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Mumbai (Bombay)

[mum' bI] the largest and most prosperous city in India

Mumbai is India's chief seaport on the western coast. It lies on several islands just off the west coast, covers an area of 233 sq mi (603 sq km), and has a population of 13.3 million. The metropolitan area, which consists of Mumbai city, the Mumbai Suburban District, and seven other cities, has a population of 19 million, making it the fifth largest in the world. The city's inhabitants represent virtually every ethnic group within India, and speak most of the nation's languages.

location of Mumbai on map of India

The city was originally known as Bombay, which was an Anglicized version of a Portuguese word meaning "good bay." Its current name is derived from Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of the Koli fisherfolk who are the region's oldest inhabitants.


The seven islands upon which the modern city of Bombay was established have been inhabited since the Stone Age. The region was ruled by a succession of Hindu dynasties before being invaded by Muslims in the 14th century. The Portuguese took the islands from the Sultan of Gujarat in 1534, but did little to develop the area.

In 1661, King Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, and received all seven islands as a wedding gift. In 1668, the British government leased the islands to the East India Company, which took advantage of the excellent harbor and developed a trading port on the largest island. A series of land reclamation projects carried out between 1817 and 1845 transformed the seven individual islands into one large island, but the city remained apart from the rest of British India until 1818, when the British defeated the Marathas and annexed substantial portions of western India.

By 1850, the population of Bombay had grown to over 500,000. Already a major center of the cotton textile industry, the city became the world's chief cotton market during the Union blockade of the South during the American Civil War. The economy was strengthened even more by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

In 1885 Bombay became the center of the Indian independence movement when it hosted the first Indian National Congress. In 1942 Mahatma Gandhi launched his "Quit India Campaign" in Bombay.

Bombay became the capital of the Bombay Presidency after India achieved its independence in 1947. In 1960, the federal government divided the State of Bombay into two separate states -- Maharashtra and Gujarat -- according to language groups, and Bombay became the capital of Maharashtra. The city's name was officially changed to Mumbai by the state government in 1996.


The city of Mumbai is administered by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), with executive power vested in a Municipal Commissioner appointed by the state government. The Corporation consists of 227 directly elected Councillors representing 24 municipal wards, five nominated Councillors, and a titular Mayor, and is responsible for all civil and infrastructure needs of the city. The city elects 6 members to the Lok Sabha (National Assembly), and 34 to the Maharashtra Vidham Sabha (State Assembly).

map of Mumbai Metropolitan Area

The metropolitan region consists of 7 Municipal Corporations -- Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayandar, Bhiwandi-Nizampur, and Ulhasnagar -- and 13 Municipal Councils.


The residents of Mumbai enjoy a per capita income that is almost three times higher than the national average. In addition to its extensive port facilities, the city's economy is fueled by a wide variety of industries that include financial and insurance services, engineering and information technology, aerospace, computers and electronic equipment, health care, diamond polishing, shipbuilding and salvaging, oil production, and cotton textiles. The city is also home to the world's largest film and television industry (known as Bollywood).

Mumbai is served by the Mumbai Suburban Railway network, a public bus system, and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

Mumbai is also home to several institutions of higher learning and major research institutions, including: the University of Bombay (founded in 1857), the Indian Institute of Technology, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, SNDT Women's University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

Sites of Interest

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary on December 2, 1911, and was completed on December 4, 1924. Ironically, the last British ship to leave India after independence sailed from the foot of the Gateway.

the Gateway of India

Flora Fountain was renamed Hutatma Chowk (Martyr's Square) as a memorial to the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.

Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain)

Mumbai is home to several fine arts institutions, including: the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, a renowned museum which houses rare and ancient exhibits of Indian history; the Jehangir Art Gallery; and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

The city boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites -- Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Elephant Caves.

Other sites of interest in Mumbai and the surrounding area include the Jijamata Udyaan zoo and the Nehru Science Center.

King Charles II
East India Company
American Civil War
Suez Canal
Mahatma Gandhi
King George V

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Asia >> India >> Local History and Description

This page was last updated on September 22, 2017.