Manori Koliwada

By Anurag

From being an archipelago of various disparate islands to becoming the leading metropolis in India, Mumbai has seen a transformation across its traditional geography. Many quaint, bucolic villages morphed into or were engulfed by urban sprawl. However, some localities have still managed to hold on to their age-old mores, lifestyles, and settlements, secluded from the megapolis. Manori village off the coast of Malad is one such locality.

Early History

People have inhabited this region for at least the past eight to nine centuries. Evidence for this can be found in the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, the chronicle of Mumbai from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries CE. The Bakhar mentions Manori as one of the five villages that made up ‘Thikan Uttan’ under the administration of an officer called Sindhe Sheshvanshi. In fact, Manori is one of the few places whose name has remained unchanged since the time.

The traditional expanse of Manori Koliwada stretches from Sumlai Talav in the north, Manori jetty to the south, the open sea to the west, and Manori creek to the east. It is home predominantly to the Koli community, comprised of Hindu and Christian Kolis, along with a small population of Bhandari and Kunbi communities. Parshuram Koli, a native of Manori Koliwada states that the Koli household is the oldest family residing in Manori. Over the years, as the family expanded, new houses were built by the extended family, giving rise to the expanded Koliwada we see today. [1]

Khandoba is the kul devta of the Koli family, and the original family shrine or Devasthan still exists in Manori Koliwada, denoting the oldest house of the Koli family. As the family expanded and newer houses came up, each house built its own family shrines; however, the reverence for the primordial Khandoba shrine within the Koliwada remains strong.

Image 1: A household tulsi vrindavan (altar-like structure) in the shape of a fishing boat in Manori Koliwada.

Socio-Religious Landscape

Present-day Manori Koliwada is split into various localities demarcated by lanes or gallis, each having an interesting etymology of its own. Pandhar is the Koli word for the traditional fish drying ground, consisting of dried tidal mud deposits. Parshuram Koli says that the fish dried on these pandhars are more delicious than the ones dried on concrete ground, as the dried mud helps retain the original flavour of the fish by not overheating it. The settlement that grew up near the pandhar of Manori Koliwada became known as Pandhar Galli. Established during the Portuguese era, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is the main church, or deval, in Manori. The settlement that sprang up around the church thus became known as Deval Galli. Part of the Koliwada, which developed near an old military structure, got the name Barak Galli, with barak being the local word for barracks. The settlement near the local fishing port or bandar is known as Bandar Galli. The area where the Bhandaris of Manori reside is known as the Bhandarwada.

Image 2: Pandhar Galli locality.
Image 3: An old traditional house in the Deval Galli.

The gram devta of Manori Koliwada is Karjai Devi, whose shrine is located outside the main Koliwada. The Palkhi Sohla in her honour is organized on Paush Pornima, which falls in January. The image of the goddess is placed in a palkhi, paraded from her temple to the Hanuman temple at the southern end of Manori, and taken back to the original temple. Every household makes offerings of talis, religious offerings consisting of coconuts and fruits, to Karjai Devi on the day. Koli says that the original custom involved the palkhi procession being wrapped up before dawn, as the local belief stated that the palkhi of Karjai devi should not see the rising sun. While the older generations adhered to this custom, this custom is not practiced by the younger ones, and the Palkhi Sohla celebrations continue well into the morning hours.[2]

The older generations consider a spirit referred to as Kathivala Dev, or the god with the stick, as the rakhandar, or guardian, of Manori Koliwada. He would patrol the settlement at night, regularly making sounds with his stick to announce his presence. Parshuram Koli states that the Kathivala Dev would also assist the fishermen on their nightly fishing expeditions by providing them company and security when fishermen would beseech him before getting on their boats. Kathivala Dev, however, is a dying lore in the present-day Manori Koliwada, and the younger generations are unaware of his historical and spiritual existence in their Koliwada, a fact that is sadly stated by Koli. [3] The Karjai Palkhi and Kathivala Dev incidents show how traditions transform with each new generation.

Another important ceremony in the religious calendar of the Manori people is the ritual known as Sohla, which is also referred to as the Gavkicha Sann or the festival of the village community. It consists of a goat being slaughtered in a field outside the Koliwada, the liver of which is offered to Karjai Devi. After the oblation of the goat liver is done, it is divided into numerous small pieces and distributed to every family in the Koliwada as prasad. Due to the large number of households, the goat liver is chopped into very small pieces for public distribution. Individual families then prepare curries, adding in the tiny liver piece they receive so that all the family members receive the blessings of the prasad. Galbat, or boat owners, in the Koliwada also sacrifice chickens on the day of the Sohla, which is first offered to the goddess and later cooked into a feast for the employees working on their boats.

Fishing Practices

The Kolis of Manori have always fished in the open sea, as it is the western boundary of their Koliwada. Most of their fishing techniques are influenced by their traditional knowledge of fishing, which has been passed down through the generations. For example, fishermen consider the tidal hours before going out to fish. These tidal hours are divided into four categories as per the indigenous knowledge. The morning high tide is known as Disha, the morning low tide as Madaar, the night high tide is referred to as Eel, and the night low tide as Vhat. Koli mentions that the catch depends on these tidal hours, and the Kolis set out for the sea with the relevant preparations. The traditional open sea fishing technique practiced in Manori is known locally as kav or kavechi masemari. It includes piling two large wooden poles known as khunt into the sea floor, using hammering equipment known as parbaan, and tying a large net, or dol, between those poles. The force of the high or low tide draws fish into these nets, which are then caught by the Kolis. The traditional Koli measuring unit for sea depth is known as vaav. The khunts for Kav fishing are entrenched on the seafloor at depths ranging from 5–15 vaavs. It is a labour-intensive practice, and four to five people are required to put a kav in place on the seabed. In the olden days, a chiselled and polished palm tree trunk was used as a khunt. With the advent of the modern age and difficulties in procuring palm tree trunks, the Kolis of Manori have shifted to using iron rods as khunts.

The open sea adjoining Manori was and remains dotted with multiple kavs belonging to different individuals. The Kolis of yore identified their personal kavs using geographical markers. At night, the individual kavs were identified by observing the stars above the fishing arrangement. During the daytime, they were identified based on the perpendicular alignment of the kavs to coastal landmarks such as large rocks, trees, hills, etc. Usually, the community had a tandel, or a boat captain, who was well versed in day and night identification of all the kavs in the sea, and individual fishermen often relied on his input to identify their personal kav, in case of any confusion. The modern-day Kolis rely on GPS technology to track their kavs, and the practice of following natural markers is a dying art now.

After the end of Aagot or the monsoon season, the Kolis fish actively from the months of August to October. However, a phenomenon unique to Manori is Tukari, as it is referred to in the local dialect. Tukari is the period from November to January when the fish population in the sea declines and the fishing business in Manori experiences a lull. Koli reasons that since the Kolis of Manori employ locals, or bhagi, from the Koliwada, and not khapnar, or outside labourers, on their boats, they don’t have the necessary manpower to go out on long-distance fishing expeditions, unlike other large Koliwadas like Versova and Madh, where khapnar labourers are an integral part of the local fishing business, allowing the Kolis of those places to undertake long term fishing expeditions away from the Mumbai coast. The Kolis of Manori fall back on clam fishing near the shoreline during Tukari to sustain their families.

Image 4: Bhagis, or boat staff, bringing the catch to the coast from the boats at Manori Bandar.

Parshuram Koli reminisces about a time when the waters of Manori were abundant with prized catch such as Bombils (Bombay ducks), Mandeli (golden anchovies), and Paplet (pomfrets). However, the fish population has reduced significantly, and the prominent catch currently consists of javla or fresh shrimp. Koli fondly remembers his childhood days, when the kids of Manori Koliwada would go on fishing expeditions with their family elders during their vacations and how each kid was gifted one large pomfret by the nakhwa or the boat owner, on their return to the coast. He also mentions that in those days, the food for the boat staff while at sea was made using pomfret, owing to their abundance in the sea. Nowadays, the pomfret population has greatly declined, and the boat meals now consist of suki vakti or dried ribbon fish, which is a far cry from the scrumptious pomfrets.[4]

Image 5: A local lady happily standing with the daily catch of javla brought to the shore by her husband.

Some sections of Manori Kolis also engage in vanachi masemari or hand-held net fishing in the Manori creek. At present, fresh and dried shrimp constitute the major marine produce of Manori Koliwada. The fishing boats are manned by a tandel, or captain, set out in the adjacent white waters to fish for the daily catch. Once the catch is done, they return to shore and commence nisane, or sorting the catch by species. Most of the fresh shrimp stock is reserved for drying on the fish drying grounds, as it is the major source of the local fishing revenue. An important step in the shrimp drying process is the act of ghatne, whereby the shrimp are mixed evenly while it is being dried to ensure uniform dryness of these tiny crustaceans. After the shrimp are completely dried, the process of tuki or tukavne, which consists of cleaning and sorting the dried fish and then shipping the final product to the market.

Image 6: A local lady cleaning the suka javla, or dried shrimp, to prepare to sell them in the market.

In the olden days, when the farmlands were still abundant and active surrounding Manori Koliwada, farming was the mainstay of the Manori Kolis during the monsoon months. Parshuram Koli recollects how, during his childhood, the entire area surrounding the Koliwada turned green due to paddy fields in the monsoon. He narrates that the entire Koliwada community, including men, women, and children, used to work in paddy cultivation, which was known in the local dialect as aavni karne or aavni karayla jaane. Koli also shares that the demand for farm labour during monsoon was such that there was a shortage of people to work the fields. The locals would collectively sing while working on the paddy fields. This tradition of singing, known as Aambavni, was an integral part of paddy cultivation in Manori and facilitated effective productivity among the farm workers. Another similar tradition was mutual storytelling by the people working the fields, which served the same purpose as mentioned earlier.[5]

Image 7: A local home with fish motifs on its facade.


Holi or Shimga is a prominent festival in Manori, like all other Koliwadas. The Shimga celebrations extend for 15 days, culminating with the Kombad Holi and Mothi Holi. A popular local Holi custom is known as Heli. It consists of dancing with dagra, or wooden sticks, which are progressively and rhythmically struck against each subsequent person’s own dagra, and this keeps going in a cycle. Shimga is also the time of year when anything goes in terms of social behaviour as a way of venting the pent-up anger that people might have harboured against their peers. A local practice to indulge in this was known as Ghat Bandhni, wherein people lock the houses of their targets from outside, tie a can on the door and continuously bang it to disrupt the sleep of the family inside. Another activity was to dump kurya, or firewood, into piles in front of others’ houses. The locals also had a lyrical style to insult each other through songs, wherein one person called the other person something crass and was met with an even more crass reply from the other person. A native tradition followed on Holi involved women coming together and singing traditional Holi songs. The men would follow these women and soak them by throwing sea water on them, which was followed by a playful chase across the Koliwada.

The wood of amba (mango), bhend (portia), jambul (jamun), and chimb (green bamboo) is traditionally used to create the Holi bonfire in Manori Koliwada. The locals take their Shimga celebrations seriously. The 15 days of Shimga begin on the first new moon night and lasts until the next full moon night. The days are known as Prathama (first day), Dvitiya (second day), Tritiya (third day), Chaturthi (fourth day), Panchami (fifth day), Shasthi (sixth day), Saptami (seventh day), Ashtami (eighth day), Navami (ninth day), Dashmi (tenth day), Ekadas (eleventh day), Baras (twelfth day), Trayodas (thirteenth day), Chaturdashi (fourteenth day), and Pornima (fifteenth day). On the night of Kombad Holi, which is celebrated on Chaturdashi, a bonfire is made using amba and bhend wood, while on the day of Mothi Holi, which falls on Pornima, the bonfire is made solely from chimb wood.

The newly married couples from the village are invited to do the Pooja of the Holi based on their horoscopes. The community elders consult an astrologer to find which couple’s horoscope aligns perfectly with that year's Holi, and the couple to preside over the Pooja is decided accordingly.

Gauri Ganpati is another important festivity for the Manori Kolis. A unique aspect of Manori Ganeshotsav is that collective Ganpati hosted by every Galli is more prevalent than individual household ones. There are seven to eight important Ganpatis in Manori hosted by major settlements. Another fascinating tradition of Manori is the importance of Gauri over Ganpati during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. On the second day after the Gauri is welcomed by the community, most locals observe a fast in honour of Gauri known as Gauricha Upvas. The central theme of Gauricha Upvas is the Ekthaat, or dressing in common fabric and colour, especially by the women of Manori. Gauri is traditionally offered a Naivedya, or oblation, of chimbori, or crab. Parshuram Koli narrates an enthralling local belief about this phenomenon. He states that it is the age-old belief of locals that Gauri eats with both her hands. Thus, to suit that habit of hers, crab is always offered to the goddess as eating crabs requires the use of both hands.[6] This is a fabulous insight into how communities relate their culinary heritage to their religious beliefs.

Navratri is another important festival that is enjoyed in Manori. The gram devta Karjai Devi is the focus of the local Navratri celebrations, and offerings of nine different garlands on the nine days of the festival are given to the goddess by every household of Manori Koliwada. Dagra Nrutya, or synchronously dancing with the dagra wooden sticks, marks all nights of the festival along with a local version of the Garba, which involves coordinated clapping amongst the participants.

Another local festival collectively celebrated by the Hindu and Christian communities of Manori is the feast of the Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Church, known as Sukur Maulicha Sann, which falls in November every year.

Image 8: Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church, colloquially known as Sukur Mauli.

Culinary Traditions

The locals of Manori are proud of certain dishes which are uniformly enjoyed by all. Mushicha kismur, or shark mince, cooked with Koli masala is a much-loved local delicacy. Aatlele ole bombil, or a thick Bombay duck gravy, prepared traditionally in a mud vessel known as tavkat is another local favourite. Bombils are consumed in multiple forms, including as medicine. Sukya bomblachi chatni, or dried Bombay duck chutney, is consumed in most local homes as a remedy for fever.

An indigenous version of a tamarind curry known as chichavni consists of just thinly sliced onions cooked with tamarind water and Koli masala. It is a beloved dish among individuals of all ages. A local version of kanji in Manori differs slightly from the one found in other Koliwadas. The Manori locals cook their kanji with chopped cashew apples and prawns with a rice porridge base, known locally as dhanachi pej.

The speciality wedding dishes important in Manori Koliwada are the vangi javla bhaji, or brinjal and fresh shrimp gravy, served along with the famous vades (fried fritters) made of wheat flour. The vade’s are symbolically synonymous with weddings in Manori Koliwada, and elders often poke fun at the younger folks with the saying, ‘Vade kadhi denar?’, which is a colloquial phrase which means ‘When are you getting married?’ It is a beautiful example demonstrating the amalgamation of culinary and social traditions within a particular community.

Some communities resolutely defy the waves of modernity by preserving their local geography, lifestyle, and mores, holding dear to their cultural heritage to the best of their ability. The Manori Koliwada is one such anachronistic example amongst the native communities of this city, which transports any visitor to a bygone era.


[1] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.

[2] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.

[3] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.

[4] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.

[5] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.

[6] Parshuram Koli, interview with the author, February, 2024.


The author thanks Parshuram Koli and Hemant Koli for their assistance with his 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.

Parshuram Koli (a native resident of Manori), interview with the author, February, 2024.