Charkop Gaon

By Anurag


The suburb of Kandivali is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Mumbai, referred to as Kandhavli in the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, the city’s oldest chronicle dating back to the 13th-14th century AD. The etymological origins of the word ‘Kandhavli’ can be traced back to the Marathi word kandar, meaning mangroves, and valli, an old Prakrit term for a settlement. Therefore, Kandhavli likely denotes a settlement near mangroves. Even today, the coastline near the Manori creek in Kandhavli is richly covered with mangroves, bordering the native hamlet of Charkop, inhabited by the Koli and Bhandari communities, who are among the original settlers of Kandivali. In the past, much of the northwest Mumbai area near the coast comprised vast open wetlands with only local koliwadas, or fishing villages, dotting the landscape. These Koliwadas were strategically located on solid, slightly elevated ground, chosen by the ancestors for their resilience against even the strongest high tides. Connected by paay vaata or kaccha (mud) roads, during low tide, these Koliwadas became physically isolated during high tides, as the waters of the Arabian sea flowed in through the numerous inlets of the Manori and Malad creeks, creating a landscape resembling floating hamlets. Despite these challenges, the Kolis made the most of these tidal wetlands, concentrating much of their fishing activities in these marshy grounds, abundant in marine life.

Charkop Gaon

Dheeraj Bhandari, a resident of Charkop Gaon, identifies himself as a Vanekar Koli, tracing his ancestry back to the Mahadev Koli lineage. The term vana refers to a hand-held net with bamboo poles on each side, specifically used in shallow waters and marshy wetlands. The ancestors of the Kolis in Charkop Gaon predominantly utilized this tool for fishing along their densely wooded, shallow coastline. Consequently, they became known as the Vanekar Kolis among their counterparts in neighbouring Koliwadas.

Image 1: Entrance of Charkop Gaon

Bhandari recounts the oral history of their village, which is intertwined with a plague outbreak dating back three to four hundred years. At that time, Kandivali Gaon, located on present-day Mahatma Gandhi Road in Kandivali West, served as the main settlement for Kolis, Bhandaris, Pachkalshis, and Christian Kolis. However, a severe plague epidemic struck the area, prompting many families to abandon their homes in Kandivali Goan and resettle in open lands away from the infected area. The region Christian Kolis predominantly settled eventually became known as the present-day Bandar Pakhadi village, while areas inhabited by Kolis and Bhandaris evolved into the modern-day Charkop Gaon.

The traditional occupations that were practiced by the natives of Charkop Gaon were fishing, paddy cultivation, and toddy trapping.The Kolis of Charkop Gaon historically fished in the southern part of the Manori creek, sharing fishing grounds with the Kolis of Vazira to their north. Their catch comprised various species such as nivti (mudskippers), chimbori (crabs), mordi (akin to white anchovies), boi (grey flathead mullets), shingali (sperata seenghala), dolas (ribbonfish), and chivni (marsh catfish). Sadly, many of these fish varieties have now disappeared due to pollution of the Manori creek.

The Bhandaris, another significant community in Charkop Gaon, were traditionally involved in toddy trapping. They owned palm plantations stretching from Charkop Gaon to the highway in Kandivali East and Milap Talkies near the Malad boundary.

Bhandari recalls that around a century ago, British forces stationed at Shimpoli frequented Charkop Gaon, as this was their favoured place for target practice. Before their exercises, they would ensure that the villages of Gorai and Manori vacated, and commence their target shooting practice from the coastline of Charkop Gaon.

He elaborates that prior to the urban development projects that engulfed the vast wetlands of north Mumbai, Charkop Gaon was surrounded by the creek on the west and marshland on the east. There existed no structures between Charkop Gaon and Bandar Pakhadi village. The original crematorium of Charkop Gaon stood beyond the northern outskirts, where a modern high rise stands today. In those times, when a funeral ceremony took place in their crematorium, residents of Bandar Pakhadi would see it from their village and would journey to Charkop Gaon to participate in the funeral rites and offer condolences to the bereaved family. However, with modernization, buildings and towers now dominate the Charkop skyline, severing the geographical connection once shared by these two native villages.

Image 2: Lane inside Charkop Gaon

Religious and Cultural Life

The Gram Devta of Charkop Gaon is Dingeshwar and Dhavji maharaj, both manifestations of Shiva and revered as the patron divinities of Charkop Kolis and Bhandaris since the village’s inception. Other important deities whose shrines exist in the village and are equally revered are Ukhaldev, Jarimari Mata who is also worshipped as the Gaondevi, Govladevi, Zhuting Dev, and Vir Dev.

Ukhaldev is considered the guardian of the village entrance, believed to ward off malevolent forces. In ancient times, travelers from Charkop Gaon would offer a coconut at his shrine, a small structure made of mud walls and clay tiles. Failure to make this offering was thought to invoke Ukhaldev’s wrath, resulting in potential hardships during the journey. Over time, Ukhaldev's fierce image has softened, and his temple has been transformed into a modern structure resembling contemporary Hindu temples.

According to Bhandari, Zhuting Dev is the equivalent of Vetal found in other Koliwadas, and elderly residents still believe that he rides out on his flying horse every night to patrol the village. Notably, his passage was marked by a fiery trail, distinguishing his nocturnal journey.

Dingeshwar, besides being the Gram Devta, holds the revered title of the village guardian or Rakhandar. According to local belief, he descends from his shrine astride a horse, and patrols the entire village. It is said that he vigilantly watches looking out for wrongdoing and administers punishment with the leash he carries in his hand. The annual jatra of Dingeshwar is held during Vaishakh Shukla Panchami, following the festival of Akshay Trutriya, typically falling in April or May. It is marked by a Palkhi Sohla or a Palkhi ceremony, wherein the image of Dingeshwar is taken out of the temple, ceremoniously placed in the palkhi (palanquin), and paraded with grandeur throughout the village. The festivities continue throughout the night, with locals believing that since their patron God visits only once in a year, he spends the entire night amidst his devotees. As part of the Jatra celebrations, a goat sacrifice is also offered to Dingeshwar as his maan (sacred offering) during the Jatra celebrations.

Another significant deity for the natives of Charkop Gaon, is Krusangli Mata, whose shrine is located in the Akurli area of Kandivali East, some distance from the village. In the past, when the palm plantations of Charkop natives extended till the foothills of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, it was a regular stretch for them to cover on foot, for trapping toddy and procuring firewood for their homes. During those excursions, the locals sought divine protection from Krusangli Mata in these wooded areas. Though the landscape has evolved over the years, the spiritual bond between Charkop natives and Krusangli Mata persists, demonstrating enduring reverence even in modern times.

The concept of Baya, or divine mothers, plays a crucial role in the religious and cultural life of Charkop Gaon. In earlier times, the onset of measles was believed to be linked to the visitation of these Bayas upon the afflicted individual’s body. A unique aspect of this belief system is the concept of Saatjani Baya, which reflects the interconnectedness between religious and medical perspectives among the Charkop Kolis. When a case of measles occurred in the village, especially among children, the family members of the affected person observed a twenty-day fast in honour of Saatjani Baya. During the fasting period, individuals consumed only plain roasted fish. Bhandari notes that within Koli culture, fish is not considered non-vegetarian, unlike chicken, mutton, and eggs, which fall into that category. The fasting period was marked by daily prayers and rituals in honour of Saatjani Baya, and the fast concluded with a pooja for the goddesses on a Tuesday following the twenty-one-day period. A prasad in the form of Modaks was prepared and distributed to visiting devotees, while visitors brought Bananas for the family, as per the associated custom.

An important ceremony in the lives of all Charkop natives is the Baya ceremony, typically performed during their youth. It is akin to the munja ceremony performed in the Brahmin community, the difference being that munja is restricted to boys while the Baya ceremony is gender neutral and is conducted for both boys and girls. The ceremony commences with the household being decorated like a wedding house. The child, for whom the Baya ceremony is held, is dressed like a bride or groom depending on their gender. A wooden platform, known as Paat, is set up in the home courtyard, where the child is seated and ceremoniously bathed. Following this, a puja ceremony is performed. Subsequently, the child’s maternal uncle has the honour of taking the child to the temple of the Goddess. Known as Mamacha Maan, this ritual entails the uncle picking up the child in his arms and carrying them to the Jarimari or the Gaondevi Temple accompanied by a brass band, and relatives dancing to festive tunes. Upon reaching the temple, another pooja ceremony is conducted for the child in the presence of the Goddess, led by the temple priest. After temple-related rituals are complete, the child’s mother carries a footwear on her head and goes door-to-door to five neighbourhood houses, seeking alms as part of the last ritual associated with the Baya ceremony. Another essential aspect of this ceremony is the distribution of Maan to each native family to conduct this ritual. The two types of Maans: Ola Maan and Suka Maan. The former involves the sacrifice of animals to the Goddess, while the latter involves vegetable offerings. Families organizing the Baya ceremony for their children must make arrangements for the sacrifice to the Gaondevi, as per their hereditarily designated Maan.

This centuries-old custom serves as a significant milestone in the lives of all natives of Charkop Gaon. While it has become a dormant practice in many Koliwadas, the native inhabitants of Charkop Gaon continue to hold this ritual in high regard, preserving it with enthusiasm to this day. Bhandari highlights the importance of this ritual, noting that the famous Koli-Agri song ‘Bayanchya Aaji Sa’ is a depiction of this ceremony.

Holi or Shimga is the central festival for the natives of Charkop Gaon. Traditionally, wood from bhendi and mango trees were used to make the Holi bonfire. Kombad Holi and Mothi Holi are the days of Shimga celebrations, with bhendi wood used for the Holi bonfire on Kombad Holi, and mango wood for the bonfire on Mothi Holi. On Mothi Holi, the village women gather to worship the bonfire, performing the ceremony of Otbharni for Holika Mata, and tying bundles of Oti to the Holi ensemble. Newly married couples participate in worshipping Holika Mata, each offering a sugarcane stick into the burning bonfire.

A local custom known as Khasat serves as a method for resolving grudges and grievances among neighbours in Charkop Gaon. It involves individuals gathering dust and garbage and depositing it in front of the house of the person they hold animosity towards. This practice aims to provide an outlet for expressing anger and allows neighbors to reconcile, spending the remainder of the year harmoniously.

Another unique Holi custom observed in Charkop Gaon is the tradition of Pendhari. During this ritual, a village volunteer covers their entire body by wrapping themselves in a pendha (stack of rice hay), from head to toe. Holding a palm frond in his hand, the person transforms into a Pendhari and prances around the locality playfully whipping people with their palm fronds. The Pendhari holds a central role in the Holi celebrations of Charkop Gaon, eagerly anticipated by the community each year.

Image 3: Artistic depiction of the Pendhari with palm frond. Image courtesy: Dheeraj Bhandari

Gauri Ganpati is another prominent festival for the Kolis and Bhandaris of Charkop, and households welcoming Ganpati for periods of one and a half, five, or seven days. On the third day of Ganpati, Gauri is brought in, accompanied by a customary Naivedya offering of chimbori or crab preparation to the Goddess.

During Gauri celebrations, an intriguing dance tradition called Daagra Nrutya is observed. Men and women come gather in circles, holding wooden sticks in their hands. They move these sticks in alternate sequence, causing them to collide with those of neighboring dancers, creating a distinctive sound that follows the rhythm of the dance.

Another prominent cultural aspect of Charkop Gaon, as described by Bhandari, is the organization of drama performances known as lalits during festive occasions. These lalits, based on historical and mythological themes, were entirely curated by the native residents of Charkop Gaon. In the past, when Charkop was not connected to the rest of Kandivali by road, logistical connection existed with the neighbouring Malvani village in Malad, where artists from Charkop would walk to Malvani to procure costumes and other necessities for staging the lalits. Additionally, screening old movies on white cloth by traveling talkie companies was another important cultural phenomenon during celebrations in this village. However, with the advent of modern technology and the internet, the practice of organizing lalits has declined in Charkop Gaon, although older residents fondly recall this once-thriving tradition.Despite being surrounded by modern developments on three sides, the village of Charkop, nestled on the banks of the Manori creek, remains resilient against the changes of the age. This ancient settlement of native Kolis and Bhandaris continue to stand tall, embracing transformation with the same fluidity as the tidal waters that have sustained them throughout their historical existence.


The author would like to thank Mohit Ramale for his guidance and assistance with the interview.


Karmarkar, Dipesh. "Understanding place names in ‘Mahikavati’s Bakhar’: A case of Mumbai-Thane region." Studies in Indian Place Names 31 (2012): 116–139.

Dheeraj Bhandari (resident of Charkop Gaon), in discussion with the author, February, 2024.