Thursday, 3 February, 2011

Bandra… we love you!

History records the first known settlement in Bandra as far back as 600 BC. Part of Ashoka’s empire 300 years later, the place came under the hindu Silhara dynasty from 900 to 1300AD.

The Portuguese, in 1534, took possession of the seven islands of Bombay by force from the Sultans of Gujarat who had made it part of their sultanate since 1343. In 1543 they gave the Jesuits the sole ownershipof Bandra, a tiny fishing village inhabited by Koli fishermen and farmers.

Tradition has it that Bandra was originally known as Vandra or Ape as it was the home of monkeys, then in 1505 the Portuguese called it Bandor; later it was called Bandera, Bandura, Bandore, Pandara,Bandorah, Bandara and finally Bandra; a railway sign board finalized it at the end of the last century. There are other views on the origin ofthe name, one stating that it is derived from a Portuguese princess and another more plausible one that it is a corruption of Bandar-gah in Persian (Bandar is a common word for Port in Iran). Vandre in Marathi and Bandar in Persian both mean port and come from the same Sanskrit root word. The area was under Silhara dynasty in the 12th century. It is referred to as "Bandora" as seen on grave-stones in the cemetery of St Andrew's church.

In 1570 the Jesuits built a church & a college in Bandra called St Anne's, or 'Santa Anna' church on Pali hill.

When King Charles married Catherina of Portugal in 1661, Bombay was given to England as part of her dowry. Salcette was not part of this treaty and remained with the Portuguese. In 1739 with the threat of Maratha invasion, the Portuguese appealed to the British for help and they suggested to the Portuguese to destroy all fortifications around the chapel and the fortress Aguada. Bandra was regained when the Portuguese troops were aided by the English and a slaughter-house was built on the same spot of victory, and assigned to the Dakhni Muslims to operate (now the BEST bus depot at Bandra railway station).

The English found in this newly acquired territory of Salcette thousands of Indian families who were converted to Christianity. Christians in Bandra were mostly of the Koli & Bhandari castes,originally from Bombay Salcette, Bassein & Thana, as well as Kunbi farmers who migrated to the island from Colaba, because the ban on the fish manure they used. It was from these families the English drew their supplies of clerks, assistants & secretaries; at that time there was hardly a Hindu Koli, Parsi or Muslim, the other communities who peopled Bandra, who could read Roman characters. There was also a large influx of Christians from Goa, Mangalore, its Carnatac environs & Kerala. Many native elders worked for the British East India Company & this prompted local converts to adopt the misnomer 'EastIndians' and form the East Indian Association on May 26th 1887 to distinguish the 'sons of the soil', who were the first employees of the company, from Christians who came from further down the west coast and shared the same names and religion, as well as vied for the same jobs.The East Indian Association runs the fabled Bandra Gymkhana to date, primary membership still reserved for East Indians.

The chapel of Mount Mary was built around 1640 at the top of the hill at Bandra’s southern tip. Tradition has it that it was destroyed in 1738 during a Maratha raid. The statue of the Virgin Mary was recovered from the sea by fishermen & temporarily installed in St Andrews church, before being shifted to the rebuilt Mount Mary church in 1761, that year marking the beginning of Bandra feast, an eight day celebration in the Blessed Virgin’s honour, starting on the Sunday following her birthday on September 8. To this day the celebration continues and the statue is venerated by pilgrims from far and near and many miracles are attributed to the Virgin Mary by all communities. The architect of Mount Mary's church was Bombay’s Shapoorjee Chandabhoy …the first time ever a non-catholic was assigned to a catholic monument. It was built to serve the garrison posted at Castella de Aguada, the fort at Land's End. In 1879, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy constructed a flight of steps from foot of Mt Mary hill to north side of church known as the Degrados de Bomanjee (steps of Bomanjee). The Basilica of Our Lady ofthe Mount as it stands today was built in 1904 at a cost of Rs 1 Lakh.

The Kunbi farmers founded St Andrew's Church in 1733, which has the distinctive Portuguese-style façade. The wall enclosing the compound of St Andrew's Church was built by a Parsi, Manockjee Sorabjee Ashburnerin 1862 as is recorded on a slab on the main gate of the enclosure. The Portuguese built several churches in Bandra facilitating its unique distinction of being a town having the most Roman Catholic churches anywhere in the world, all within a four sq/km area; six churches each with their own parishes, and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount. The churches beside the Basilica, St Anne's and St Andrew's are St Peter's(1853), Our Lady of Mount Carmel (1890), St Theresa's (1948), and St Francis Of Assisi.

Bandra has over 150 crosses at various places, many built to ward off the decade long plague epidemic that struck between 1896 & 1906.The oldest cross is the one relocated in St Andrew's church compound. It was originally at St Anne’s but when the building was blown up onthe orders of the English to prevent it falling into Maratha hands inthe year 1737, the cross, its only original remnant, was relocated. It stands 17ft high, carved out of a single stone with 39 emblems of Jesus Christ's passion engraved on it's surface.

Bandra remained a village with plantations of rice and vegetables separated from the industrial town of Bombay by a tidal creek which Portuguese called Bandora and the English changed to Mahim creek. Crossing this creek was by ferry until, after many boats capsized, a causeway was built by Lady Jamsethji in 1843 at a cost of a little over Rs 1 Lakh. It was designed by Lt Crawford and opened to public in 1845.

St Stanislaus High School, started in 1863 as an orphanage for nativeboys by the Jesuits of St Peter’s church, became a high school in 1923.It was first English medium school in the suburbs and maintains its status as a premier educational institution to date as it approaches its sesquicentennial.

In 1863, the first four F.C. (Daughters of the Cross) sisters came to Bandora (Bandra) and started a day school for village children, that eventually evolved into St Joseph’s Convent High School in 1868.

The first railway service, the Bombay Baroda Central Indian Railway (BB & CI Railway) was inaugurated on April 12th 1867 with one train per day between Virar & Bombay. Six years later the frequency was increased to 24 & today over 900 trains stop at Bandra each day. A handful of Bandra’s residents had motor vehicles; the other’s just walked to the railway station. Till as late as the 1930's Bandra had only one bus service from Pali naka down to Hill road to the Railway station.

There was a section of Muslims in the eastern part of Bandra, presently across the railway lines, called Navpada (Naupada) previously known as Naopara. These Kokani Sunni Musalmans or Konkani Muslims, all Hanafi, had migrated from inner parts of Thane district like Vasai, Nalasopara,Bhiwandi and Rabodi. Nine prominent Kokani Muslim families inhabited here, so it was named as Nav (meaning 9 in Marathi) and Pada (meaning village). They built the Kokani masjid (Konkani mosque), a cemetery & lakes, which can be traced back more than 300 years. The inhabitants of this area mainly worked cotton handlooms. On introduction of powerlooms in Bombay city, this industry died & they started the milk business. With the introduction of the railway line the area was divided as Navpada East & Navpada West. A major part of lands of this area were acquired by the Railways, where today Bandra Station, Bandra Terminus (earlier Bandra mar shalling yard) & the railway lines exist. The present lake called Bandra Talao or Lotus Tank formerly known as Motha Reservoir was one of the properties of these Kokani Muslims, which was later acquired by the Municipal Corporation for maintenance.

Along with Mount Mary hill, Bandra includes Pali hill. Although many bungalows were built in Bandra during the boom years of the 1860s and70s, this fashionable area, now inhabited by the glitterati, saw the first constructions only in the 1880s. A 18 hole golf course called Danda Green with an english style club house, all ensconced in lush greenery, sat on the top of this hill with membership reserved for the British who lived on the hill. Each cottage on the hill had a stable for horses owned by its occupants.

The Tata Agiary on Hill Rd was built by Tata in memory of his wife in 1884.

Bandra consisted of villages Sherly, Malla, Rajan, Kantwadi, Waroda,Ranwar, Boran, Pali, Chuim and Chimbai. Ranwar had a tennis court and the famed Ranwar Club was popular for Christmas and New Year Eve dances. Supari Talao, Bandra’s signature sports venue, actually had a‘talao’ on its eastern half, and was home to American troops during World War II, who stole the hearts of the local children by sharing their rations with them on their way to school.

Each of the two water-fronts that embrace Bandra have had their own unique place in the lives of their inhabitants. The bay strewn with rocks and sand facing the causeway to Mahim and the city was the sourceof livelihood to a large fishing community of Kolis as well as a unique experience for us growing up there, witnesses to its monsoon fury as well as its tranquil calm, home to a wide variety of aquatic life. Each rock cluster was given a different name according to the purpose it served. The paddle boats, the walls of fishing nets and damns of rocks(kalwa) were a treat that still endures. The tireless fisher folk were a source of enlightenment, their camaraderie, discipline and hard work that went into bringing each fresh catch and themselves safely back home. Then in the mid 1960’s with grandiose plans in the name of ‘progress’, a major portion of the bay was reclaimed (hence Bandra Reclamation) , and the local Kolis forever lost their paradise. This bay was lipped with cottages and buildings built in the 1940’s and 50’s with relevant names. Wavelash, where I have resided for my 50 odd years, as well as all the other structures here had their sea fronts lashed by waves twice each day. All of these structures were in large compounds where we as children would spend the whole day, each different group at their own game. St John the Baptist road running along these compounds leads to the steps upto Mount Mary Basilica. Folklore has it that in times before the 1950’s pilgrims would traverse this stretch in processions with fire torches and beating drums to ward off tigers and other wild animals that the lush forests in the vicinity were home to. The other waterfront has three distinct stretches, one from Band Stand along BJ road to St Andrew's church, the second skirting Chimbai fishing village, and the third, laced with lushmangroves, runs along Carter road to Danda fishing village. Chimbai and Danda are where the last few Kolis of Bandra still manage to eke out aliving from their catch at sea. Among the waterfronts Band stand stood tall, catering to myriad visitors, especially families, all through the week and more so at week ends, when in the days of yore a band actually took the stand, regaling a sizable audience.

Godbunder road (now SV road), Bazaar road, Hill road, Pali road and BJ road are the five oldest roads in Bandra. Godbunder road originally ranfrom Mahim causeway, skirted Bazaar road, went around the Bandra talao and continued on to Godbunder. It was later made straight by cutting through the talao. Bazaar road began at Godbunder road, opposite the mosque and ran through the market keeping close to the coast, now the Bandra Reclamation. Its two kilometre stretch is home to a Jain temple,a Ram mandir, a Hanuman temple, a Khoja mosque, a Catholic chapel and a Sikh gurduwara. Hill road starting from Bandra railway station went through middle of Bandra town, past St Andrews church to terminate at the foot of the Mount Mary hill. Pali road began at St Peter’s church, cut through Pali village and continued on till Danda. BJ road startedfrom St Andrew’s church and went on to Lands End. It was built by Byramjee Jeejebhoy (hence ‘BJ’) and opened to public in 1878. Manyroads in Bandra like Perry, Carter, Bullock, Kane and Bates were named after British collectors and magistrates.

The families of Bandra’s yesteryears were large and traditions handed down from generations were faithfully adhered to, many still are. Marriages were an eight day celebration; from Thursday to Thursday for a Sunday wedding. The whole village was invited to celebrate along withthe extended families and no one was excused for not being there.Thursday was pig slaughter day. Friday was to make papads to go downwith the locally brewed spirit. On Saturday ‘fugias’ & ‘varias’were prepared and water was drawn from the village well to bathe the bride and groom, a tradition called ‘paani’, followed by East Indians to date. Sunday was the nuptial Mass followed by a grand reception with a sumptuous menu laced with ‘kimaat’, a concoction of the same spirits and selected condiments. Monday was the day of rest when the remaining food was finished. Tuesday was time for ‘pos’, when the feet of the guests were washed in exchange for cash. There was a farewell dinner on Wednesday and the guests left on Thursday by which time ‘honeymoon’ forthe bridal couple was supposedly over ...

Did that honeymoon ever end? … it never really did ... i know for sure... it's the Bandra we love!

- by Denzil Rego

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