Locks, Lights, Colors & Beliefs

Technically an average middle-class Maharashtraian locality that is usually unobtrusive for those who are passing-by while trying to reach your intended destination on time for a change, despite the incessantly growing traffic. But if you actually make an attempt to explore the meandering alleys of Lalbaug, you would learn the story behind one of the greatest metropolitan cities – from the rise of textile mills, arrival of migrant Konkani population in the late 19th century to the closure of mills in the 1980s and urbanization of chawls. Khaki Tours has been making a tremendous effort to help bringing out the heritage of the city that has been lost and forgotten.

  1. Let there be light!!! Said some great person, and behold we have lights now. But it didn’t exactly start off like that for India. Mumbai is no exception to the rule. The first residential has light can be credited to Seth Ardeshir Cursetjee Wadia who installed a plant for producing coal gas at his residence in 1833. Seeing the brilliance ingenuity, The Governor of Bombay John Fitz gibbon proposed the installment og gas street lighting. It took 10 more years, but finally the idea was approved, though instead of the proposed gas lights, kerosene lamps were installed. It was the lifestyle change of another Parsi in 1842, Framji Cawasji Banaji, who started the official instalment of the first gas lamps on Bombay roads in 1865. Bhendi Bazar, Esplanade Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) and Churchgate Street (now Veer Nariman Road) were the first roads chosen to be lit up. Later the Queen’s necklace on the Marine Drive was also lit up with gas lamps
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Original Gas Lamp that still exists in Gamdevi

 A gadownloads lamp-lighter, employed by the municipality, would run along the streets from one side to the next. He carried a long pole with a hook at the end. He would use the hook to bring a tiny perpetual gas flame in contact with the asbestos gauze which would eventually light up with brilliance. It generated quite an excitement for the Bombayites, who would follow the lamp-lighter.

Coal and wood fires for cooking gave way to piped gas supplied by the Bombay Gas Company with its head offices on Hornby Road and the gas works at Lal Baugh. Once a month or so the Gas Company employees would come to eject the water build-up in the underground gas pipes by means of a hand pump.  The Company finally halted all its operations in the 1960s due to air pollution problems it generated in the Parel-Lal Baugh area.

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The only remaining placard of the Bombay Gas Company that has been uprooted from the Lalbaug area. You can see the uprooted foundation of one of the gas lamps that used to exist.

2. Popularly known as a famous centre for reunions of Hindus during their festivals, especially the Ganesh festival, Lalbaugh has known all forms of colorful celebrations. The ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal Lalbaug’ was founded in 1934, simply because of a vow (Navas) which was promised to Ganesha in exchange for a permanent place when the old market place at Peru Chawl was shut down in 1932. With the consistent effort and support of the then local Councillor-Late Shri. Kuwarji Jethabhai Shah and the local residents, the landlord Rajabai Tayyabali agreed to give a plot for construction of a market. Since the wish was fulfilled, the fisherman and the traders established the Ganesh Idol on 12 September 1934.

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The current Lalbaug Market

The idol was dressed in the customary fashion of fisherman and, since that day forward, the Lord Ganesh has become popular, as it fulfills the wishes of devotees. The Mandal was formed in the era when the freedom struggle was at its peak. every year 50 fisherwomen dance in front of the procession to honor the pledge that was taken. Can you imagine a 18 foot idol passing through this lane? I kid you not, it’s true!

While the history of Lalbaugcha Raja (‘The King of Lalbaug’) can be traced through all the documented images, many people are unaware that the original representation of the wish-fulfilling God exists at the corner of the road in the form of a plain black stone. The stone stays in that place for the 354 days of the year, unadorned and simple, and yet evokes the strength of faith and belief amidst the locals.

The distinct red color of the chilies as seen in the Spice Market can definitely be one of the  reason for the unique name of Lalbaug, meaning the Red Garden. Well, that is one of my hypothetical opinions regarding the origins of the name.

While you might get distracted with the beautiful and colorful sights of the market, people usually forget to pay attention to the actual entrance of the Lalbaug Market. The stone structure that you can see amidst heavy greenery, belongs to the Petit Mansion that used to be located once upon a time.

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3. The Indian Titanic. Yes! You read it right! 22 years ago before the Titanic sank, Gujarat has its own shipping tragedy when ‘Vijli’ a steamer carrying 746 people from Mandvi to Mumbai, sank some 20 km off Mangrol coast, killing all. Oh don’t worry, I did not exactly capture the Indian Titanic. But I did capture the house of the owner Haji Kasam. It is said that his generosity resulted in him being granted a boon of owning 99 ships by Fakir. It is said that Vijli was the 99th ship that actually suffered the unfortunate moment. Unfortunately the house is currently undergoing reconstruction, hopefully into the original structure and not into another gigantic monstrosity.

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4. Three acres of greenery in a jungle of concrete. My father always complains about how loud the city has become and how impossible it is to travel within the city. Most of us Mumbaikars have adapted to the concept of measuring the distance with respect to traffic and time of the day. Most of our plans are often built around such a concept. Amidst the bustle of honking vehicles and the cruel and blistering sun and the ever-growing real estate development that has converted the city into a urban jungle, it was surprising to come across this beautiful 3 acre organic farm, solely dedicated to beautiful vegetables like okra, spinach, etc. The farm is owned by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) and has been farmed by the Gedia family for the past 90 years.

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5. Religion is definitely a funny business. But what I never realised is that the creativity of the world of Hindu Gods and Goddesses can surpass the simplicity of human imagination. Bhuleshwar definitely tapped the highest score when it comes to its maze of temples. But Lalbaug knows how to surprise you. One among them is the unique temple of Mahsoba, located in the centre of Meghwaadi.

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Mhasoba with his wife and consort Jogubai, encased in silver lining

Mhasoba is widely worshipped in Maharashtra and in parts of Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, mainly to overcome epidemics. The name of Hindu God Mahasoba is derived from the term Mahisa , which means buffalo. Surprisingly for a Buffalo God, there is no human or animal representation. Some scholars consider Mhasoba as an example of animist form and hence the unique representation by a piece of stone with no distinct form or figure. He is usually enshrined under a tree or in small square structure built on the outskirts of a village or near the boundary wall of farmlands.

6.  Enshrining brotherhood. Located between meandering lanes, and surrounded by Hindu residential complexes on all sides, the 14th century Sayyed Hazrat Lal Shah Dargah or the Lal Shah Dargah is believed to be responsible for the name of the area ‘Lalbaug’. It is believed to be one of the oldest shrines of the city. Perhaps its the remodelling, but the beautiful Aegian color contrast definitely gives me serious case of travel itch to make plans for Greece and Turkey. There is a fresh water spring located within the compound of the dargah.

Located adjacent to Chiwda Galli is the Chand Shah Dargah, a Sufi shrine dedicated to Chand Shah who happens to be the younger brother of Lal Shah.

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Since the Chand Shah dargah was demolished during the communal riots of Bombay in 1992 and had to be rebuilt from scratch, as a heartwarming gesture of secularism, a Hindu family has been taking care of the dargah. Both the dargahs are believed to be wishfulfilling.

7. Parsi Colony of Nowroz Bag. Built on the site of the original Red Garden of Pestonji Wadia’s country house., Nowroz Bagh is one of the first Parsi colonies located outside of South Mumbai. Wadia, an Indian labour activist and descendant of the ship building Wadias,  built a country residence over 1,000 square yards here.

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8. The first time I heard about Fire temples was during one of my memorable history lessons. I have always been curious about the concept of fire temples and I have always wanted to visit one. This was my first encounter with a fire temple, and though I wasn’t allowed to step inside the temple exactly, my curiosity has definitely been sparked.

Fire worship originates from Iran mainly due to the presence of natural gas emissions and is thereby considered as the origin of the concept of fire temples.  Technically, there are three grades of fires:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Atash Adaran, and
• Atash Dadgah.

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These three grades of fires have given rise to three principle (and somewhat arbitrary) grades of temples:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Agiary (in India) or Atashkadeh (in Iran), and
• Darbe Meher/Dar-e-Mehr.

Agiaries and Atashkadeh do not require a high priest and can be attended by Mobeds. The M.G. Wadia Fire temple or the Lalbaug Agiari is the first fire temple which has been built outside the Fort area of Mumbai where majority of the fire temples are located. Unfortunately, a huge monstrosity of an apartment building towers above the fire temple, swallowing its simple structural integrity and simplicity.

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9. Origins of the largest conglomerate. Godrej Group, established in year 1897 by the brothers Ardeshir Godrej and Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej, entered in security equipment & soaps segment and is now a $1.875 billion conglomerate. No one can imagine that such a magnificence inheritance started behind a garage.

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Ardeshir Godrej was a great fan of Gandhi. The nationlistic movement that was gaining momentum in India at that point of time, inspired Mr. Godrej to develop a product that would be a worthy India-made competitor that could displace the foreign brands that were so prevalent in the market. He decided to manufacture locks using modern techniques and machines. His successful vision led to the development of India’s first home-grown safe in 1902. The success of the product was so grand well-received, the company was called upon to provide safes for the Queen of England herself.

10. I don’t know how much of this is true, but must of the portraits of Shivaji has often depicted him with white complexion. His complexion has been described at par with the ones of our foreign invaders. However, Bharat pointed out this unusual portrait of Shivaji. Living up to Indian complexion it seems! Maybe he needs one of those incessant advertised fair & lovely?

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If you ever happen to visit Lalbaug, the area itself with surprise you with its limited amount of space and permitted movement. But the history just adds a color that inspires you take a step back and look more closely. The number of redevelopments and upcoming high-towers thus manage to pain a picture that is completely opposite of the rich history.

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Layers of old chawl, apartments and ultra-luxury apartments clearly showcasing the progress of the city.

 

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