Erangal Village

By Anurag


Mumbai is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in India, with numerous native communities, including the Kolis, Bhandaris, Aagris, Warlis, and Prabhus, who have called it home for over a millennium. The remnants of this distant past are evident in various forms, ranging from archaeological material, oral traditions, written texts, place names, and social-religious customs.

The city is peppered with numerous indigenous settlements, which have been thriving alongside its inhabitants for centuries, with fairly unaltered socio-cultural mores. They stand as sentries of the native culture and traditions, who have successfully held against the siege of modern urbanity which has consumed the rest of the cityscape. Exploring these settlements transports one back to that bygone era of simplicity, where life appears to have persisted at a pace untouched by the outer world.

One such place within the urban environs of Mumbai is the village of Erangal, situated on the Marve-Madh Road in the Malad suburb. Unlike its neighbouring Koli villages of Marve, Bhati and Madh, Erangal is home to the Bhandari community, who, along with the Koli fisherfolk, are considered among the city’s earliest settlers.


The antiquity of Erangal is evinced from certain archaeological remains and its mention in the early medieval texts of the region. One such text is the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, a 12th century chronicle detailing the administrative setup of the contemporary Sashthi or Salcette island. The text refers to Erangal as ‘Yergan’, which was assigned to an administrator named ‘Singhe Sheshvanshi’. A distant link to this administrator is seen in the title which the present-day natives use to describe themselves, the ‘Sheshvanshi Kshatiya Bhandaris’. Another evidence of the historicity of this village is found in the local Omkareshwar Temple, where a Gai Vasru sculpture is worshipped as a Nandi by the present-day villagers. Gai Vasru sculptures are found all over the native villages across Mumbai, and date back to the 11th-12th century during the reign of the Northern Shilaharas, the sovereigns of this territory who ruled from their capital at ‘Shristhanak’ which is modern-day Thane. According to Dr Kurush Dalal, the Gai Vasru sculptures ‘were land grant stones in which the cow symbolized the grant, the calf symbolized the receiver of the grant and the milk would then be the benefit gained from the grant.’[1] The Gai Vasru sculpture at Erangal is proof of such land grants to a local beneficiary from the regional sovereigns around the 11th-12th century AD.

Image 1: Omkareshwar Temple
Image 2: Gai Vasru sculpture

The Portuguese arrived in Sashthi and the seven islands of Mumbai in 1534 after signing the Treaty of Bassein with Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, in which the latter ceded these territories to the former. This event ushered in the European age in the island’s history, and Erangal got its first European structure in the form of the St. Bonaventure Church which was built in 1575 and is considered one of the earliest Portuguese churches in Mumbai.

Image 3: St. Bonaventure Church

History of the Bhandaris

The Bhandaris are one of the indigenous communities of Mumbai and have played an active role in the city’s history. According to R.E. Enthoven in his work The Tribes and Castes of Bombay, the Bhandaris likely arrived in Mumbai with Raja Bimba from Paithan. Around 1295 AD, Raja Bimba gained control of Mumbai with the help of the Bhandaris, who subsequently settled in numerous locations across the island city. However, their power was eventually supplanted by the invading Islamic armies of the Delhi Sultanate.

Upon the arrival of the Portuguese in 1534, the Bhandaris aided them in repelling the Muslim armies, and in exchange for their assistance, had their ancestral rights reinstated. Subsequently, a quasi-independent state of Bhandaris was established at Mahim by the Bhongle Sardars. The Portuguese granted them the right to carry royal insignia and to blow a long trumpet called Bhongulee during certain state occasions. These rights of the Bhandaris were also retained by the Britishers, who succeeded the Portuguese in Mumbai.

The village

Image 4: Erangal village entrance

Mr Sunil Thakur, president of the Erangal Village Residents Association, highlights that Erangal is one of the only two villages of the Sheshvanshi Kshatriya Bhandari community in Mumbai, the other being the neighbouring village of Aksa or Aakshe, as it is known in Marathi. The community also lives in villages such as Nirmal, Gaas, Giriz, Manikpur, etc. in Vasai.

He further mentions that the traditional boundary of Erangal village referred to as ‘Mauje Erangal’ in administrative records, extends from the Dharavali bridge beyond Aksa village to the Madh church, and this territory is still considered to be a part of Erangal by the native communities.

Mr Thakur explains that the initial settlement of Erangal was established by four families—Thakur, Mhatre, Patil and Chaudhari. To this day, only the households bearing these surnames continue to inhabit the area. Historically, the village comprised approximately 80-100 houses, a number which has since grown to 200. These additional houses belong to the same four families, whose expanding members have constructed new houses within the hamlet.

The traditional occupation of the Sheshvanshi Bhandaris of Erangal was horticulture and toddy trapping, as surrounding Erangal were vast farmlands and palm trees, which the natives harvested for sale in larger markets. Mrs Thakur recalled a memory shared by her grandmother, wherein the natives of Erangal were nearly self-sufficient in meeting their consumption needs, only needing to buy oil, and sugar from outside, which they procured from the markets of Malad. The abundant vegetable produce of Erangal was transported by local farmers for sale at the Byculla market via bullock carts, a journey that spanned overnight. The leafy vegetables grown in Erangal were highly sought after in South Mumbai due to their exceptional quality.

Image 5: Former farmlands adjoining Erangal village

British intervention

The agricultural landscape of Erangal and its surrounding villages was altered after 1939, coinciding with the start of the Second World War. The British government requisitioned large swathes of land from the native communities to establish army and navy barracks. Concurrently, the Dharavali bridge was also constructed to facilitate the transport of tanks and other arsenal from the interior to the coast, in anticipation of seaborne invasions by Axis forces.

Consequently, the displaced local population migrated to Valnai also known as Orlem, where they remained until the end of the war. The territories acquired by the British government were retained as defence land by the Indian government and are now known as the INS Hamla.

Religious life

The religious life of Erangal is unique when compared to other villages of Mumbai. It is an entirely Hindu-populated village, with the most important landmark being the St. Bonaventure church. This imposing structure, dedicated to St. Bonaventure was built in 1575. According to local accounts, before the church’s construction, a temple containing a Shiv Linga and Ganesh image stood at the site. Both of these religious icons were relocated by the locals to a spot beside a nearby lake, where they remain today.

The construction of the church was undertaken by the Portuguese, with assistance from native masons and craftsmen who employed indigenous building techniques. They utilized local basaltic rock to construct the church, which they cemented together using a mixture of jaggery and limestone, which strengthened in the saline air of the coastline. The church served as an active centre of local Christian faith until 1739. Following the conquest of Sashthi by the Maratha forces, regular services in the church came to a halt and it was eventually abandoned, although an annual feast continued to be organized at the site. In 1976, the parish priest of Madh church oversaw the restoration of the ruins and reinstated the regular religious services at the church.

Image 6: Ganesh temple and Shiv Linga besides the lake
Image 7: Ganesh shrine in Erangal
Image 8: Shiv Linga in Erangal

St. Bonaventure was born in 1221 as Giovanni di Fidanza in Civita de Bagnoregio, Italy, and entered the Franciscan order in 1243. He later served as the Bishop of Albano and was canonized in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV. The priests of the Franciscan order who oversaw the construction dedicated the newly built church at Erangal to him and it has remained integral to the local religious life since. The annual feast of the Bonaventure church, known as Baravi chi Jatra or Baravi cha Sann by the natives, takes place every second Sunday of January. Parish priest, Sandeep Borges, explained that it acquired the name Baravi because it was originally celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas, bara being the Marathi word for twelve. Over the years, the date was fixed as the second Sunday of January. The festival holds significant importance for the East Indian community of Mumbai, especially the East Indians of western Mumbai stretching from Vasai to Madh.

In the past, native Catholic families from distant villages would journey on bullock arts to Erangal to attend the Baravi chi Jatra. They would reach one day prior and set up camps in the nearby fields and on the beach. After the eventful Jatra day, they would return to their respective villages. A Novena is held for nine days before the Jatra, and a special Missa, which is the colloquial word for Mass, is organized till 1:00 pm in Marathi, English and Tamil.

Father Borges also stated that Bonaventure is considered the patron saint of the sick and infertile, drawing crowds of the ailing and couples seeking fertility blessings to the Baravi chi Jatra. In recent times, students have begun to venerate him as a saviour for success in examinations. Father Borges shared his encounter with the saint, crediting his academic success to the grace of St. Bonaventure. The church, considered an important pilgrimage site for Catholics, now attracts devotees from as far as Goa and Tamil Nadu.

Image 9: People attending the Baravi chi Jatra
Image 10: St. Bonaventure altar

An interesting aspect of religious syncretism is evident among the Sheshvanshi Kshatriya Bhandaris, who, despite being devout Hindus, have revered St. Bonaventure since the construction of the church. The Sheshvanshi Bhandaris perceive the saint’s image as the protector of their village, his raised hand towards the sea believed to thwart any disasters approaching Erangal from the waters. Thus, they primarily venerate him as a guardian deity.

The native Hindu families also honour St. Bonaventure in their wedding rituals. He is regarded as one of the important deities to whom a coconut is offered during the wedding rituals, and his name is invoked in the Mangalashtaka or the wedding officiating chants to bless the new couple. This may be one of the rare instances where the name of a Catholic saint is invoked in the wedding chants of a Hindu community.

Mrs Thakur shared another account as passed down from her grandmother, recounting how after the church’s abandonment by the local Catholics,native Bhandari families cared for the ruins, regularly cleaning the altar and the image of St. Bonaventure. When Catholics from the neighbouring village of Bhati, attempted to move the saints on a bullock cart, they were besieged by a swarm of wasps, interpreted as a sign from the saint disapproving of the image’s relocation. Thus, the image was reinstated in its original place, where it has been venerated ever since. To this day, it is the Sheshvanshi Bhandari community of Erangal that leads the organization and management of the Baravi chi Jatra.

Image 11: Jatra banner

The Gram Devta, or presiding Goddess of Erangal village, is Hiradevi, who is indigenous to the Mumbai region and venerated by numerous native communities. Hiradevi also serves as the Kula Devta of many Sheshvanshi Kshatriya Bhandari families residing in Erangal and nearby Aksa. The Goddess plays a pivotal role in the daily life of the locals, and all the families seek her guidance, known as Kaul, before making any major decisions.

Image 12: Hiradevi shrine
Image 13: Hiradevi temple

The unique combination of Hiradevi and St. Bonaventure dominates the spiritual landscape of Erangal village. The local Bhandari community has always believed that Hiradevi is the terrestrial guardian of their village, averting all problems coming through their land boundary, while St. Bonaventure serves as the aquatic guardian, warding off any disturbances coming from the sea.

Festive traditions

The Sheshvanshi Kahstriya Bhandaris are a devout Hindu community that proudly maintains numerous local customs and rituals. They celebrate all major Hindu festivals, each with its unique customs. The Marathi New Year, Gudi Padva is one of the most beloved celebrations, as it is also the beginning of the Hindu New Year. The Sheshvanshi Bhandaris have a distinctive tradition of erecting the festive Gudi. They place a Paat, or a wooden plank, outside their homes, upon which a Kalash (urn or pot) is placed with a coconut and mango leaves set in it. A few coconut sticks are set into its crown, and atop this decorated Kalash, the traditional Gudi is erected. This twin setup is then collectively worshipped for Gudi Padva.

Image 14: Traditional Gudi in Erangal. Image courtesy: Sunil Thakur
Image 15: Details of the Kalash underneath the Gudi. Image courtesy: Sunil Thakur

An important festival for the Sheshvanshi Bhandaris is the Deep Amavasya, also known as Aashadh Amavasya or Gatari. Traditionally, on this new moon night, which precedes the month of Shravan, all oil lamps in the household are cleaned, lit, and worshipped as a gesture of gratitude for being the source of light for the family. In the modern age, with oil lamps becoming redundant and electricity emerging as the primary source of lighting, households in Erangal still uphold this ancient tradition by worshipping and garlanding their electric meter boxes, recognizing them as the modern source of household lighting.

Like all agrarian communities, Nag Panchami holds significant importance in the religious calendar of the Bhandari community. Their unique way of venerating the serpents involves drawing serpentine figures with sandalwood paste on a Paat, upon which rice is poured and shaped into the previous figures drawn with the sandalwood paste. Lhaya, or puffed rice, is sprinkled on these drawings, and a naivedya (sacred offering) of milk is presented. A traditional delicacy prepared on this day is Ukdiche Modak, with the only difference being that the stuffing is made out of chana dal and jaggery instead of the usual combination of grated coconut and jaggery.

Gopalashtami is also celebrated with great pomp and religious observance. Traditionally, the entire household used to fast throughout the day, and the birth of Krishna at midnight was symbolically marked with a small idol of the infant deity placed in a cradle, which was jointly rocked by the womenfolk of the family. A naivedya of curd was offered to the infant Krishna at night, and no rice items were made on this day by the Bhandari families. On the following day of Dahi Kala, a Dahi Handi used to be erected near the Hiradevi Temple, which was broken before noon. To date, all Dahi Handis in Erangal village are broken before noon. After the breaking of Dahi Handi, the families used to break their fasts by worshipping Krishna again, offering Shrikhand as naivedya during the daytime. Following this pooja, every household enjoyed a lunch of Shrikhand Puri.

Like all Maharashtrian communities, Gauri Ganpati is an important festival for the Sheshvanshi Bhandaris. They traditionally celebrate the festival over five days. Originally, a naivedya of crab curry was offered to the deity, a custom no longer by the Erangal families. On the day of the Visarjan, dahi bhaat or curd rice is now offered to Gauri Ganpatia as naivedya to invoke their return the following year.

The most important aspect of Diwali for the Erangal natives is the Govardhan Pooja ceremony. Outside every household, a Paat is laid on which five roundels of cow dung are placed circularly. A diya, or oil lamp, is then lit and placed in the centre, symbolizing the Govardhan mountain for the Bhandaris. This festival was also significant in the past with regard to their livestock. Families would wash and decorate their cattle and feed them a meal of Puranpoli. It was also a day of rest for the cattle, and akin to the Bhandari equivalent of the Bail Pola celebrated across the rest of Maharashtra.

The festival of Holi, colloquially known as Shimga, is one of the major celebrations for the Bhandaris of Erangal. Unlike the rest of the country, Holi festivities in Erangal commence on the second day of Mahashivratri, with children of the village creating and lighting multiple small Holi bonfires. The main Holi celebration in Erangal spans three days. The first day is known as Kombad Holi and the second day, Rang Holi, is celebrated by applying colours to each other. The third day, Shimga, is the central event, marked by the lighting of the main bonfire.

In preparation for Shimga, the villagers erect a cutout mango or jamun tree in an open ground near the village,referred to as Holicha Maidan, and decorate it with coconuts and flower garlands. The selection of this tree is a fascinating process, as only an old or dying tree is chosen for the ritual, with villagers volunteering to donate such trees from their farmlands to the village celebration. Additionally, a bamboo pole, locally known as a Bet, is erected beside the tree or leaned on it. The Bhandaris believe this pole to be a representation of Pralhad, who sat in the lap of Holika. This entire setup is ceremoniously set ablaze, signifying the end of the spring, and the beginning of the summer months.

Culinary heritage

Although the Bhandaris were traditionally an agrarian community, fish played an integral role in their diet due to Erangal’s coastal location. Locals constructed small bunds in the shallow coastal sea to trap small fish. They used an apparatus known as Aakhat or Hath Gholva, a hand-held net fixed between two wooden poles, to fish these bunded waters. Boi, the flathead grey mullet, was an important catch and an integral part of the local diet. Another dietary staple was a rice porridge known as Kaneri. It was made from the cracked granules left behind after milling the rice and was consumed for breakfast, dinner, and sometimes for all three meals of the day.

Certain dishes are mandatory during the wedding ceremony, some of which have rituals associated with their preparation. In the olden days, on the day before the wedding, known as Gavritacha Divas, a yagna was organized outside the wedding household, flames from which were used to light the house chulha (stove). The first item made after lighting the stove was Vade or fried bread, which is the central item of wedding meals. Another traditional recipe associated with Bhandari weddings is Vaal Vangyachi bhaji, a curry made from brinjal and sprouted beans. Dessert consisted of Ghavachi Shev or wheat noodles cooked in coconut milk along with jaggery. This thali, comprising the Vade, Vaal Vangyachi Bhaji, and Ghavachi Shev has been and still is the traditional wedding meal of the Sheshvanshi Kshatriya Bhandari community.

A unique culinary legacy of the Sheshvanshi Bhandari community is a dish known as Shirode. It consists of hand-rolled rice noodles cooked in coconut milk along with sugar or jaggery. This traditional dessert is made and served at all important social functions within the community.

Cultural heritage is a source of pride for communities around the world. However, not all groups have been able to preserve and nurture their cultural legacy in the face of modernity, often leading to the loss of these invaluable treasures. The Sheshvanshi Kshatriya Bhandaris of Erangal are among the rare communities cognizant of their rich historical and cultural legacy as one of the early settlers of our island city and have successfully maintained their cultural essence while seamlessly integrating with the modern world.


[1] Aarefa, ‘In Mumbai’s nooks and crannies, researchers are uncovering 1,000-year-old fragments of history.’


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. Vol. 1. 1922.

Johari, Aarefa. ‘In Mumbai’s nooks and crannies, researchers are uncovering 1,000-year-old fragments of history.’ 2017. Accessed January, 2024.

Ranganathan, Murali, ed & trans. Govind Narayan’s Mumbai, An Urban Biography from 1863. UK. Anthem Press India. 2012.