The Koli Community of Bandra
The Koli Community of Bandra

The Koli Community of Bandra

The Koli Community of Bandra

Fisher folk, said to be among Mumbai’s earliest inhabitants, continue to adhere to traditional values, customs, and culture despite the challenges posed by living in the heart of the city. From Mazgaon, Sion, Worli, Mahim, Khar, and Bandra to Versova to Madh and beyond, their koliwadas are rooted along the city’s coastline. The Koli community constitutes a distinctive group and is one of the oldest inhabitants of Mumbai. They are believed to have been the first settlers of Mumbai, and the word Koli itself is derived from the Marathi word ‘Kolah’ which means ‘fisherman’. Kolis (fishermen) and salt cultivators lived in the small fishery community of Bandra. Chimbai is a fishing village inhabited by the Kolis that dates back about 400 years. On the shore of Chimbai are traditional fishermen’s houses and old houses that retain the charm of the old world. A fishing community of only 20 houses dotted the village. Originally, the fishing village stretched from St Andrews Church to Carter Road for just a kilometre.

Situated at the edge of Mumbai, Chimbai is a fishing village, where the people make their living off the sea. It is a vibrant and colourful community where the people are always up and about, doing their chores and going about their lives. The place is full of life and energy, and through the gaps in between, one gets glimpses of the fascinating culture and can see the warmth and compassion that exists between the people of this community.

The contemporary and the ancient are separated by Chimbai Boulevard. On one side are the typical one-story fishing houses, and on the other are a scattering of towering skyscrapers. As the sun rises in the morning, the fishermen set off in their boats, ready to catch fish. Following the traditional methods of fishing, they bring in the catch of the day and the women make their way to the market to sell it.

The population of the village is made up primarily of East Indian Christians and Hindu Marathi Kolis. The entrances to the houses of the Hindu Koli families are decorated with Ganpati, the elephant god, and rangolis made from coloured sand or tiles with the guru Sai Baba – a revered older man in orange-coloured robes with a halo around his head. In the lanes with Christian families, one encounters statues of Jesus – usually on the cross – and of Mary, sometimes also as wall tiles.

Even today, all the important ceremonies, such as weddings and religious festivals, are held as per the local customs. People visit Mount Mary with devotion while dressed in traditional Koli garb to participate in the festival enthusiastically.

As a gesture of gratitude and respect towards Mother Nature, people plant coconut trees along the coast of Narali Purnima. After the puja rituals, fishermen sail into the sea, in their decorated boats. After making a short trip, they spend the rest of the day soaking in the festivities. Dancing and singing folk songs are the main attraction of this festival. Before they start the season, fishermen give generous offerings to the master of the water on this day.

This article is written by Mohit Chitnis, Sahil Chaudhari and Shubh Sahu

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