Mahim Koliwada

By Anurag


The area of Mumbai, comprising Greater Mumbai and the island city to the south, has been inhabited by people since the late Stone Age period. It has been an important socio-cultural hub on the western coast of India for the past two thousand years. Although the socio- political centre of this region was long concentrated in the present-day greater Mumbai, many notable cultural entities also emerged and thrived in the erstwhile seven islands. Rich and sophisticated sculptural remains dating as early as the fifth to sixth century AD emerge from these islands, with the Baradevi sculpture or the Shiva Heptad from Parel being prime examples.

The seven islands came under the rule of the Shilahara dynasty of North Konkan, from 9th century to 13th century AD, marking one of the most prosperous periods of this region. The Shilahara kings, great patrons of arts, commissioned several temples throughout their domains including the seven islands, with the original Walkeshwar temple being the most prominent. The island of Mahim, one of the larger islands, also witnessed a period of prosperity, evident from the early medieval sculptural remains scattered throughout present-day Mahim suburb.

Located on Bhagoji Keer Road in Mahim is a small shrine dedicated to Amba Mata. The deity worshipped in this shrine is actually a temple pillar capital adorned with five elaborately sculpted keechakas (load bearers) used in classical temple architecture.[1] Unbeknownst to many Mumbaikars, the Mahim Police Station houses four sculptural fragments, three of which likely belonged to a temple complex, while the fourth is a Veerghal depicting a naval battle, making it one of the few Veerghals found in Maharashtra that narrates a naval conflict. The artistic style of all these sculptural fragments places them in a time period of 12th to 13th century AD, similar to other sculptural remains from nearby regions such as Sopara, Gaas, Ambarnath, etc.[2]

Image 1: Keechakas worshipped in the Amba Mata Mandir
Image 2: Sculptural remains found in Mahim Police Station

This account aligns with the period documented in the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, the oldest chronicle of Mumbai. It recounts the story of Raja Bhimdev who governed the region from his capital at Mahikavati, the ancient name of present-day Mahim. There is a historical debate regarding whether Raja Bhimdev was a vassal ruler of the Shilaharas or one of the scions of the Yadavas of Devagiri. The chronicle narrates the tale of this quasi-historical nobleman, who first established his base in Kelve Mahim area of Palghar district and later shifted his capital to Mahim in Mumbai, bringing along various follower communities such as the Pathare Prabhus, Palshe Brahmins, Kolis, Bhandaris, etc. The Bakhar refers to Mahim Island as the Baradbet or the barren island,[4] detailing how Bhimdev established a civilization on the island by commissioning a palace, houses for his followers, a court of law, elephant stables, and gardens. He is also credited with the construction of the first Mahim fort, which was subsequently expanded upon by the Portuguese and the English.

Image 3: Mahim Fort as seen from Mahim beach

He was the last pre-Islamic ruler of the islands, and the rule of his descendants was supplanted, first by the Delhi Sultanate and eventually by the Gujarat Sultanate, of which the islands of Mumbai constituted the southernmost territories. It was during this period that the Dargah of Makhdoom Ali Mahimi or Makhdoom Shah was established in Mahim, which is one of the oldest Islamic shrines founded in Mumbai.

Mahim Koliwada

Image 4: A Koli sculpture on the Mahim causeway

The completion of the Mahim causeway in 1846 brought about significant changes in the local demographic setup for the Mahim Kolis. Despite its current appearance at a similar level to the surrounding neighbourhood of Mahim, the causeway was actually built at a slight elevation from the adjoining area, with a slope on the sea-facing side. The Kolis of Mahim adopted the termsulup’ from their vocabulary to describe this slope, and the settlement that emerged between the sea and the causeway became known and is still referred to as Sulup. Two other areas where the Mahim Kolis were and still are concentrated are the Mori Road and the Kapad Bazaar area, the latter being the main marketplace of the Mahim Koliwada. Eventually, the fishermen colony came up after independence, and now Mahim Koliwada is believed to consist of these four areas; Sulup, Mori Road, Kapad Bazaar, and Mahim fishermen colony.

Jayendra Kini, a native Koli of Mahim, states that the coast of Mahim was almost 20 feet lower than its current level, and waves from the Mahim Bay reach the Mahim causeway during high tide. Over time, due to sand deposition from the sea, the coast’s level eventually matched that of the causeway. He also recalls the now-lost sand trade that was once synonymous with Mahim. Large sail ships carrying sand would arrive at Mahim dock from places as distant as Thane and unload their cargo of sand, which was then piled into large mounds on Mahim beach for sale throughout south Mumbai. This spot is still referred to as Reti Bunder by the locals and stands as the sole reminder of the lost trade.

Image 5: Present day Reti Bunder on Mahim Beach

Rajaram Tare, another native of Sulup, recounts that the locality began with only thirty-five houses about one hundred and fifty years ago and has now expanded to almost two hundred households. Both Kini and Tare assert that the traditional expanse of Mahim Koliwada extended from Mori Road in the east to Mahim Bay in the west, Mahim causeway in the north and Kapad Bazaar in the south.

The older households in Mahim Koliwada include the Tare, Dev, Kini, Kaluwala, Dhanu, and Chaudhari families. The majority of families in Mahim Koliwada belong to the Vaity Kolis, who trace their origins to the Safale and Satpati area of Palghar district, with ancestors who settled in Mahim many centuries ago. Until recently, they maintained marital relations exclusively with Koli families from Safale and Mahim Kelve area. Only recently have they started marrying Kolis from neighbouring Koliwadas such as Worli, Sion, Dharavi, and Colaba. This migratory and early marital feature among the Mahim Kolis may be viewed from an anthropological perspective as a historical remnant of the significant migration led by Raja Bhimdev and his retinue, who came from Kelve Mahim to settle in Mahim Island of Mumbai.

Religious Life and Practices

The Dargah of Pir Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, commonly known as the Mahim Dargah, has played a pivotal role in the spiritual life of the Mahim Kolis. Referred to as ‘Murdum Baba’ by the Kolis, he is regarded as the rakhandar (guardian spirit) of their Koliwada. Sharmila Tare describes Murdum Baba as a figure dressed all in white, wearing a white turban, and riding a white horse, visible only to the punyavaan (virtuous people). She proudly narrates how her father-in-law and sister-in-law are among the few in the locality who have had the darshan (viewing) of Murdum Baba. According to locals, Murdum Baba continues to watch over their Koliwada with nightly patrols on his horse from his Dargah to the causeway. A popular anecdote in Mahim Koliwada suggests that in the past, Murdum Baba would approach unsuspecting virtuous fishermen and place mud in their kirkandi (fishing baskets), which would later turn into gold when they returned home. In the earlier times, the Kolis of Mahim frequented his Dargah every Thursday, which was dedicated to Murdum Baba, offering coconuts, garlands, and agarbattis. However, this practice diminished significantly after the 1992 communal riots, which strained relations between the Hindu and Muslim community.

Image 6: Mahim Dargah. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Another interesting aspect associated with Murdum Baba was the wooden pole situated on Mahim beach, locally known as kurus. This pole representing the Sufi saint, served as an important landmark in the traditional geography of Mahim Koliwada. The Tares note that despite being only three to four feet long, the kurus was always visible to the natives, even during the strongest high tides. The older generations of Mahim Kolis would offer coconuts or Maan (sacred offering) at the kurus, as veneration for Murdum Baba. It was the primary shrine for Mahim Kolis to seek resolution for various issues, including sickness, poor catch, or household troubles. “You simply offer one coconut at the kurus, and the sick in your family would be cured by the next day!” remarks Tare. His wife adds, “it was also an important stop for Murdum Baba’s horse during his nightly patrol from the Dargah to the causeway, and my sister-in-law had the darshan of Baba at the kurus!”

Interestingly, kurus is also the native term for a Christian cross, illustrating the seamless amalgamation of religious concepts in Mumbai, where a Hindu group venerates a Muslim Sufi saint, whose icon outside his Dargah is referred to using a Christian term.

The Gram Devta of Mahim Koliwada is Kadkeshwari Mata known to older generations as the Barodkarni. Her shrine is located outside Mahim Koliwada, at the tip of the Bandra peninsula near the Bandra Fort. The Mahim Kolis regularly visit her temple by boat, and her utsav (festival) is held during the Navratri festival with great fervour. In addition to the Navratri utsav, the Kolis offer talis (offering platters) consisting of coconuts, garlands, and puffed rice to Barodkarni during Makar Sankranti, considered as her annual Maan by the Mahim Kolis.

An important shrine in the religious life of Mahim Koliwada is the Vitthal Rakhumai Mandir on Mori Road, whose intriguing origin story is shared by Kini. During the early 20th century, Mumbai experienced numerous Cholera outbreaks, prompting locals to abandon their homes and move to open spaces for temporary residence. Similar patterns unfolded in Mahim Koliwada, where residents of Sulup relocated to Mori Road during these outbreaks. Eventually, some individuals chose to settle permanently on Mori Road, resulting in the need for a temple to fulfil their religious and spiritual requirements. A community council was convened, and it was decided to establish a Vitthal temple. An ancestor of Jayendra travelled to Pandharpur and returned with idols of Vitthal and Rakhumai, which were ceremoniously installed in a temple on Mori Road. Once the temple was established and became the mainstay for the local Kolis, a Muslim fakir began regularly meditating with his rosary in the temple premises. Referred to as Pir Baba by the Kolis, they had no objection to his presence, and the fakir continued to meditate near the Vitthal temple until his demise. Following his passing, the Kolis built the Mazar (shrine) of Pir Baba adjacent to the temple compound, where it is still venerated today. It might be one of the rare cases where a Hindu community willingly built a Muslim shrine alongside a temple. Kini mentions that the upkeep of the Mazar was initially overseen by the Kolis until recently, when the responsibility was assumed by the local Muslim.

Image 7: Vitthal Rakhumai idols brought from Pandharpur in the Mori Road Vitthal Mandir
Image 8: Mazar of Pir Baba adjoining the Vitthal Rakhumai Mandir

Holi or Shimga is one of the most awaited festivals for Mahim Koliwada. It is a fourteen-day celebration with three key days; Rang Holi, Kombad Holi, and Mothi Holi. supari, bhendi, and formerly mangrove trees were used for making the Holi bonfire. In the past, the Holi festivities of the Vaity community in Sulup was considered as the most significant, drawing attendance from all Koli families in the vicinity. However, the occurrence of housebreaking incidents, facilitated by the vacant houses during this time, led to a shift. Families from various localities, such as Mori Road and Kapad Bazaar, began organizing their own Holi bonfires to curb this menace.

Image 9: The Mandir and the Mazar

On the day of Kombad Holi, the community visits the Shitla Devi Temple, offering her annual Maan consisting of a tali of coconut, garlands, etc. Rang Holi involves inviting bereaved families of the Koliwada, where they are applied gulal tikka on their forehead by the rest of the community and offering them a Maan of chole (boiled chickpeas), puffed rice, dried dates, and Mahim halwa. This gesture is followed by consoling the mourning family members, requesting them to forget their sorrow and participate in the communal Holi celebrations.

Mothi Holi or the main Holi in Mahim Koliwada, exclusively features a supari (areca nut) tree sourced from Virar a day prior to the festivities. On the evening of Mothi Holi, the women from the community gather to decorate the supari tree for the grand occasion. The locals believe that the Holi is a bride-to-be, and decorate her accordingly. Following a ritual bathing with water, milk, and turmeric paste, she is dressed in bridal finery, including a sari and mangalsutra (necklace symbolizing marriage), with the hair braided and other adornments. After the Holi is dressed up, the puja ceremony commences, where newly married couples are given the honour of presiding over the ceremony. Additionally, native girls from Mahim, married off to other places, are invited back to their maternal homes to partake in the Holi celebrations. The privilege of lighting the Holi bonfire is reserved for the village patil (chief). The Kolis believe that prolonged observation of the illuminated Holi bonfire gives the impression of it rotating in the air, a phenomenon they refer to as Holiche Nachne (dance of the Holi). An interesting aspect of the Holi celebrations in Mahim Koliwada is the enthusiastic participation of the native Christian Kolis, who also set up their own Holi bonfires for the occasion. A grand feast of puranpoli (sweet flatbread), modak (round sweetmeat), naralache (coconut laddu), shrikhand puri (puffed flatbread with yoghurt-based dessert), vafavlele (steamed laddu), and talalele (fried laddu) is traditionally prepared for Holi in almost every household. The latter two laddus are prepared in a similar fashion to modak, with both an outer casing and inner filling, with one being steamed and the other deep-fried.

Fishing Practices

The Kolis of Mahim have traditionally engaged in fishing within the relatively safer confines of Mahim Bay and Mithi creek, occasionally venturing as far as Dharavi and Thane creeks, as opposed to fishing in the open sea. The majority of fishing activities have historically been conducted using hodya (small boats). Tare, a seasoned fisherman with nearly fifty years of experience, recalls a time when the waters of the bay and the creek were so clear that one could see the sea floor from the boats. Such pristine clarity is referred to as kaach pani (glass water) in the Koli dialect. Commonly harvested seafood in Mahim Bay includes Boi (flathead grey mullet), kale khekde (black crabs), shivlya (clams), and motshipi (pearl oysters), and occasionally ghol (black spotted croaker).

Tare also reminisces about the days when the slaughterhouse was situated in Bandra, which proved advantageous for the Mahim Kolis. They would procure goat intestines or tripe from the slaughterhouse for free, as it was a waste product. Using these pieces of tripe as bait in their phaga (circular crab traps), placed in the Bay waters, the Kolis were able to attract and trap a considerable number of crabs. Thus, at one point, mud and sand crabs from Mahim Bay were an abundant and prominent sea produce for the Mahim Kolis, contributing to the area's renown. However, the relocation of the slaughterhouse to Deonar greatly hampered crab fishing in Mahim, as the local Kolis lost access to the readily available goat tripe for bait. Tare laments the drastic decline in marine population within Mahim Bay over the past few decades due to rampant pollution, which has severely affected their incomes and livelihoods.

Image 10: Hodya or small fishing boats in Mahim Bay


The cuisine of Mahim Kolis shares similarities with that of their fellow Koli brethren, yet they boast unique dishes distinctive to their community. One such specialty is shivlyacha bhar (stuffed clams), a dry preparation made by stuffing the clams with a masala of roasted coconut, onions, and traditional Koli spices. Another delicacy is the shivlyacha shak, a curry made with clams and kairi (raw mango). During periods of dietary restrictions for religious reasons, Mahim Kolis often turn to vaal shengachi bhaji, a dish featuring sprouted white beans and drumsticks in a gravy.

Raja Bhimdev established his kingdom’s seat at Mahikavati, elevating it to a hub of trade and culture of the region. Though centuries have passed since the reign of this historical king and Mahikavati evolved into Mahim, changing rulers along the way, the Kolis of Mahim continue to honour and preserve the memory of this distant monarch and his erstwhile kingdom in their collective consciousness and culture. They proudly incorporate the name Mahikavati into the fishermen co-operative society of their Koliwada.

Image 11: The word ‘Mahikavati’ reflected in the name of the fishermen co-operative society of Mahim Koliwada


[1] Poojari, Shinde. ‘Early Medieval Remains from Mahim, Mumbai.’ 71-78.

[2] Dalal, Poojari, Shinde. ‘Further Explorations at Mahim, Mumbai.’ 61-63.

[3] Dalal, Poojari, Shinde. ‘Further Explorations at Mahim, Mumbai.’ 61-63.

[4] Campbell, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Volume XIII pt 11.


The author would like to thank Mohit Ramle for his assistance with the research.


Poojari, R. and Shinde, A. ‘Early Medieval Remains from Mahim, Mumbai.’ Explorations in Maharashtra: The proceedings of the workshop. (2014): 71-78.

Dalal, K.F., Poojari, R. and Shinde, A. ‘Further Explorations at Mahim, Mumbai.’ Explorations in Maharashtra: The proceedings of the second workshop. (2015): 61-63.

Campbell, James M. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Volume XIII pt 11:Thana. 1882.

Jayendra Kini, in conversation with the author, Month, 2024.

Sharmila Tare, in conversation with the author, Month, 2024.

Rajaram Tare, in conversation with the author, Month, 2024.