Mumbai has a rich and varied history. The origin of its name is also interesting. Mumbai is a combination of two words – ‘Mumba’ and ‘Aai.’ The former is taken from the name of the Koli mother goddess, Mumbadevi and the latter means mother in Marathi. The city was officially accorded this name in 1995. Earlier it was known as Bombay.
Four hundred years ago, Mumbai was subject to foreign occupation. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive here in the 16th century and were given this land by the ruler of Ahmedabad, Sultan Bahadur. They named it ‘Bombain’ which means ‘good bay’ in Portuguese. Mumbai at that time was a cluster of seven islands whose main occupants were the fishing community known as Kolis.
When Princess Catherine Braganza of Portugal got married in 1661 to Charles II, King of England, the largest of the 7 islands was given in her dowry. This event led to the British getting a foothold in the country. Earlier, they had permission only to set up trading posts in India. At that time, the East India Company was based in Surat. Seizing this golden opportunity, the Company leased Mumbai from King Charles thus strengthening their position in the country as Mumbai, being a natural harbor, was very conducive to trade and commerce.
In no time Bombay proved to be a melting pot of traders from a cross section of communities, Hindu traders from Gujarat, Christians from Goa, the Marathi speaking people from the neighboring areas, Muslims, especially from the Bohra community, and the enterprising Parsis, each giving the city their own name- Mumbai as called by the Marathi speaking, Mambai to the Gujaratis, and as Bambai in Hindi, Persian, and Urdu. And anglicized Indians called it Bombay.
Mumbai’s position as a trade center grew stronger over the years. It also became an important centre for culture and politics. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought Europe closer to India. Mumbai port soon became the docking point for ships from all over the world. With the starting of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, Mumbai’s position as a center for commercial activity got further impetus and people started migrating here in search of lucrative job opportunities. Mumbai’s textile mills flourished as America faced cotton crisis and Civil War.
Massive land reclamation projects were taken up keeping in mind the growing needs of the city and the seven islands were now fused into one peninsula.
Mumbai also played an important role in the Indian Independence Movement.