Gavanpada Koliwada

By Anurag

The suburb of Mulund, situated on the northeastern end of Mumbai, is one of the bustling areas of the Mumbai metropolis. However, it is also an ancient place mentioned in the early medieval annals of the city, and home to its own indigenous Koliwada, which is one of the culturally important Koliwadas of Mumbai.

Early History

The Mahikavatichi Bakhar, the oldest medieval chronicle of Mumbai dating back to the 13th-14th centuries CE, mentions Mulund as one of the villages under the jurisdiction of an administrator named Harbaji.[1] This firmly establishes the historicity of Mulund as being at least six to seven centuries old.

Bhalchandra Dashrath Vaity, a resident of Gavanpada Koliwada in Mulund, recounts that their ancestors originally lived in the catchment area of Vihar Lake and along the banks of the Tansa River. However, when the British widened Vihar Lake and built the Tansa dam in the second half of the 19th century CE, they were relocated to present-day Gavanpada Koliwada in Mulund. At that time, the area of Mulund East was full of tiny rivulets and creek inlets, which punctuated the local geography and became the fishing grounds of the Gavanpada Kolis. He says that they initially settled on the western side of the railway line in what is still known as Juna Mulund, or Old Mulund, which continues to have a few houses of the native Kolis of Mulund.

Ramchandra Pandurang Patil, the Patil (surname, also meaning head or the chief) of Gavanpada Koliwada, mentions that the name Gavan comes from the word ‘govran, which in the local dialect means a place to tie cattle. He states that when the original settlement was in Juna Mulund, the Koli families used to have their cattle pens in the Gavanpada area, giving it that name.

They narrate that in the olden days, when no houses had clocks, all families relied on the neighbouring factories to keep time. The local cement factory in Mulund had alarm sirens or bhonge as they were called locally, at fixed times during the day according to the factory routine. The locals relied on these sirens to keep their own time. Similarly, the Deccan Queen train, which went to Pune in the morning and returned to Mumbai in the evening, served as the timekeeper for the early morning and late evening hours.

The original boundary of Gavanpada Koliwada was marked by the Gavan River to the north, Mulund Station to the west, and numerous creeks that demarcated its eastern and southern frontiers. The oldest families inhabiting the Gavanpada Koliwada are the Vaity, Patil, Bhoir, and Keni. The families of Gavanpada traditionally established marital ties with Koli families from the Koliwadas of Bhandup, Bhivandi, Kalyan, Sion, Nanepada, and Navgharpada.

Image 1: Vaity Villa, belonging to the Vaity family, situated near Mulund Station.
Image 2: Koli matrimony service office inside Vaity Villa.

The traditional segregation of Gavanpada Koliwada was on vali which is the local term for aali, meaning a lane. The Koliwada was divided into three areas; Khalchi Vali or the lower lane, Madhli Vali or the middle lane, and Varchi Vali or the upper lane. The Kolis of Gavanpada also cultivated rice and had paddy fields stretching all the way to Anand Nagar in Thane. They cultivated a red rice variety known locally as Patni tandul or Patni rice.

Religious Landscape

The Gaon Devi of Gavanpada Koliwada is Jari Mari whose temple is located within the settlement. Her annual jatra (annual ceremony) is organized on the first Tuesday of Ashadh (June/July in the Gregorian calendar) every year. Besides Jari Mari, Sati Devi and Narba Devi are also important local divinities in Gavanpada Koliwada. Their jatrass are held on Chaitra Pornima, which falls in April. During these jatras, each household of Gavanpada Koliwada offers the maan (annual offering) of a goat or chicken sacrifice to the deities. An interesting tradition in Gavanpada is that sacrifice must involve four legs, meaning the animal must be a four-legged one. Depending on their financial status, families customize their sacrifice. Wealthier families usually sacrifice a goat, while poorer families sacrifice two roosters to meet the four-legged requirement. An additional rule is that the rooster must be an aaravnara kombda (crowing rooster). Apart from the yearly maans from every family, individual navas (prayers), are also fulfilled by the concerned families during these jatras.

The Veshivarcha Dev, or frontier deity, of Gavanpada is the Tungavtya Dev, whose temple sits on the eastern end of the Koliwada. In the old days, this was a coastal temple, but with urbanization, the coast has moved away from the temple. Every fisherman of Gavanpada offered his respects to Tungavtya Dev before entering the waters for fishing, praying for his safety and an abundant catch. He is also considered the rakhandar (guardian deity) of Gavanpada. Patil shares that the older residents remember him escorting them safely from the coast to their settlement during dark hours. He is described as a person carrying a staff with a ghungroo (bells) in his right hand and a lamp in his left hand. Older generations have reported feeling his presence behind them when they walked back home from the creek after their fishing trip, and that he would return once they entered the Koliwada.

Image 3: An image of Tungavtya Dev in his temple.

Another important local shrine is that of the Vagheshwar. The locals believe him to be a divine manifestation of the leopard, and it is a local belief that a leopard is often spotted at this shrine.

When agriculture was still actively practiced by the Gavanpada Kolis, they would organize a yearly maan or honour, in July for the spirits of the lands. This ritual involved sacrificing a rooster in their rice fields.

Fishing Practices

In the past, before urbanization encroached on the northeastern areas of Mumbai, the Koliwada of Gavanpada was located near the confluence of three water bodies; the Thane Creek narrowing towards its northern flow, the Vasai Creek entering from the western coast of Shashti, and the Ulhas River flowing in from the east. This made the local waters, though small in expanse, immensely rich in terms of fish population, which the Kolis of Gavanpada exploited fully.

Patil and Vaity mention that the neighbouring creek was so bountiful in terms of catch that fishermen did not have to spend long hours on their fishing trips and still got plenty of catch within a short time. Many Kolis of Mulund did not own large boats, but they still secured an abundant catch using their fishing techniques in shallow waters. The local creek inlets, known as Devale and Muldi Khadi or Khochi, were the traditional fishing grounds of the local Kolis.

They used numerous fishing techniques such as bhise, phaga, paag, gholva, aedi, and aasu. Bhise involved erecting nets near the shoreline, securing them with wooden poles, and using the tidal water flow to trap fish within this setup. The large population of crabs in the local waters was fished using a phaga, a circular crab cage with a narrow opening. Paag (cast net) was used mostly by the Kolis who owned small boats and could venture to the central areas of the creek to catch fish by casting their nets wide open. Gholva or hath gholva is a hand-held net secured between two bamboo poles, held wide open in the waters, and the person then rapidly marches backward towards the shore, dragging the pole net and catching any unassuming fish in his tracks.

Aedi was a technique that required two individuals. It involved a large net structure similar to the Gholva. One person held the Aedi near the water's surface while the other diverted fish into the nets. Once a substantial number of fish were present within the net perimeter, the person holding it rapidly lifted it out of the water, catching the fish. The waters of the creek near Gavanpada were rich in shrimp, and the baby shrimps, known as kolim, were caught using a screen net made by tightly securing a sari fabric on a circular ring, known as Aasu. The Aasu was used to filter out the kolim from the waters by the local fishermen.

Another interesting local fishing technique was known as valgan. During monsoon, rain showers along with the high tide created a unique phenomenon, where the fish in the creek came out onto the coast, following the sweet water streams created by the rains. The local Kolis referred to this action of the fish as masyanche khelne (play of the fish). The Kolis of Gavanpada used to catch these playful fish in great quantities during the monsoon, when fishing in the open waters was risky, in a fishing practice referred to as valgan.

The plentiful waters near Mulund attracted fishermen from other areas as well. Vaity shares that the fishermen of Diva Koliwada used to come to the Mulund creek waters to fish. They used a technique known as khadi pakadne, where they netted most of the expanse of the creek and rattled the creek waters to shock the fish underneath, causing them to move toward their nets. The Kolis of Gavanpada would join their fisherfolk brethren in this fishing exercise, and the catch was mutually shared by both parties.

The prominent fishes caught in the waters of Mulund were boyti (flathead grey mullet), jitada (Asian seabass), chimni fish, kala masa (black snapper), kolambi (prawns), nivti (mudskippers), kharbya (small mackerels), and chimbori (crabs).


Similar to other Koliwadas, Shimga is the biggest festivity of the year in Gavanpada Koliwada. Shimga celebrations traditionally went on for 15 days, but this is no longer the case, and is now restricted to the main Holi day. Vaity shares that in his youth, children in the Koliwada used to roam the entire locality, banging plates and shouting, ‘Kurya dya re!” or ‘give us firewood!’ A traditional aspect of Shimga in the past was the Songa (playful enactments) performed by the young folks. Traditionally, the wood of amba (mango) and jambul (jamun) trees was used to make the Holi bonfire. This practice is followed to this day, with the branches of these trees being turned into the Shimga bonfire.

Image 4: Holi bonfire in Gavanpada Koliwada.

A marital tradition associated with Shimga involves newly married couples circumambulating the Holi bonfire and paying their respects. The bride carries a tali, a platter consisting of ghatmaal (a necklace of sugar crystals), flowers, vade (fried fritters), and papdi (rice fritters), while the groom carries two tender coconuts and a sugarcane stick. The couple circles the bonfire and offer their oblations into the Holi bonfire. The coconut from the couple’s wedding is also preserved till the day of Shimga, to be jointly offered into the Holi fire by the couple.

In the olden days, the natives of Gavanpada organized atya patya sports competitions on the day of Shimga. However, this practice has ceased to exist now.

The festival of Aatimbare is celebrated eight days before the advent of Diwali. In the past, families poured ash into sieves and created circular patterns outside their homes. Following this, leaves of Eranda or Eucalyptus trees were stuck in the roof channels of the home’s exterior façade.

The Kolis of Gavanpada were enterprising and they used to sell torans (decorative garlands) during Diwali and Dasra. They procured flowers, rice kernels, and mango leaves from places as far as Kalyan and Jejuri, weaving them into beautiful torans to be sold in the local markets.

Baya Pujan was, and still is, an important ceremony for the Gavanpada Kolis. It is the first ceremony that is conducted after the fixing of marriages between two families. It involves worshipping the Jari Mari goddesses and offering them oblations to secure their blessings and goodwill. In the olden days, the ceremony was also performed for measles patients. A jagran (vigil) for three days was organized in the affected household, filled with singing devotional folk songs to the goddesses. People used to visit the patient’s household to pay their respects to the visiting goddesses, and an oblation of fruits was mandatorily offered to the manifested Goddess. Visitors were sprinkled with gomutra (cow urine) using neem leaves to purify them before entering the household. People would ask the Goddess, who was believed to visit the patient in the form of the ailment, for what they wanted. Depending on the response of the ailing person, that item was provided to the household to be offered to the Goddess.

The concept of Olya Baya and Sukya Baya distinguished the oblations that were offered to the goddesses. Olya Baya required a sacrifice of animals, while Sukya Baya required the sacrifice of fruits.

Another interesting practice associated with the visiting Bayas (water goddesses) was that the entire Koliwada would turn vegetarian for a period of seven or 21 days depending on the intensity of the ailment affecting the patient. A pata (ceremonial flat mortar) was organized in the concerned household on the last day of the purity period. The Bayas were offered their maan based on the Olya or Sukya criteria mentioned earlier.

Gauri Ganpati is an important household festival in Gavanpada, where families welcome Ganpati for a duration spanning from one and a half to five days. The Gauri, on her arrival on the third day, is shown the mandatory naivedya (food offering) of chimbori. Women of Gavanpada perform the traditional Fera Nrutya (circular dance) with a dholki (folk drum) player in the centre on the day of welcoming Gauri.

Navratri is another crucial festivity for the Gavanpada Kolis, and every household practices ghata sthapana, which involves planting seeds in a vessel and allowing it to sprout for nine days and worshipping this religious fertility setup. All households of Gavanpada adhere to a vegetarian diet for the nine days of Navratri.

Culinary Traditions

The culinary spread of Gavanpada Kolis is similar to that of their brethren in other Koliwadas throughout Mumbai. However, some indigenous preparations that the Gavanpada natives are proud and fond of are the bharlele paplet (stuffed pomfret) and bharleli chimbori (stuffed crabs). The stuffing in both these preparations is made from either besan (gram flour) or grated coconut, and these preparations are relished with tandlachi bhakri (rice flat bread).

Wedding specialities include poley, similar to dosas (crisp savoury pancake), prepared on the haldi (ceremony preceding the wedding) night and served to the guests. The poleys are paired with sukat (dried fish) preparations, and bomblya (small fried Bombay ducks).

A witness to sudden and rapid urbanization, which has resulted in the Gavanpada Koliwada being surrounded by plush housing societies and greatly gentrifying the locality, the natives of this Koliwada, including the younger generation, are still very cognizant of their cultural legacy and practice it to the best of their abilities.


[1] Karmarkar. ‘Understanding Place Names in Mahikavati’s Bakhar.’


The author would like to thank Rajhans Tapke for his assistance with the research.


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

Ramchandra Pandurang Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Maruti Janardan Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Bhalchandra Dashrath Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Tulsidas Prabhakar Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Hanumant Shankar Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Prabhakar Govind Vaity, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.

Kailash Raghunath Patil, in conversation with the author, March, 2024.