Mumbai may be the beacon of modernity for India with its dazzling skyline, dominated by skyscrapers and trendy malls, but it is also endowed with a rich history. Having served as an important center of trade and commerce since historical times, many of its areas and landmarks have evolved over time. Understanding how the different localities derived their names gives you a unique perspective into the story of the city itself. Find out how these ten prominent neighborhoods in Mumbai earned their names.
Fountain is one of Mumbai’s most iconic areas, located at what was once the heart of the city. The name actually derives from Flora Fountain, a monumental fountain that was erected at the spot, where a gate once stood, when the city was still a small fortified town. The fountain was originally to be named after Sir Bartle Frère, a progressive and popular Governor of Bombay. It was ultimately named Flora Fountain as the sculpture adorning the fountain depicts the Roman Goddess of flowers. The structure is so iconic that over time the area has itself come to be referred to as Fountain.
Hanging Gardens has long been one of Mumbai’s most famous landscaped gardens. Popular for its beautiful green expanses, manicured lawns, sculpted hedges, and panoramic views of the Arabian Sea, most people do not realize that it was actually named Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens. It was thus named in honor of the celebrated lawyer and politician. Because of its location atop Malabar Hills, along a slope, the garden came to be fondly referred to simply as Hanging Gardens. This is the name that has stuck and by which it still goes today. To learn more about the fascinating sights and stories of Mumbai, sign up for a guided tour with Cleartrip and visit the garden and other landmarks in the area.
Spirituality is inseparable from the city of Mumbai, and Mahalakshmi, like many other areas, derived its name from the religious life of the inhabitants. Mahalaxmi Temple, on Bhulabhai Desai Road, is one of the most famous temples in the city, having been built originally in the late 16th century. It was later rebuilt in 1831. As people and businesses settled in the vicinity the entire area came to be called Malakshmi.
Strangely enough, Bhindi Bazaar has never had any connection with bhindi, the local word for okra. Instead, it owes its name to the neighboring Crawford Market. According to most historians the area was simply described as ‘behind the market’, by English settlers, who lived to the south of Crawford Market. This phrase may have been picked up and corrupted by locals, resulting in the name Bhindi Bazaar. Today, the area is famous for a market dominated by antiques and hardware items.
Many of the city’s areas still bear names that have traces of a sea-faring past, when the city actually comprised several islands. In those days, Bandra was not a bustling center but was simply a small port on the Salsette Island. In the local dialects a port is called ‘bunder’ or ‘bandar’ and this is the feature that the suburb was best known for. The local name used to describe the place was most likely corrupted by the Portuguese and later by the English, ultimately resulting in Bandra. This is now one of the most developed and plush areas in the city.
The name Seven Bungalows may seem rather strange to most Mumbaites, who visit the neighborhood only to find rows of towering buildings, hip eateries, and pubs. Before the real estate boom hit the area, it was famous for seven bungalows that were owned by prominent Indians like the Maharaja of Kutch, the Maharaja of Gwalior, Dadabhai Naoroji, and the Chinai's, among others. Sadly, with the exception of one bungalow, all of them have been grabbed and demolished by builders to make way for plush sea-facing residences. In the midst of this modernity however, Darya Mahal, the bungalow belonging to the Chinai’s still stands proud.
Kurla is regarded as an important transport hub, characterized by urbanization and congestion to most Mumbaikars today, but it was once a small coastal village. The roots of its name can be traced back to its early history as an East Indian village. The area was known for its abundance of crabs that populated the marshy areas around the village. As the local name for crabs was ‘kurli’, the place soon took on the name Kurla. This name remained in use, as the small village grew to become an important commercial center, now home to the railway hub Lokmanya Tilak Terminus.
According to some city historians the market area, today popularly known as Chor Bazaar, was most likely called Shor Bazaar originally. This would have meant noisy market, a name that would have still been apt today. The name eventually changed to Chor Bazaar, perhaps as a result of mispronunciation by the British, but many also regarded it as a market that traded in stolen wares. This reputation probably helped to cement the name Chor Bazaar, which literally means thieves’ market. Today, visitors are unlikely to find any stolen goods at the market, but you can find plenty of antiques and vintage goods.
Breach Candy is one of the most opulent neighborhoods in the city and it has long been home to the city’s wealthy population. Its name however, has nothing to do with candy, nor was it a direct creation of the British. Instead, the original name used to describe the area was corrupted over time, as is so often the case. The area was once known as ‘Burj Khadi’, a combination of Arabic and Hindi, meaning tower and creek. Over time this name may have been mispronounced and slowly forgotten, giving us the name Breach Candy.
Kala Ghoda is one of the most iconic areas of the city that has come to be regarded as Mumbai’s art district because of its abundance of heritage buildings, museums, art galleries, and its annual cultural festival. The area was once adorned with a colossal statue of King Edward VII on a black horse. The area took its name, which translates as black horse, from the monumental structure. Although the statue was moved out of the public’s gaze to Byculla Zoo in 1965, the name stuck and the area is still famous as Kala Ghoda.
With all of these fascinating stories behind the names of Mumbai’s famous landmarks and areas, you should consider re-visiting these iconic neighborhoods for a fresh perspective.