Girl Gone Goa

Travel, sex, magic, and cycling in an Indian state

A Brief History of Bandra October 22, 2008

Filed under: Travel — UR @ 10:32 pm

I didn’t expect the Portuguese Inquisition

Mumbai waits uneasily as Raj Thackery does a day in jail. He’s in custody in a Bandra jail, no less. A few blocks away, Deepika and I hole up in her flat. She’s decided to play it safe and not go into work today, and I stay home so she doesn’t worry.

In response to my questions on the fort, engineering college and St. Mary’s church, she passed me one of her father’s books – it uses three entire chapters to describe Bandra’s history. Devotional language aside, the book seems passionate and thorough in its breadth.

I finally receive an answer on how a bunch of Indians came to have Portuguese names. I learn that it relates to the fort, the college and the church. And it relates to me.

Almost 10 million people currently live in the “megametropolis” of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and a few of them are my relatives. They settled and lived in the city’s first suburb, Bandra West, about twenty kilometres north of what is now the city core. The Bandra (or Bandura, “water blocked along the creek”) area came into the possession of the Portuguese around 1534. They built the Bacaim fort in 1536 to secure the land at the head of the Mithi River, and invited the growing numbers of Christian converts to worship within its walls.

About 1549 father Francis Xavier (later to become Saint Francis) travelled up the coast from Goa (where he’d arrived seven years earlier) to establish a Jesuit community. The local Muslims and Marathas didn’t take kindly to the Christian’s foreign practices, especially something later referred to as the Inquisition.

Nonetheless, Correa notes that – with the exception of the Muslims – just about everyone in Bandra was a  Christian by the 16th century, and that many of the Indians who converted took on the names of the priests who baptised them. A priest might baptise all the inhabitants of a particular hamlet in the area, and accordingly they would all have the same name – D’Souza, D’Cruz, Pinto, Rodrigues.

After the Portuguese gifted the region (and its major attraction, Mount Saint Mary bascilica) to the British as a wedding present in 1775, the residents continued their Christian worship as they welcomed British infrastructure: railways, schooling and self government. The rural area become educated and sophisticated – so much so that English-speaking descendants of the original residents identified themselves as “Bombay East Indians” to separate themselves not just from the out-country Eurasian immigrants, but the out-of-state Indians as well.

With the addition of a Bandra airport to its existing seaport, Bombay became India’s first commerical city. Originally a collection of seven islands, Bombay accommodated its growing population (and the growing interest in Bandra’s basilica) by building a linking causeway. More people travelled up and down the islands, more people moved to Bandra and by 1947 – the year of India’s independence from
England – the suburb was (as Correa puts it) a cosmopolitan “mixture of castes and creeds” including  Hindus, Muslims, Parsi and Jews.

Today, a new causeway is underway. The massive bridge I saw from the Aguada Fort’s ruins will link the curved point of Bandra West to Whorli to the south. It will be called the “West Island Freeway” and by all appearances, the residents think it will be terrific.

Heritage of Mount Mary, by Msgr. Francis Correa, St. Paul’s Press Training School, 23rd Road, TPS III, Bandra, Mumbai 40050, 2004

Mumbai City Map, Eicher Goodearth Limited, International Print-O-Pac Limited, New Delhi, 2004 (ISBN 81-87780-12-6)


One Response to “A Brief History of Bandra”

  1. wynn Says:

    Fascinating history. My best friend in Athens, Dinaz, is from Mumbai (Bombay) but she’s a Parsi who married a Greek/Italian and went to live in Greece. She’s one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met.

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