Aungier became Governor of Bombay in 1669 and established the mint and printing press. He also transformed the city into a centre of commerce. The various business incentives offered by him attracted other Indian communities like Gujaratis, Marwaris, Parsis and Jews etc. Bombay was made the Indian Headquarters of the East India Company in 1687. 

Bombay faced a lot of wars during the late 17th century as various Portuguese and Indian rulers tried to gain control. The construction of The Bombay Castle was completed in 1715, which would safeguard it from all the sea attacks by the Portuguese and Mughals. The St. Thomas cathedral was constructed in 1718 by Charles Boone, the first Anglican Church in Bombay. In 1753, the Naval Dockyard was opened, the oldest dockyard in the city.

Between the period of 1817-1886, Bombay saw a lot of city developments and most of the historical constructions that we see today were formed.

The Hornby Vellard project, which was rejected by the East India Company in 1783  started gaining momentum in 1817. One of the main improvements was the construction of the Wellington Pier, the present Gateway of India area. The Bank of Bombay, the oldest bank in the city, was opened in 1840. By 1845, all seven islands were connected to form a single island called the Old Bombay covering an area of 435 sq. km owing to the Hornby Vellard Project. The Grant Medical College, the third in the country, was founded by Governor Robert Grant in 1845. On 16th April 1853, India’s first-ever railway line started its operations between Bombay and Thane, covering 21 miles.

The Bombay spinning and weaving company, Bombay’s first cotton mill, was established in July 1854. The University of Bombay and the University of Calcutta were founded in 1857, which were the first modern institutions for higher education in India. These developments by the British went on and on until India gained Independence.

At the time of Independence, Bombay was already a mainstream city with a lot of political and financial significance.

Shaping into the present scenario

The name Bombay was changed to “Mumbai” in 1995 after the mother Goddess of the city Mumba Devi.

Mumbai has always been known for its fast-paced life. Being a city of national relevance and headquarters to many of the important national institutions, it has a working population. Owing to the very competent Mumbai local trains, the city has managed to keep its local transport costs minimal along with maintaining efficiency. Mumbai has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires in the country. Another huge thing associated with the city of Mumbai is the epic Indian film industry. Mumbai is better known as the film city and seems to be a dream to many youngsters in the country. The relation between the city and movies dates to the late 19th century. The first film ever shot by an Indian was “ The wrestlers” made in 1899 made by HS Hatavdekar. The first film released in India was Sree Pundalik, a silent Marathi film by Dadasaheb Torne on May 18th 1912. Although short motion pictures were made, the first full-length motion picture, Raja Harishchandra, was made by Dada Saheb Phalke in 1913. The Indian film Industry has kept rapidly expanding through the years and here it is now, releasing over 1000 movies on an average annually.

So much of the happenings, related to just one city. Isn’t it quite a rich history?

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