Eksar Gaothan

By Anurag

The Lithic Bards of Eksar

In the 9th century AD, most of the kingdoms in peninsular India had submitted to the armies of the Dandanayakas, or generals, of the mighty Rashtrakuta empire, whose influence stretched from the Doab in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south. The Rashtrakuta emperors appointed several vassal ruling houses for governing various regions of their vast empire. One such royalty were the Shilaharas who were appointed to govern the coastal domains of the Konkan and the adjoining hilly regions.

The Shilaharas gradually became powerful in their assigned territory, yet remained loyal to their overlords in Manyakheta (the Rashtrakuta capital) till the final disintegration of the Rashtrakuta power in the 10th century AD. The Western Chalukyas, who supplanted the Rashtrakutas, allowed the regional sovereignty of the Shilaharas in exchange of their acceptance of Chalukya suzerainty. The Shilaharas eventually split into three independent houses viz. the Shilaharas of Kolhapur, South Konkan, and North Konkan, with the latter becoming the wealthiest owing to prosperous maritime trade happening through the numerous sea ports of North Konkan.

When the Yadavas of Devagiri finally eclipsed the Western Chalukyan authority in Maharashtra in the 12th century AD, their imperial ambitions made them keen on conquering and acquiring the rich littoral possessions of the northern Shilaharas. This set into motion a long series of conflicts between the Yadavas and the Shilaharas, which eventually culminated in the conquest of the latter by the former, though not with ease. The last Shilahara ruler of North Konkan, Someshwar, fought with the Yadavas for most of his reign to preserve his independence. Eventually, the Yadava ruler Mahadev descended down upon North Konkan with a large army consisting of war elephants to subdue his long-time foe. In the battle that followed, Someshwar was overwhelmed and escaped to the sea, where again he was pursued by the Yadava navy, and the ensuing melee ended with the death of Someshwar and along with him, the house of the northern Shilaharas. The Yadava conquest of North Konkan was now complete.

The contemporary inhabitants of the area where these battles were fought decided to preserve this eventful history for posterity by engraving these episodes onto stone memorials known as Veerghals, dedicated to the fallen warriors. The Eksar Veerghals, depicting this momentous event in regional history, are one of the most finely sculpted pieces of rock memorials emerging from Mumbai, narrating the military conflict that must have happened in the environs of the present-day Eksar Gaothan in Borivali.

Image 1: Eksar Veerghals
Image 2: A veerghal depicting the naval battle
Image 3: Close-up of a panel depicting a naval battle
Image 4: Close-up of a panel depicting war elephants
Image 5: Close-up of a panel depicting a warrior on a war elephant

Eksar Gaothan

The Mahikavatichi Bakhar, narrating a congruous timeline to the one mentioned above, refers to a village by the name of ‘Yeksar’ in the Malad division, under the jurisdiction of an administrator named Gangadharrao. This is the oldest textual reference of the present-day Eksar village or Gaothan, and can be traced back to the 13th-14th century AD.

Eksar is home to the Agri community whose traditional occupation was farming, and managing salt pans. It was originally a large village whose original boundaries stretched from the Manori creek in the west to Dahisar in the north, Ravalpada and Devipada in the east, and Vazira to the south. This original expanse of Eksar is still preserved in the administrative records, wherein all the places mentioned prior administratively still fall under mauje Eksar. The village of Eksar is traditionally divided into five neighbourhoods viz. Talepakhadi, Mhatarpakhadi, Dattapada, and Koliwadi. The original families who made up Eksar Gaothan, and who continue to reside in it, are the Mhatre, Patil, and Thakur. Till the 1950s, Eksar was a bucolic village nestled between rice paddy fields on all sides. The only mode of transportation that existed then was tongas, which were mostly owned by the local Muslim community members. As the old-timers narrate, “there were a few people of our village who worked as mill workers in the textiles mills of Girangaon in south Mumbai. They would either walk to the station or take the tonga.”

Image 6: Eksar Talao

The historical event which is still cherished, and which holds the most significance in the collective memory of Eksar natives is the Conquest of Vasai by Chimaji Appa in 1739. Mr Padmakar Mhatre, a native resident, states, “Our village came into prominence during the Vasai campaign of Chimaji Appa. Since ours was the village where he was uniformly welcomed with open arms and provided supplies, he named our village Eksar or uniform.” Mr Sandesh Bhoir, a local poet who writes in the Agri dialect of Marathi, adds that, “some of our ancestors were soldiers in the army of Chimaji Appa, who assisted him in capturing Vasai from the Portuguese, and we are trying to find out their origins in our village.” Mr Mhatre further states that after the conquest of Vasai, Chimaji Appa settled the land distribution and irrigation system for the natives of Eksar, which existed until a few decades ago when urban development changed the face of the neighbourhood. Some Muslim soldiers from Chimaji Appa’s army decided to settle permanently in Eksar and the area where they had pitched their tents developed into a permanent neighbourhood called Naytodi. It houses the famous Eksar Masjid and it is one of the oldest Muslim localities in Mumbai. The Muslims of Naytodi are of Konkani stock and speak Konkani Muslim Marathi. They are an integral part of the social life of Eksar Gaothan, and the natives proudly state that, in the 1992 communal riots, when the entire city was consumed by the flames of hatred, Eksar remained untouched, and all Muslim households in the Gaothan remained undisturbed, as there was no unwarranted provocation from either side, and their age-old mutual respect prevailed.

Image 7: One of the two entrances to the koliwadi area of Eksar Gaothan
Image 8: Lane inside Eksar Gaothan

Livelihood Practices

The traditional occupation of the natives of Eksar was farming and fishing. Rice cultivation was the primary livelihood of the majority of locals, and some of the natives still possess farmlands on the other side of Link Road, which they now outsource to labourers to cultivate. This was supplemented by fishing in Manori creek. The traditional fishing grounds of Eksar fishermen extended from north of Gorai creek to the middle basin of the Dahisar river. The usual catch of Eksar fishermen consisted of shivlya (clams), kastari (tiger prawns), kalva (oysters), kolambi (prawns), and chimbori (crabs). Clams were the most abundant produce in the waters nearby Eksar and Mr Mhatre says that he has seen people fishing up to a truckload of clams in a single day in his youth. Another native, Mr Pradip Mhatre, adds that in the past, education was never considered important in Eksar, because as the boy or girl turned fourteen years of age, they would head to the creek to fish. The abundance of marine life made fishing a sustainable and profitable livelihood at that time. Additionally, women in Eksar found another source of livelihood by selling dried cow dung cakes or shenya, in the markets of Borivali during the onset of monsoon months when firewood was scarce to procure.

Religious Life

The Gram Devta of Eksar is the Gaondevi whose temple sits in the middle of the Eksar neighbourhoods. She is the central entity in the life of the Eksar Agris, and most of the socio-religious life of the locals revolves around her. The Gaondevichi Jatra is held every year on the second Tuesday of May, and the palkhi (palanquin) of the Goddess is taken out in a grand procession throughout the Gaothan. In the olden days, chickens were sacrificed to the Goddess as naivedya or sacred offering on the Jatra day, and the collected meat was equally distributed amongst the villagers as prasad, referred to as tirpan in the native dialect.

The locals recount an incident that happened about fifty years ago when the first Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport(BEST) buses started operating in Eksar. The road passing besides Eksar Talao was originally situated on a slight hillock. Once, a bus filled with passengers was passing on that stretch, when the driver lost control on the slope, and the bus was flung towards the lake. It was saved by a branch of the banyan tree in the Gaondevi temple premise, averting a major accident. Locals who witnessed this event attributed this miracle to the Gaondevi, and their belief in her spiritual prowess increased significantly thereafter.

Image 9: Eksar Gaondevi Temple
Image 10: Eksar Gaondevi Shrine

Another important Goddess in the spiritual realm of the Eksar natives is Sathi Devi. The image of Sathi Devi is part of the Veerghal cluster that is found in the neighbourhood and is itself the upper part of a broken Veerghal. The incorporation of this historical remnant as a deity in the religious life of the present-day population provides an interesting insight into how communities perceive the historical record surrounding them and how they repurpose these historical artefacts to fulfill their spiritual needs in the current day and age.

Image 11: Sathi Devi shrine in Eksar

Holi, or Shimga, is the most celebrated festival in the Gaothan, with celebrations extending for a period of fourteen days. Kombad Holi, Mothi Holi, and Dhulivandan are the three main days of Shimga celebrations in Eksar. A unique custom in Eksar is the Holicha Pos, where children band together and go from one home to another, asking for money and wood for making the Holi bonfire. Additionally, Eksar locals would invite any mourning family members in the village to join the community, applying gulal tikka (vermillion mark) on their heads, and encouraging them to participate in the Shimga celebrations to help them forget their sorrows. Another custom from the past was cursing people you held grudges against and throwing heaps of dust on people’s doors during Holi. Older folks say that this provided people a socially accepted outlet for venting anger or grievances against certain members of the community, leading to a year of camaraderie afterward. This practice also served as a means to encourage reticent individuals to participate in the larger celebrations.

Mango and jambul trees are used for making the Holi bonfire in Eksar Gaothan. The Holi bonfire is erected in an east-west orientation and lit up after performing its pooja. Once the tree collapses after burning for some time, locals pick up the non-burning end of the tree and rotate it on the spot multiple times as a sport.

Diwali is another important festival for the Eksar natives. They also celebrate a festival known as Aathiunde, which occurs eight days before Diwali. During this festival, houses and their surroundings are cleaned, and drawings representing prosperity such as kanga (traditional rice containers made of bamboo framework coated with cow dung and dried, making them naturally pest repellent) ladders, ploughs, and bullock carts are sketched on the house verandas. The floor was splashed with water and the drawings were made with ash on the wet floor, ensuring they last for a certain time. The Aathiunde festival serves as a precursor to Diwali, reminding people of the upcoming festival. On this day, bullocks and oxen are bathed, worshipped, well-fed, and rested.

Gauri Ganpati is an equally important day in the religious calendar of the Eksar natives. Most households bring in Ganpati for seven days, while some opt for a twenty-one-day celebration. The arrival of Gauri on the fifth day is an important celebration, and the Goddess is offered a naivedya of chimbori or crab curry as per the local custom. A popular Gauri tradition in Eksar is the Feryanchi Gani, where women sing together and dance in a circular motion.

Another prominent local festive tradition is the Pithori Pooja. The amavasya (new moon) before Ganpati is known as Pithori Amavasya. Pithori Devi, considered an avatar of Goddess Parvati, is worshipped by every household in Eksar to pray for their children’s good health and the prosperity of the family.

Cultural Life

An intriguing custom in Eksar Gaothan that was followed during every major festival was the organization of nataks (plays) based on historical, mythological, and social themes. These plays were written, produced, directed, and acted in by the locals themselves, and they were highly anticipated performances by the village members, as was one of the few modes of entertainment available at the time.

Another interesting native tradition was the lalit. In the olden days, whenever a native of Eksar returned to the village after travelling, locals would gather for a casual conversation about the traveller’s experiences. The traveller would share the details of their journey and often entertain the crowd with humorous imitations of the people encountered during their travels. As more people joined the conversation, it turned into a lively and laughter-filled gathering, providing the rest of the natives with a vicarious experience of the outside world without leaving the village. Lalits initially started spontaneously but later evolved into more organized performances for local audiences.

The Agris of Eksar have always valued the importance of language, literature, and performances as evidenced by the examples above. Mr Sandesh Bhoir, a poet who writes in the Agri dialect in order to preserve and promote it, states that, “our language is our identity and we are taking all possible efforts to preserve it. People have a misconceived stereotype of the Agri as a drunk and uncultured person, wherein the Agri community has produced multiple authors and poets, who have contributed richly to the wider Marathi literature and culture. Most of the popular devotional songs listened across all households in Maharashtra such as ‘Aika Satyanarayanchi Katha’, and ‘Paule Chalati Pandharichi Vaat’ were written by Anand Patil who is referred to as the Adya Kavi by us Agris. We are engaging with people through Agri Sahitya Sammelan to show them this erudite side of Agri culture.”

Culinary and Wedding Traditions

Khaprachi bhakri, or rice bhakris made on a clay tawa or griddle, holds symbolic significance in traditional Agri cuisine. Originally consumed in all Agri households before wheat became popularly available in the markets of Mumbai, M. Mhatre notes that chapati made of wheat flour was a novelty in the olden days, with the native term for chapati being dashmi.

Several prominent dishes of Agri cuisine among Eksar natives are associated with wedding rituals. Two mandatory items made during the wedding celebrations are bhokache vade and umbar vade. The former is made from fermented rice flour and black lentils, while the latter is also prepared from the same dough, the only difference being a slight addition of sugar, giving umbar vade a sweeter taste. Women from the family and neighbourhood come together to fry this vade in huge quantities, marking is an important aspect of the Agri weddings through collective vade-making.

Image 12: Women frying bhokache vade for a wedding function in Eksar Gaothan. Image courtesy: Sandesh Bhoir

Lagnacha mutton or wedding mutton, is a legendary Agri meat preparation, renowned among knowledgeable food enthusiasts in the city. A traditional and indispensable wedding meal in Eksar Gaothan consists of lagnacha mutton, bhokache vade, varan and bhaat (toor dal and rice).

An integral aspect of Agri wedding is the presence of a Dhavlarin, akin to a priestess. Similar to the West African Griots, the Dhavlarin hold profound customary and ritualistic knowledge of Agri society. In earlier times, when Brahmins were rarely consulted to preside over religious and other ceremonies, the Dhavlarin played a central role in guiding native families through their rituals and ceremonies, particularly those associated with weddings. Mr Bhoir highlights the significance of the Dhavlarin in the socio-cultural life of the Agris, tracing the tradition back to the12th-13th century when Mahadamba, a disciple of Chakradhar swami, established this tradition, making her the first Dhavlarin according to Agri beliefs.

Image 13: Elderly Dhavlarin guiding a wedding ceremony in Eksar Gaothan. Image courtesy: Sandesh Bhoir

The Dhavlarin plays a pivotal role in initiating and concluding every Agri wedding ceremony. She provides guidance to the family on the proper execution of rituals, accompanied by singing traditional songs unique to each ritual throughout the ceremony. For example, during the Vade Talne ceremony mentioned earlier, she sings songs to invoke the Agni Devta in the stove to heat the tava or frying vessels for the vade. Once the vade frying ceremony is complete, she expresses gratitude to the Agni Devta through music, requesting him to rest after the ceremony.

An important ceremony in the Agri weddings is Dechkun, where a pata (flat stone mortar) is arranged with numerous ceremonial items on top of it, following the Dhavlarin’s instructions. This ceremony, conducted a day prior to the main wedding ceremony, serves to invite the gods for the upcoming wedding celebrations.

Agri society never had and still does not have the concept of hunda (dowry). Instead, a traditional system of dej (bride price) was prevalent, where the groom’s family offered their farm produce to the bride’s family as a gesture of wedding honour. With changing times, this practice has ceased to exist.

Image 14: A ritually arranged pata for Dechkun as per the Dhavlarin's instructions. Image courtesy: Sandesh Bhoir

From the battles that were fought and immortalized in the 12th century AD to the present day, where urbanization has replaced the battlefields and the farmlands, Eksar and its inhabitants have resiliently weathered the changes of time. They steadfastly move forward into the future, cherishing their age-old customs and traditions with reverence.


The author would like to thank Mohit Tamale and Harishchandra Thakur for their guidance and assistance with fieldwork.


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

टीम मटा ऑनलाइन. 'एक्सरचे वीरगळ'. Maharashtra Times. June 29, 2021. https://marathi.indiatimes.com/travel-news/article-about-eksar-borivali-virgal-or-hero-stones-by-dr-suraj-pandit/articleshow/83947944.cms. Accessed in February, 2024.

Padmakar Mhatre, in discussion with the author, February, 2024.

Sandesh Bhoir, in discussion with the author, February, 2024.

Pradip Mhatre, in discussion with the author, February, 2024.