With the city’s rich history and its importance in the birth of the Indian Railways, it’s not surprising that there is a story behind the names of many of Mumbai’s railway stations. All too often, these stories are lost in time or are simply forgotten in the chaos and monotony of daily travel.
Mumbai’s railways are the lifeline of the city, ferrying millions of passengers every single day and to most of the city’s inhabitants who commute daily, the names of the stations have little meaning, other than as destinations. Find out how some of the city’s busiest stations got their names and make your next commute a little more interesting.
One of Mumbai’s busiest and most famous stations takes its name from the city’s rich legacy. Early in her history, Mumbai was a walled, fortified city with three main gates. One of these was located quite close to Flora Fountain, which remain a landmark to this day. At that time St. Thomas Cathedral was the main landmark of the area and the gate was naturally christened ‘Church Gate’. As the city grew the walls were torn down in the mid-19th century to enable expansion. The area is still referred to as Churchgate however, giving the station its name.
Bombay, as Mumbai was previously called, comprised of seven islands and the sea shaped the city. Bandra was the site of an imposing Portuguese fort, simply referred to as Bandra fort today, the remnants of which still remain at Land’s End. At that time Bandra was not famous for its plush residential neighborhoods, busy shopping areas, or corporate, but for a port that helped connect the islands. Bunder, was the commonly used word for port in many of the local dialects and over time the word was corrupted to become Bandra.
The name of this station is actually part of the enduring legacy of the philanthropist, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. In the early 1800s, when the city still had plenty of open space and wasn’t a concrete jungle, the city was home to a population of herdsmen, who relied on the earth for sustenance, by allowing their cattle to graze on the land. That changed when the British introduced a tax for grazing cattle on public grounds, something that most could not afford. Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy purchased a huge plot of land for free grazing and the area soon came to known as Charni Road, from the local word for grazing – ‘charna’.
Everyone knows the story behind the naming of this station, or so one would think. Shivaji Maharaja is one of India’s most famous rulers, and while it today bears his name it wasn’t always so. Still referred to as VT (Victoria Terminus) by most of the city’s inhabitants, it was christened as Victoria Terminus after Queen Victoria. But that isn’t its original name either! This iconic station, which is the site from where the subcontinent’s first train journey began, was first called Bori Bunder station. The area was so named because of its importance as a storage site, next to a port on Mumbai’s eastern shores. ‘Bori’ meant sack, while ‘Bandar’ or ‘Bunder’ could mean store or port. To visit the station and explore the surrounding areas, sign up for an outing with Cleartrip.
According to most sources Cotton Green is a historic site, as this is where India’s first cotton exchange is believed to have begun. There were once grassy meadows, stretching from Colaba till here, and the cotton exchange sprang up at the site of today’s Badhwar Park. The cotton exchange was later shifted to a site closer to the present-day station, where it still stands today, opposite the railway station. Built in the art deco style, the building was originally painted green, in keeping with the lush surroundings. Not surprisingly the area and the station consequently came to be called cotton green.
Ghatkopar is today an important residential and commercial hub in north eastern Mumbai, along the central railway line. If you went back just four to five decades however, the landscape would be unrecognizable, as Mumbai has experienced rapid urbanization. Believe it or not, the Western Ghats actually extended to what is present day Ghatkopar and this is why it was referred to as Ghat-kopra, which could mean top of the hill, as ‘ghats’ is also the local word for hill.
There are numerous stories or legends behind the naming of Goregaon and with the passage of time it has become hard to separate the myths from the facts. Perhaps there is some truth to all of the stories. The region was home to celebrated fighters and reformers, Keshav and Mrinal Gore, whose family name was used to describe the area. Literally translated the name of the area would read Gore’s village, as ‘gaon’ means village. Another legend states that it takes its name because of the dairy farms in the region and the whiteness of the milk, as ‘gora’ means fair. Some even say it’s because of white settlers in the region. Both are unlikely to be true, as there are no traces of foreign settlers and the dairy farms only developed recently. According to experts, a village existed here since the 16th or 17th centuries and was called Gorgam, probably giving it its modern name.
Contrary to popular belief, this station and locality does not take its name from the famous Parle G biscuits, produced at the neighboring Parle Products factory. Instead, it is the company that takes its name from the locality. The inhabitants of the region had two important deities, with temples dedicated to them, namely Vileshwar and Parleshwar. The area thus took its name by using the first half of both deities’ names.
Sion is actually a colloquial version of the original name of the area, which was called Zion. Sion marked the city boundary of Bombay, with the Portuguese occupying the region further north, while the British controlled the south. It was also referred to as Sheev, which means boundary in Marathi. The Portuguese, who controlled the land here, gave a part of it to the Jesuit priests. They in turn, built a church on the hill, where the station is located today, and they called it Mt. Zion. Over time the British and locals came to refer to it as Sion, the name by which it still goes today.
Vidyavihar’s history and origins are fairly easy to trace, as the birth of this locality and station is a relatively recent development. The Somaiya family built what is one of the biggest educational institutes in the city here, with a sprawling campus that houses several colleges. The institute was named Somaiya Vidyavihar and is located between the stations of Ghatkopar and Kurla. With its huge student population and growing commercial establishments it became necessary for a new railway station in the area. The area and the station came to be called Vidyavihar.
Many of the stories behind the stations’ names are almost as fascinating as the locations that they connect. Hopefully, understanding the significance behind the names will give you a better appreciation of the city’s rich history and railway services.