Babhai Gaothan

By Anurag

Early history

The northern suburb of Borivali in Mumbai may appear unassuming today, but holds significant historical and cultural significance not only for Mumbai but for India as a whole. The Kanheri caves in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, initially excavated around the 1st century BC, were once the foremost centre of Buddhist culture and studies in the subcontinent, attracting students and religious scholars from distant places. Similarly, the Mandapeshwar caves, excavated around the 8th century AD, represent one of the earliest and finest examples of Hindu cave architecture, laying the foundation for the grand temple architecture that flourished in early medieval India. Additionally, the Eksar veerghals, depicting the historic clash between the Shilahara and Yadava armies in the 12th century AD, are among the finest rock memorial sculptures in western India. These examples prove that the modern-day neighbourhood of Borivali was home to a vibrant society that valued arts, culture and religion, supported by a robust financial base to nurture such artistic endeavours.

The Mahikavatichi Bakhar, the earliest chronicle narrating the regional history of Mumbai around the 13th-14th century AD, mentions five villages in modern day Borivali viz. Simpovali (present-day Shimpoli), Yeksar (present-day Eksar), Borvali (present-day Borivali), Kaneri (present-day Kanheri), and Maghthan (present-day Magathane), all falling under the administration of an officer named Gangadharrao within Malad Khapna or division. Among the various communities that migrated to Mumbai with Raja Bhimdev were the Pachkalshis or Somvanshi Kshatriya Prabhus who settled down in different parts of this region, contributing to its diverse cultural landscape.

Babhai gaothan and the Pachkalshi community

The modern-day gaothan of Babhai is nestled between Lokmanya Tilak Road and Chandavarkar Road, commanding attention with its distinctive blend of traditional dwellings amidst the backdrop of modern buildings and high rises. It stands as an urban village inhabited by the Pachkalshi or the Somvanshi Kshatriya Pathare community, representing one of the rare enclaves of this community within Mumbai.

Image 1: Lokmanya Tilak Road that passes through Babhai Gaothan
Image 2: One of the entrances to Babhai Gaonthan

Sunil Chogle, a septuagenarian native of Babhai, offers a glimpse into the fascinating history of Babhai and the central role that his family, the Chogles have played in shaping the local history. According to Chogle, a student of history and an avid documenter of the Pachkalshi history and way of life, the village dates back at least eight hundred years. His family has resided there since its inception. He traces their lineage to the Pathare Kshatriyas of Kolhapur, who migrated to Mumbai in the 12th century AD as part of Raja Bhimdev’s retinue. Upon their arrival, they were given various tracts of land as grants, eventually owning about twenty-four acres spanning from Babhai to the foothills of the Kanheri caves. Chogle shares an intriguing anecdote from his family's history, recounting a legal battle they won against the British government over unpaid rent for land used for military purposes.

Describing the boundaries of Babhai village, Chogle mentions key landmarks such as Laxmichaya building on Lokmanya Tilak Road to the north, Babhai crematorium to the east, Kamdhenu building on Chandavarkar Road to the west, and Babhai fish market to the south. He also sheds light on the current families residing in Babhai which include the Chogles, Pathares, Mhatres, Ravtes, Desais and Thakurs. Chogle explains how, a century ago when the Chogles were the sole family in Babhai, any birth or death within the extended family would mean the application of the Suver and Sutak or the ritual "impurity" period wherein families are prohibited from conducting religious ceremonies. Any such instance during major festivities would mean that the family was deprived of undertaking the necessary rituals and celebrations. To address this challenge, the Chogles decided to invite their married daughters and their husbands back to Babhai, settling them as Ghar Javais[1]. This strategic move ensured that even during unforeseen impurity periods, the festivities could continue through their son-in-law’s families. It is an interesting and ingenious example of community expansion and also offers insight into the marital relations of the Chogles of Babhai.

Image 3: Babhai fish market

Chogle highlights that the three traditional occupations of the Pachkalshi community were soldiery, carpentry, and farming. They were renowned for their expertise in woodworking, shipbuilding, and masonry with sutarki (carpentry) being their hereditary profession. The community’s gallantry led them to participate in various regional military campaigns over the centuries. Additionally, they were skilled agriculturalists, cultivating rice and other crops in the fields surrounding their village. Chogle proudly mentions that many builders and contractors associated with most of the great monuments of South Mumbai, including the BMC (Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation) headquarters, CSMT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) railway station, and Gateway of India, belonged to the Pachkalshi community. Notable figures include Rao Bahadur Yashwantrao Harishchandra Desai, who supervised the construction of the Gateway of India. He adds “We understand buildings and their surroundings unlike others, as masonry has been one of our ancestral occupations. The house that we are sitting in was built by my grandfather in 1905 and has needed only one major renovation, which was done under my supervision.” Shipbuilding was another hereditary occupation of the Pachkalshis, and Mr Chogle informs that his ancestors manufactured and supplied fishing vessels to the fishermen in Vazira, Eksar, and Shimpoli.

Image 4: Chogle House in Babhai Gaothan. Image courtesy: Sunil Chogle

He also emphasizes the significance of the Eksar veerghals to the Pachkalshis of Babhai, as the oldest evidence of their presence in the region. The veerghals represent the two traditional vocations of their ancestors; shipbuilding and warfare. This is an intriguing example of how native communities associate themselves with the historical and archaeological records surrounding them, affirming their historical existence in that particular region, and highlighting their ancestral trades and way of life.

The Pachkalshis settled prominently in the localities of Borivali, Kandivali, Malad and Andheri. The Chogles settled in Borivali, Mhatres in Kandivali, Desais in Malad and Patils in Andheri. The Desai family of Malad holds a special status as the oldest in the community and is considered the head family by the rest. Over time, the community expanded and settled in Mahim, Dadar and Prabhadevi.

Image 5: Veranda inside Chogle house. Image courtesy: Sunil Chogle

He further shares that when the Gujarat sultans became the overlords of the Sashti or Salcette islands, the Chogles joined their services as soldiers and fought in numerous campaigns, particularly under Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. In return for their service, Bahadur Shah gave them the inaam (reward) of four villages; Eksar, Babhai, Shimpoli and Vazira, and also appointed them as law enforcers in these areas. The title accompanying this inaam was ‘Chaugula’ which remained with the family, and evolved into ‘Chogle’ over subsequent centuries. Explaining the origin of the term ‘Pachkalshi’, Chogle shares a historical anecdote. Bahadur Shah, in exchange for fighting in his military campaigns, granted the community the honour of the bridegroom sitting on the aasan (state chair) adorned with five kalshis (vessels). This was one more kalshi than their brethren in Vasai and Palghar regions, who were known as the Chaukalshi. The extra vessel symbolized state support and privilege for the Pachkalshi community. This historical event marked a divergence in the trajectories of the two communities, and the Pachkalshis due to their material prosperity, embraced education and other refinements making them urbane and distinguishing them from their rural counterpart, the Chaukalshis.

Chogle highlights the famed espionage and networking skills of the Pachkalshi community, valued by all ruling powers in Mumbai. He shares a popular anecdote illustrating their prowess, involving the rescue of a high-ranking woman from the community. Centuries ago, the Desais of Malad welcomed a daughter-in-law into their family. News of her exceptional beauty spread, attracting the attention of a man known as Churi from the Palghar region. Determined to abduct her and present her to his regional overlord, Churi arrived by boat and landed at Madh from where he advanced towards the Desai household in Malad. Under the cover of darkness, he abducted the lady and began his journey towards Kalyan through the Ulhas River. Upon discovering the abduction, messages were swiftly dispatched to allied families in Borivali, Kandivali and Andheri. These messages alerted them to the situation and Churi's intended route. The men from these villages gathered with their weapons near Bhayandar, but they had no access to a boat. Hence they sought assistance from a local tandel or captain who agreed to lend them his boat on the condition of being admitted into their caste. In a remarkable display of unity and determination, the contingent chased down Churi and apprehended him at Kalyan. In the ensuing confrontation, Churi was slain and the abducted woman was safely returned to her home in Malad. This incident also led to the admission of the tandel, a Koli, into the Pachkalshi caste, reflecting the solidarity and cooperation among different communities during times of crisis. This account is documented in The Tribes and Castes of Bombay; Volume III by R.E Enthoven.[1]

They also provided martial skills, with material support, to the Marathas against the Portuguese during Chimaji Appa’s campaign to conquer Vasai in 1739. After the Marathas achieved victory, their service was duly acknowledged and rewarded with inaams and prestigious titles from the Peshwa court in Pune.[2]

Religious life

The gram devta of Babhai is Posai Mata, whose shrine is located in the Ram Mandir behind the gaothan. In the past, the Devi used to receive her annual maan[1] in the month of aashadh[2] (June/July in the Gregorian calendar). This ritual involved sacrificing a goat at her shrine and four chickens at the four cardinal entry points of Babhai village. A unique feature of this annual maan (tribute) was that all five sacrifices had to be performed simultaneously. This required meticulous coordination among the participants, who synchronized the killings of these animals to occur precisely at the same time. The person leading the sacrifice at the Posai Devi shrine would initiate the process with an aaroli (shout) to alert the others to prepare their knives. Then, when the clock struck midnight, another shout signalled the commencement of the sacrifices, ensuring that the ceremony concluded in unison. With the passage of time and urbanization, the practice of sacrificing chickens at the village boundaries has ceased. Additionally, the sacrifice of a goat to the Goddess has been replaced with the sacrifice of a kohla (ash gourd).

Image 6: The Chogle family Ram Mandir which also houses the Posai Devi shrine

Holi or Shimga has always been a major festival in Babhai gaothan, with celebrations lasting for fifteen days. Traditionally, the wood of mango and jambul tree is used to make the Holi bonfire in Babhai. One unique custom during Babhai Holi is the practice of Uus Fodi, which involves bursting sugarcane. Men from the village gather around the Holi bonfire with sugarcane sticks, roasting them slowly in the fire. Once the stick reaches the right temperature, they hit it on a rock, creating a loud bursting sound. This activity was enjoyed as a Holi sport, with the person producing the loudest sound being declared the winner. Another local custom is smearing Holi ash on each other’s faces and smearing it on the door of every household in the village. A culinary tradition associated with Babhai Holi is the communal cooking of batate pohe (dish made of flattened rice and potatoes) on the flames of the Holi bonfire. Although a simple dish, the Holiche batate pohe made on this day is highly anticipated by the community, and attracts people from other neighbourhoods who line up in Babhai to receive it as prasad.

In the past, when agriculture was practiced actively in Babhai, tus (rice husk) would be saved after husking the grain. These husks would be burnt in large vessels with perforated lids for many days.The result was fine white ash, which would be used for various purposes, including Diwali celebrations.

The festival of Aathvinde, celebrated eight days before Diwali, marked the approaching festivities for the community. It was a time when the fields would be harvested and houses cleaned. Objects such as kanga (traditional grain containers made of bamboo frame coated with cow dung), ladders, and bullock carts were sketched outside homes to attract prosperity. On the first day of Diwali, families would draw resh (boundary) with tus (ash) around their homes. Chogle reasons that this tradition likely evolved to keep out ants and other pests, as Diwali sweets would attract them. An interesting Diwali tradition from the past was hanging packets of Erandel (castor oil) and eucalyptus leaves in every corner of the house. Chogle recalls that his mother used to send him to the market to buy various items like karit (bitter melon), bhingri (Symphorema Involucratum), kadu ghosala (bitter sponge gourd), halad (turmeric), pinjar (kumkum), bhatachi kansa (rice ears), and zenduchi phula (marigold flowers). Once he returned with all these items, his mother would make portions consisting of these products, wrap them in a bundle with eucalyptus leaves, and hang them in every corner of their house.

The new year celebration of Gudi Padva was traditionally marked by hanging a bundle of gulvel (the vine of heart-leaved moonseed) on top of the door frame, alongside the gudi. The gulvel would be stored in homes throughout the year and used as a remedy for minor ailments like fever, cough, and cold, wherein a small portion of the vine was cut and boiled in water to be consumed as kadha (type of herbal tea). Chogle, who is also knowledgeable in Ayurveda, mentions that gulvel comes closest to the mythical sanjeevani plant because it is ever-growing.

Gauri Ganpati is another major festival for the Pachkalshi families of Babhai. Every household hosts Ganpati celebrations, which may range from one-and-a-half, three or five days. A traditional practice still observed in Babhai is bringing the Ganpati of every household in a palkhi (palanquin) with great pomp and taking it out for visarjan (immersion). The Gauri is brought in on the third day in the households that have Gauri festivities. Some families still follow the ritual of offering tikhtacha naivedya, consisting of non-vegetarian preparations along with a small portion of alcohol, to Gauri.

Wedding and culinary rituals

Two important rituals central to Pachkalshi weddings in Babhai are Medh Muhurta and Mandav Mode. Medh Muhurta marks the beginning of the wedding season in a household. It includes erecting a mango branch covered with an umbrella and a coconut outside the home. This ensemble symbolizes the commencement of the wedding period and also ritually immunizes the Lagna Ghar (wedding household) against suver or sutak i.e. the impurity period. The Medh Muhurta is conducted 13 days before the wedding date as the duration of the impurity period is also the same, nullifying any unforeseen ritual hindrances. The Bavta, the traditional gold armlet of the Pachkalshi community worn by brides, is a cultural icon of this community’s wedding functions. After the wedding, a light-hearted ritual called vihinicha maan is conducted to honor the mother-in-law of the family outside of Babhai. Throughout the wedding ceremony a portion of flowers, garlands, dry food items and sweets such as jalebis are reserved for this ceremony. After the major wedding rituals are completed, the mother-in-law is ceremoniously seated by the native family, and the vihinicha maan commences. Old gajras (garland) and venis (string of flowers) are worn on her head, and a garland woven with dry food stuffs such as puris and bhajis is placed around her neck. Following this, an ironic speech in her and her family’s honour is given by the important members of the Babhai household. Chogle states that this is an age-old practice meant to neutralize the ego of the family that the Babhai household was getting associated with, and it is received with great sport and humour by both the parties.

Once the wedding ceremony is completed, the medh muhurta ensemble outside the wedding home is taken down in a ceremony known as mandav mode. Four lamps made out of rice flour are placed in the four corners of the mandav (wedding canopy), and the process of dismantling the wedding setup begins. This signifies the end of the wedding celebrations and the beginning of married life for the newly wedded couple. A mandatory ritual during mandav mode is the sacrifice of a goat to appease the family gods and the making of the taadi che vade. Taadi (fermented palm liquor) is mixed in the dough and left for some time before making the vade. Another essential wedding dish is chavli vangyachi bhaji, a curry made with brinjal and black-eyed beans. A platter consisting of chavli vangyachi bhaji, taadi che vade, and mutton is served on the day of mandav mode, marking the gastronomical end of the wedding celebrations.

Other important dishes of the Pachkalshi community include the purnacha saranga (stuffed pomfret), kolambicha gatha (semi-dry prawns gravy), and various preparations of chimbori (crab). An iconic dish among the Pachkalshis is shevalyachi amti, made from dragon stalk yam which sprouts after the first rains of monsoon. This plant requires laborious preparation, the Pachkalshi chefs first remove the outer covering and soak it in tamarind pulp for at least two days to remove its itchy coating. Despite the time and effort involved, it is a beloved dish in Pachkalshi households every monsoon, with the entire household participating in its preparation. During Diwali, a special sweet prepared in Pachkalshi homes is the padarachi karanji. Rice is soaked and dried for seven days before being ground into a fine flour. The filling consists of grated dried coconut and an abundance of dry fruits. The karanji is moulded in a unique manner, and when fried, it produces a golden layered surface, hence the name of the dish.

An essential and favourite ingredient in Pachkalshi cuisine is chavli or black-eyed beans. Whether cooked on its own by itself or incorporated into non-vegetarian preparation, it is loved by children and adults alike. From the chavli vangyachi bhaji served at their wedding, to the chavli vajri, a dish of black-eyed beans cooked with goat tripe, it plays a versatile role in the Pachkalshi culinary tradition. To showcase their unique culinary heritage, the Pachkalshi community organizes the 'Pachkalshi Food Festival' annually at the Vanmali Hall at Shivaji Park, Dadar, inviting the general public to experience their diverse cuisine

Known for their hard work and talent, the Pachkalshis have historically played a pivotal and constructive role in shaping the history of Mumbai. Through their presence in numerous historical villages such as Babhai, they continue to enrich the cityscape, preserving their cultural legacy for generations to come.


[1] Enthoven, The Tribes and Castes of Bombay, vol. III, 162.

[2] Ibid, 161.


Karmarkar, Dipesh. ‘Understanding Place Names in ‘Mahikavati’s Bakhar’: A Case of Mumbai Thane Region.’ 2012.

Enthoven, R.E. The Tribes and Castes of Bombay Volume III. 1922.

Borges, Jane. ‘How we came to live in Bombay.’ mid-day, Mumbai, January 9, 2022.

Personal interview of Mr. Sunil Chogle.