Mazagaon: A visual walk-through

Stretching along Mumbai’s eastern seaboard, Mazagon Dock is one of India's leading shipbuilding dockyards, established in 1774 by the Wadia family of shipbuilders. Adjoining the docks, Mazagon Koliwada is among the oldest Koli settlements in Mumbai. Mazagon is also a transport hub, which facilitates the inward and outward movement of sailors, workers, and migrants. It is home to a mix of communities, including Parsis, Muslims, East Indian Catholics, Jews and others, who have lived here for generations. Mazagon is dotted with architectural landmarks and heritage buildings, which reflect its cosmopolitan social fabric. Overall, Mazagon's unique blend of shipbuilding heritage, industrial history, and cultural diversity makes it a distinctive part of Mumbai's urban landscape.

Kaka Baptista Gardens on Mazagaon Hill is named after Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista, who was born in Matharpacady in 1861. In 1925, he was elected as the mayor of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. A barrister by qualification, he practised law at the Bombay High Court. He was also involved in politics and advocated for the rights of the East Indian community. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Kaka Baptista were close allies during the Indian Home Rule Movement.

Remnants of the Portuguese-era fort which stood on top of Mazagon Hill. The hill overlooked Mazagon harbour and the fort protected the harbour from piracy. The British destroyed the fort in 1881 and built an underground water reservoir on the hill. It was originally named after John Hay Grant, the Municipal Commissioner of Bombay from 1871 to 1881. Later it was renamed after Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista, a leading figure of the East Indian community.

Chawls provided affordable housing solutions for the working-class population. Typically, a chawl is a multi-storeyed structure and has individual living units arranged around a central courtyard. The units open on a running balcony which is used to socialize with neighbours. The residential unit may include a bedroom, sitting room, and kitchen, though washroom facilities are usually common.

Though Mazagon was an island with sea on all sides, it was well-known for freshwater resources. Before the days of municipally supplied tap water, there were a lot of wells and tanks that supplied drinking water. While some of these wells were privately dug within homes, others were open to the public. This covered well, for instance, is a private well located inside a Parsi mansion.

As a gesture of goodwill and public service, the descendants of Nawab Ayaz supported the construction of a sizable tank on the site of which a pyau (drinking waterspout) was placed in 1916. Horses and bullocks that pulled carts carrying cargo to the warehouses and dockyards had their own section of the tank. Subsequently, the tank was filled and transformed into a playground. It also has a subterranean water tank.

A tailor operates a sewing machine on the ground floor of Khorshed Mansion. This building, located on Nawab Tank Bridge Road, is extremely narrow, and the shop stands on its wedged corner. The floor space of the shop is barely a metre wide, enough to run a tailoring business.

Bungalows at Mazagon Koliwada have traditional architecture. They are usually one or two stories high, with protruding balconies held up by wooden brackets. Tiled roofs drain rainwater during the monsoon season. The interiors are flooded with natural light and fresh air thanks to the open balconies. The building entry opens onto the street, and the upper levels are connected by a wooden staircase.

A bicycle vendor on Baker Lane, which links Hospital Lane and D'Lima Street. As the name implies, Baker Lane was home to numerous bakeries that provided dock workers with freshly made pao. The workforce was made up of people from many communities, regions, and faiths. Each group had its eating traditions, but there was one food that they all shared: the locally made bread, or pao.

Mazagaon has grown into an industrial area with numerous large and small businesses that support the shipbuilding sector. As stated in the sign over this shop's door, the alleyways surrounding Mazagaon dockyard are a hive of offices, workshops, factories, and warehouses offering a variety of fabrication and ship-repair services.

A Koli eatery managed by women is situated right outside the Mazagaon Dockyards. There are several roadside restaurants in Mazagaon Koliwada, such as this one. They offer a range of seafood-based dishes that are typical Koli fare. Popular dishes include the Bombil fried (Bombay Duck), Kolambi curry (Prawn), Sukka curry (Dry), Khekda masala (Crab), and Bangda curry (Mackerel).

Shenaaz's tiny room at Bob Bungalow is where she feeds the local cats. Many cats live in Mazagon, where they patrol the fish markets and serve as useful pest deterrents. The residents look after the cats even if they are not domesticated. They become close friends with the locals and are regarded as family.

The residential units at Bob Bungalow have a single room, with the washroom in one corner. The washroom offers privacy only through drawn curtains. The half-raised wall of the washroom is used to store water pots. The attic is used as an additional storage space. Residential units at Bob Bungalow have two entrances, one facing the corridor inside the building and the other facing the outside, from which an external stairway is used as a shortcut.

Tracks on P. D’Mello Road are remnants of the Bombay Port Trust Railway Lines that were laid in 1915 to transport goods from all the piers and docks to the warehouses, godowns (white building in the background), and storage facilities located along the P. D’Mello Road. This route was also used by the tramway, which first started operation in April 1896 and lasted till March 31, 1964, when all tram services were discontinued in Mumbai.

Adjoining the docks, Mazagaon Koliwada is among the oldest Koli settlements in Mumbai, though nothing much of the historical village has survived in modern times. It is home to diverse communities, including Parsis, Muslims, East Indian Catholics, Jews, and others, who have lived here for generations. Mazagaon is dotted with architectural landmarks and heritage buildings, which reflect its cosmopolitan social fabric.

View of Mazagon Dock from Gaondevi Temple on Mazagon Hill. Established in 1774 by the Wadia family of shipbuilders, the Mazagon Docks are primarily used for the construction of warships and submarines for the Indian Navy. This includes maintenance, upgrades, and modernization of ships and submarines to extend their operational lives. In addition, the docks are also used for the repair and refitting of old naval vessels.

Mazagon’s historical connection to the shipbuilding industry is vividly depicted through colourful murals painted along P. D’Mello Road.

The 140-year-old Club of St. Anthony is a Goan club associated with Deussua village in South Goa district. These Goan clubs are called kudds (or coors), which provide affordable accommodation to migrants from Goa staying and working in Mumbai. Located close to Dockyard station on P. D’Mello Road, the Club of St. Anthony is among the few remaining kudds in Mumbai, most having closed due to a lack of patronage and occupancy.

The Koli community was mainly involved in fishing, though some Kolis were also cultivators. Typically, the Koli women take care of drying and selling fish, while the Koli men are engaged in fishing and distributing the day’s catch. Fish markets are dominated by Koli women, who handle the business operations.

Koli vendors along Nawab Tank Road, named after a tank constructed by Nawab Hyat (Ayaz) Khan's ancestors. Hyat worked for both Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali of Mysore. He surrendered the Bednore Fort to the East India Company during the Second Anglo-Mysore Wars. Hyat was shifted to Mazagon following the war, where he lived with his family, receiving an annual stipend of four thousand rupees from the government. He was called ‘Nawab’ by the local Muslims because of his affiliation with Hyder Ali.

Fishermen ply their trade door-to-door with the day’s fresh catch. This practice has remained unchanged over centuries. The only noticeable change is the replacement of traditional cane baskets with plastic buckets.

The entrance to the Mazagaon Masjid, established in 1890. Islam came to Mumbai through traders, saints, and preachers who arrived from various parts of the Indian subcontinent, and even from foreign lands. Trade, business, and commerce were dominated by the Bohras, the Khojas, and the Kutchi Memons. As a result of this mixed heritage, the Muslim population in Mazagon is diverse, with various sects having built mosques, maqbaras, and dargahs in the area.

Mazagon features a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial structures that have changed ownership multiple times. Buildings have been remodelled and repurposed depending on their usage. For example, Bob Bungalow was built as a hospital but is now used as a residential building. As one enters through the arched entrance, a grand staircase welcomes visitors. The current tenants live in units arranged on either side of the corridor.

Koli fishermen are sorting the day’s catch at Bhaucha Dhakka jetty. Due to extensive land reclamations, Kolis had to shift their fishing activities further south of the Mazagon dockyards. For their use, the Bhaucha Dhakka jetty was constructed in 1979. The jetty handles ferry services and maritime operations related to the commercial fishing industry.

Ownership and management of the Catholic churches began to diverge after the Portuguese gave the British control of the Bombay Islands. ‘Descendentes’ were the descendants of the Portuguese, while ‘naturalis,’ which included the Kolis, were the natives who had undergone conversion. The descendants refused to let the naturalis inside Gloria Church. The naturalis objected and urged the government to provide them land in Mazagon so they could construct their own church. Consequently, Our Lady of the Rosary Church was constructed on this land in 1794, as indicated by the inscription on the wall.

Among the first people to live in the Bombay Islands were the Kolis. Aside from Kolis, the area was populated by groups of people who worked in occupations that supported the regional economy. These included the Agris and Kunbis (paddy growers), the Bhandaris (toddy tappers), and the Mitha Agris (saltpan workers). However, as times changed, only the Kolis continued to engage in their traditional profession and have maintained a distinct cultural identity.

The Gaondevi Temple honours the village deity (Goddess) of Mazagaon. The Koli community worships an imprint of a foot that they believe was left by the Goddess, hoping that it will protect fishermen on the high seas. The current temple is situated on Mazagaon Hill, however, this is not where it was historically located. During Navratri, the temple comes to life as the Gaondevi is ritualistically transported across Mazagon.

Gloria Church Cross is a remnant of the former Gloria Church in Mazagon, located close to Hospital Lane. Constructed in 1548, the church began as a private chapel for Captain Antonio Passao and was demolished in 1596 to build a church in its place. This church was demolished and rebuilt in 1810. The site where Gloria Church and its parish house were located was designated for purchase for the Bombay Port Trust Railway. The old church was dismantled in 1910 after the Bombay Port Trust agreed to pay the Diocese two lakh rupees in compensation. Gloria Church in Byculla was reconstructed and reopened in 1913.

In the 1850s, Chinese immigrants began to arrive in Mumbai. These Chinese immigrants originated in the southern Chinese port city of Canton and were residents of the See Yup Koon neighbourhood. The majority of them were sailors who worked on ships that travelled between China and India. Chinatown was founded in Mazagon around the beginning of the 20th century. A remnant of the Chinatown is Kwan Kung Temple, a Chinese temple, located at 12 Nawab Tank Road.

Dockyard Road opened on November 12, 1925, by carving up a portion of Mazagon Hill. It is a part of the suburban railway network and is under the Harbour Line. The Harbour Line was established on December 10, 1910, when a double line was opened from Kurla to Reay Road, passing through Sewri and Wadala. In 1925, the Harbour Line was connected to Victoria Terminus (CSMT) through an elevated corridor from Reay Road to Sandhurst Road.

There are multiple stories regarding the origin of Mazagon’s name. The popularly accepted story suggests it came from Matsyagrama (a fishermen’s village), which in the local language became Machch-gav. The English referred to it as Massegoung, which was shortened to Mazagaon, while the Portuguese called it Mazaguao. Another simpler theory states that it originated from the Marathi phrase ‘maza gaon,’ which means ‘my own village.’