- View some of the earliest maps of Mumbai made from the year 1626 onward, from the permanent collection of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum
- Learn the basic elements of map making
- Explore how ‘Bombay’* evolved into the megacity ‘Mumbai’
- Engage with the old maps of Mumbai through fun activities!
- Suitable age group: 6 and above
*The name ‘Bombay’ is used in a historical context here. The name of the city officially changed to Mumbai in 1996.
Human curiosity about distant lands and people has led to numerous inventions to explore and better understand the world around us. Cartography or map-making has been one of the ways people have tried to break down unfamiliar terrain. The earliest charts of the skies or celestial maps were produced in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia about 1530 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). In Sippar, Iraq, archaeologists excavated a stone slab depicting what is believed to be the earliest known surviving map to be found – dated between 700 to 500 B.C.E – presently on display at the British Museum.
In 1903, Cecil Burns, the Principal of the Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy School of Art, Bombay, was appointed as Curator of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay). Among his first curatorial strategies to develop the museum on “popular lines”, he created facsimiles of different maps of Bombay that were published in the ‘Gazetteers of Bombay City and Island’ in 1909. He began building a visual archive of the city through maps, photographs, and 3D models. The maps on display at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum showcase the long, incredible history of how seven seemingly insignificant islands evolved from a cluster of fishing villages into a financial powerhouse and India’s most cosmopolitan metropolis at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries.
How to read a map?
Maps are a visual archival tool, guiding the viewer through detailed, thematic imagery that helps the viewer navigate an area. The main types of maps:
- Historical maps.
- Physical maps or Toposheets that emphasise natural land features such as hills, lakes, rivers, coastal areas, forests, and contours in the landscape.
- Political maps that show cities, provinces, country boundaries, etc.
- Thematic maps such as those that show ecology, population demographics, etc.
Satellite imagery has made our every day maps incredibly sophisticated, however, there are certain basic elements that help us read maps whether they are on paper or digital:
- Title – states basic information about the map indicating what it represents, the year it was created, and by whom it was created.
- Compass – orientation or direction with an arrow pointed towards the North.
- Legend – symbols indicating a specific place, for example, a cross is a common representation for churches in political maps.
- Scale – the ratio of the actual distance between two places compared to the distance represented on the map.
Early Maps of Bombay
Ptolemy, a Greek geographer, was one of the first cartographers to produce a world map as a sphere instead of a flat map that indicated his belief that the Earth is, in fact, spherical and not flat. It is in his expansive, eight-volume work titled ‘Guide to Geography’ (c. 2nd century C.E.) that we find the first mention of Mumbai as ‘Heptanesia’ or a cluster of seven islands.
The map of the seven islands – Colaba, Bombay, Mazagaon, Worli, Mahim, Parel, and Bandra – shows an archipelago of scattered islands, separated from each other by swamps and sea inlets. Juxtaposed with the map of Heptanesia is another three-dimensional map showcasing the island of Bombay between 1700-1800. This was after the first land reclamation in the city had begun on the western seafront with the Hornby Vellard road connecting Bombay to Worli. This reclamation filled the breach between the islands of Bombay and Worli, preventing the flow of seawater from coming inland during high tide. This reclamation also opened up the low-lying areas between Worli, Mazgaon, Dadar, and Parel, or the ‘flatlands’ as they were known back then. These areas were known for the construction of roads and inhabitation. The hills around Bombay were flattened to fill the breaches between the islands.
Heptanesia and Bombay Islands, 1700 – 1800; glass, clay, pigments; 1909-1912, made at the erstwhile V&A Museum, Bombay; 192.5 x 93 cm.
Image credit: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Click here to zoom into the Hepatnesia map.
One of the earliest recorded maps of Bombay is this sketch by David Davies, made in 1626. Davies was part of a crew of English and Dutch ships that launched a joint attack on the Town of Bombay over a few days with the aim of sacking the city. Houses, including the Manor House that once belonged to the Portuguese botanist and physician, Garcia da Orta, were burned down.
The map is drawn from the perspective of Davies, who was anchored at sea, looking into the harbour off the Worli seafront. Rather than the aerial view that we are accustomed to seeing in maps, we see a 2-dimensional horizontal perspective of the land. Observe the way the island is depicted with the mainland in the background. The map also emphasises the relationship between the harbour and Bombay. The bay is marked with the sign ‘Ry’.
Several travellers’ accounts who approached the Bombay Harbour from the sea remarked that the tall coconut and brab trees were among the first things one noticed. The house on the hill is the Mark House, also known as Belvedere, followed the early practice of whitewashing all large houses as markers for the ships coming into the Bombay Harbour.
Another early map of Bombay, dated to 1672, was a map made by John Fryer, a surgeon employed by the East India Company. He travelled across India and Persia on a ship named Unity for nine years between 1672 to 1681 and produced a memoir of his travels. This map indicates settlement in and around the Bombay Castle area, reefs, vegetation, and woods of Mahim and even the fishing stakes or areas suitable for fishing between the Cross Island and Oyster Rock Battery.
His book – which is a compilation of letters to an unknown addressee – recounts the seven islands of Bombay as Bombay, Canora (Salsette), Trombay, Elephanta, Putachoes (Butcher), Munchumbay (perhaps Mahim), and Karanja. In the 17th century, different authors had their own views about which were the seven islands of Bombay. However, some of Fryer’s observations remained accurate and in evidence till the 20th century!
Fryer’s accounts and the map also note that Massegaoung or Mazagon was the only freshwater spring in Bombay during this period while the wells in the Fort area had brackish water.
The Marathas, Siddis, Dutch, French, and British were all interested in controlling the islands of Bombay due to its strategic location on the international sea trade route. The original map, prepared by an agent of Peshwa Madhavrao I, was made at the outbreak of the Anglo-Maratha War. The Maratha Empire, under the leadership of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, had also clashed with the Siddis, vassals of the Nizam of Ahmednagar, at the smaller islands of Underi-Khanderi (also marked as Henry-Kenry islands in the previous maps), near Oyster Rock.
The fort of Bombay is marked as ‘Ingraj’ or English at the centre while the other surrounding forts that were under the Peshwa rule are depicted with four sides having circular bastions.
Observe the map carefully…why are the ships upside down? What do the fish represent?
This map is a little mysterious! The original map has been lost to time and we have to deduce that the fish symbolize the water currents for navigation. The upside-down ships perhaps indicate that the ships are moving closer to the harbour in one particular direction. This ‘coded’ map could have been possibly been prepared to strategise a Maratha attack on the surrounding areas of Bombay, which ultimately did not take place.
“A city, which by God’s assistance, is intended to be built”
– Gerald Aungier (1640-1677), second Governor of Bombay.
Before the English Fort came up in the Town of Bombay, the island was largely occupied by Kolis or fisherfolk. By 1769, fearing an attack by Napoleon Bonaparte, the English built fortifications around the main town of Bombay, surrounding the already existing Bombay Castle, the hub of all Government activity, that was built earlier.
As the English defense and hold on Bombay strengthened, the threats by other competing powers lessened and trade prospered. James Forbes’ ‘Oriental Memoirs’ describe the Bombay Fort to be two miles in circumference with 900 cannons mounted on the many bastions, a deep moat and draw bridges at three principal gates – the Apollo Gate, the Church Gate, and the Bazaar Gate. There was a single Anglican Chuch at the centre – the St. Thomas Cathedral – along with a Town Hall and the Mint. As a key trading post of the British Empire, the town of Bombay used to be heavily guarded. The gates into the Fort would shut half an hour after sunset as a security measure.
Rapid development within the Fort meant that houses were constructed close together, along narrow streets, not far from the places where gunpowder and magazines were stocked. In 1803, a huge fire broke out in the Fort, forcing the Government to take urban development measures seriously. This also provided an impetus to many Europeans to move out of the Fort area and into the upcoming, cleaner localities of Girgaum, Mazagaon, Malabar Hill, and Byculla. By 1862, the Government decided to break down the walls of the Fort, as they no longer served their original purpose and the city began expanding towards the north.
Glass negative images: a) Outer and Centre Bazaar Gate; b) Stanhope Bastion and Malborough Gate; c) View of the Rampart overlooking the Tank Bastion; d) New Lunette Mill and East Rampart.
Image credits: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
Check out the map below to see how a modern-day Google Map image of the Fort Precinct in Mumbai compares to the layout of the Fort of Bombay! This overlay also gives an idea of the reclamations – including the docks and Ballard Pier – that took place post the 1860s.
The port city of Bombay has welcomed people from across the Indian subcontinent as well as far away lands. One could hear thousands of languages being spoken at the docks and a plethora of human diversity in Bombay. Those who engaged in trade or business with the East India Company were granted tax benefits and offered plots of land to build houses. Bombay began witnessing waves of migrations, that have still not ebbed, as people flocked to the ‘City of Gold’.
As more people started settling in Bombay, there was an urgent need to expand the city and connect the islands for ease of movement of people and goods. Reclamation companies were floated from the 1830s onward and the Colaba Causeway was reclaimed in 1838, joining the Old Woman’s Island and Colaba Island to the island of Bombay. The brisk cotton trade in Bombay from 1860 led to several speculative land development and reclamation projects, which were momentarily suspended with the crash of the cotton prices and stock market in 1865.
The map, based on Capt. Thomas Dickinson’s survey is one of the earliest ones to depict the whole of Bombay almost as we know it today. The old place-names indicated on the map reveal the socio-cultural origins of these names. As is the trend in any land developed by immigrants, the people first started settling in areas where they had that caste and community ties mirroring rural customs. This gave rise to place names such Bhundarwarra (after Bhandaris or toddy tappers) or Kamatipura, marked on the map as Commattypoora, where the labourers hired for construction activities settled in the late 18th century.
Place names provide an interesting backstory that gives us a clue to the reclamation activities that were carried out there. Paidone or Pydhonie literally means ‘foot wash’. At a spot near the Mumbadevi temple, a small stream of salt water would be left behind after the high tide breached inland before the reclamation of the Byculla Flats, where people washed their feet. The construction of Bellasis Road in 1793 reclaimed this part of Bombay from the sea. The Malabar Hill was similarly named after the pirates off the Malabar Coast that attacked the ships near Bombay Habour.
Bandora or Bandra was another version of the word bunder or port as this was one of the early trading ports used by the Portuguese on the Western Coast of India. Naigaum, near Wadala, was where Raja Bhim had his palace as evidenced by some of the medieval sculptures that were dug out in this region during reclamations in the late 18th century. The stable for the Raja’s elephants was located near present-day Matunga, marked on the map as Matoonga, after mahouts, who were employed as elephant trainers.
Oral legends also influence how place names change or retain their original intent. The Old Woman’s Island was an anglicised version of Al Omani, an Arab word for the sea on the Western Coast of India. A few place names were also based on the earlier botanical species found there. For example, Parel comes from the name of the local tree paral or padel (species: Heterophragma chelonoides), a deciduous tree native to the Indian subcontinent.
Other place names – Mahim (named after Mahikavati), Mahalakshmi, Ghodupdevi, Mumbadevi – are a clue to the old cult goddesses worshipped by the fishermen, who were the earliest inhabitants of the islands. The Banganga Tank and the Walkeshwar Temple first built c. 12th century C. E. are also some of the most sacred locations in the city.
Forts of Bombay
There were seven forts on the main islands of Bombay, as seen marked in the map above, built between the 12th to the 18th century C.E. – Dongri, Mazagaon, Sewri, Sion, Riwa, Mahim, and Worli. A total of 18 forts existed in and around Bombay, affecting the geopolitical skirmishes for the islands till the Company Government established the main Fort Town. Some of the other forts around the main islands of Bombay are seen in the earlier map by the Peshwa’s agent.
Glass negative images: a) Mahim Fort; b) Kala Killa or Dharavi Fort; c) Sion Fort
Image credits: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
Just before the Fort walls were torn down, there were plans proposed by the Municipal Engineer, Mr. William Tracey to improve the drainage and sewerage system of the town of Bombay. Till the 1860s, there was a single main drain carrying sewage to the Great Breach at Breach Candy (anglicised version of a khadi or breach), marked on the map as ‘Main Town Drain’. Additional sluices were built at Love Grove in Worli. To meet the demand of water supply needed for a rapidly urbanising city, the British Government dug the Vihar Lake (near Borivali) as a water reservoir from the mid-1850s to 1860. A new system of water pipelines necessitated a new sewage system. It was decided to add an intercepting line to drain water into the harbour and near the Colaba lighthouse, which would be pumped out as the tide ebbed. The present sewerage and stormwater drain system was based on a recommendation of Captain Tulloch who suggested that all sewage be drained out of Love Grove, where a sewage treatment plant still exists. Additional sewage treatment plans and lines were laid across Bombay post-1947 and it still continues to be a point of contention in the city that continues to face flooding and water supply issues.
Bombay owes its boost in urban development to cotton. The city’s merchant class built its fortunes on the cotton and textile trade. The American Civil War (1861-1865) had all but halted the export of cotton from the Southern States to the mills in England, which came to increasingly rely upon the Indian subcontinent to supply its cotton. Almost 75% of the world’s cotton trade passed through Bombay Green and via the city’s ports to England. Sensing a golden opportunity, Bombay’s businessmen invested capital in floating banks, businesses, textile mills, reclamations, real estate companies, and raising public buildings such as a museum, the university, and hospitals. The American Civil War ended sooner than expected and the sudden dip in cotton trade crashed the stock markets for a short while.
The economy soon revived and we see an exponential rise in the number of textile mills in the city. From a total of just 13 mills in 1870, Bombay had over 83 mills by 1915, employing more than half the city’s population of workers. Most of these mills were located in the Worli, Byculla, and Dadar areas where the working class settled. The development of housing did not keep pace with the number of people settling in these areas for work. Congestion and unsanitary conditions of these low-lying areas proved to be a disastrous combination when the Plague hit Bombay in 1896, wiping away over 33,000 people in the first year of the epidemic alone.
This led to the establishment of the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) in 1898, which was responsible for reducing congestion in the southern parts of Bombay, providing sanitary housing conditions, widening roads, and reclamation projects. Many chawls or low-cost one-room tenements were set up by the BIT Schemes in these areas but it did nothing to solve the city’s housing crisis. By the 1930s, the number of mills started dwindling and the zeitgeist of Bombay slowly changed from a textile manufacturing town to purely financial districts as evidenced in the rise of precincts such as Ballard Pier.
However, the political pulse of the city moved in the working-class areas, which saw unified support to the freedom movement from the 1930s and then the labour movement of the 1980s.
Bombay underwent a change in its character by the 1920s. Right from the 1860s, the establishment of railways enabled seamless movement of goods and people across the ‘islands’ of Bombay. However, post the First World War, mills began shutting down as manufacturing activity was slowly edged out of the city.
The Fort precinct became restricted to educational, cultural, and financial institutions, and the need for affordable housing led to the city limits and transport networks being pushed further north towards Thane, Borivali, and Trombay. An aerodrome came up in Juhu by 1928 and three years later, JRD Tata himself flew the first flight from Karachi to Bombay, marking a new epoch in the city’s story that continues to be depicted on the many maps made of Bombay in the post-Independence period. The map, based on a 1923 survey, also depicts plots for industrial use near Trombay.
In 1956, during the formation of Indian states on linguistic lines, there was a widespread movement calling for the unification of all Marathi speaking areas in western India into the state of Maharashtra. The Samyukta Maharashtra (unified Maharashtra) committee also asked for the city of Bombay to be incorporated into the new state of Maharashtra which culminated in a violent agitation with the police near the Flora Fountain or Hutatma Chowk. Due to the large presence of Gujarati-speaking people in Bombay, Gujarat also disputed to include Bombay within their state lines. However, on 1 May 1960, the state of Maharashtra was formally instituted with its capital at Bombay.
Think about all the changes that have taken place in the city, including the place names. Do any of the places or street names mentioned in the maps above sound familiar? Many of these street names were changed from 1995 onward to displace the names of the British personalities after whom they were named. Names of Indian personalities and public figures replaced the British names, though public memory has still retained some of the older, colloquial versions of the street names that retain a hint of its unique character and history. The name of the city itself changed from Bombay to Mumbai in 1996.
The crossword puzzle below lists out the current names of important streets in Mumbai. Can you guess what the corresponding older names were? Take a screenshot or save the image and send us the completed activity!
“We created a city out of water” – Prof. Mariam Dossal, urban historian
The metropolitan region of Mumbai is now approx. 600 square kilometers and holds some 12,000 million people. The Island City or South Mumbai accounts for nearly 70 sq kilometers of this area – a good 20 odd square kilometers more than when the British happened upon the seven islands in the 17th century.
However, reclaiming land from the sea had come at an enormous ecological price. Natural creeks that once acted as drains were filled and mangroves hacked to expand the land. The largest reclamation project since the 1970s is the present-day coastal road, which poses a serious threat to Mumbai’s hydrology with all the seafronts being eaten up to create the road.
A city that was built on the sheer willpower of both the British and Indians, is now in serious danger of being submerged by 2050 according to a study published in 2019.
Below is a conceptual map of Bombay, created by Swiss artist Marie Velardi, and showcased at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in 2016. It showcases the sea creeping into the city via the Great Breach and reclaiming the land. The city has witnessed the ebb and flow of human progress reclaiming land from the sea and the inevitable future when the city will eventually fall prey to natural cycles.
Choose any of the following themes to create your own map!
- Imagine you are an explorer or a cartographer at sea, finding new lands after a long voyage. What do you find when you reach this land? How do you communicate your explorations with the help of a pictorial representation in the form of a map? Remember to use the key elements of cartography as you draw a map from your memory or use your creativity!
- What is your favourite thing about Mumbai? The food, its architecture, cinema, or its various iconic locations? If you had to explain this aspect of your city to a friend living far away, how would you best guide them to explore the city? Draw a map and share it with us via social media handles!
- Mumbai is rapidly expanding and developing and all of us have been stuck in traffic or floods caused in the city at some point over the last few years. Conceive an idea of Mumbai where these problems are minimised and represent it on a map.
Visitor Engagement and Experience Programme
The maps in the Museum are a useful tool to discuss and develop activities and workshops to understand the history of Mumbai as well as the contemporary urban planning issues faced by the city’s policy makers and residents.
1. Mapping migrations – Mumbai is a city built by migrants. Maps and dioramas depicting the development and density of housing draw attention to the very current and relevant use of space and areas on the lines of communities and class. This is an important issue as various localities in the city are increasingly seeing gated residential areas with homogenous communities living in isolation, replacing the multi-faceted identity of these very localities.
2. Mapping the sacred geography and the many myths of the city, which was originally inhabited by the Kolis or the fishing communities. The local, cult goddesses of Mumbai are still prevalent in different shrines and names in the city.
5. Offering limited edition prints in the Museum Shop or map-themed limited edition calendars/stationery/puzzles. Many of our visitors have already expressed an interest in buying prints of the maps that are currently on display in the Museum.
6. The Museum’s education programme offers worksheets and interpretive guides geared towards 7 – 12 year olds that enable self-led study of the maps in the collection. This can be taken a step ahead to design additional thematic worksheets.
7. Various precincts in Mumbai have interesting names, the origins of which is not always clear to even our locally based visitors. One of the plans is to create an activity sheet of Byculla area and conduct a virtual / in person activity to explore the history of Byculla through the old names and buildings marked on the map.
8. A participatory activity to understand common prejudices and multiple voices of the visitor demographic by asking them to anonymously (or non-anonymously) identify areas they feel are safest or dangerous according to their own perspectives. These experiences can be collected on-site or digitally to build a larger narrative of how we uniquely navigate and
perceive the city.
9. A family activity involving layering present-day maps of the city and older ones to make ‘corrections’ in the boundaries, names, places depicted on the older maps.
One-time events, but the programme can be repeated on a regular basis:
10. Talks and lectures on cartography and Mumbai’s history told through different perspectives. This can also include a session with the Google Maps team on how cities are mapped and what statistical data can tell us about map visualisations.
11. A quarterly book club dedicated to reading and discussing books on Mumbai’s history and contemporary urban issues told from the perspective of Western as well as Indian authors. This can be sub-divided into a young teens book club and one meant for older audiences.
12. Talks by architects and urban planners on the future of Mumbai. This can be a collaborative, themed, walking tour or even a lecture/presentation format.
First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Madhuvanti Ghosh for her guidance and inputs through the 5-day Vitural Workshop on Museum Collections and Visitor Experience, Dr Vandana Sinha and the entire team at CAS AIIS for seamlessly coordinating the logistics of this workshop. Thanks are also due to Mrs Tasneem Mehta, Director, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum for her constant support and guidance, my colleagues Ruchika Jain and Vijay Nakti who helped source the images from the database, and Dr. Andre Baptista who helped with text and image edits.
Burns, C. Catalogue of the Collection of Maps, Prints and Photographs illustrating the history of the Island of Bombay. Bombay: Times Press, 1918.
Edwardes, S.M. The Rise of Bombay: A Retrospect, Bombay: The Times Press, 1902
Rohatgi, P. Godrej, P. and Mehrotra, R. (Eds.), Bombay to Mumbai: Changing Perspectives, Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1997.
Sheppard, S.T. Bombay Place-names and Street-names: An Excursion Into the By-ways of the History of Bombay City. Bombay: The Times Press, 1917.