Vazira Koliwada

By Anurag


The region of Mumbai, comprising the island city and the greater Mumbai area, has been inhabited by numerous indigenous communities for centuries. Among these, the Kolis of Mumbai stand out as the oldest and most celebrated group. According to some historians, the Kolis have been fishing the waters of Mumbai since the Stone Age. Originally tribal, the Kolis eventually settled down into various hamlets known as Koliwadas across this geographic expanse. While the cityscape rapidly evolved over many decades and centuries, most native Koliwadas have remained largely unchanged, standing as anachronistic relics of a remote past in modern Mumbai.

Some Koliwadas have continued to exist in their present location for at least the last seven to eight hundred years, finding mention in the oldest early medieval chronicle of Mumbai, Mahikavatichi Bakhar, which dates back to the 12th-13th century AD. This historical document references place names on Salsette Island, which was the regional socio-political hub until the 17th century. The geographic scope covered in this chronicle extends from present-day Bhayandar to Bandra in the western suburbs, and Thane to Kurla in the eastern suburbs.

Some areas emerged at later stages in the city’s history and have origins relatively younger compared to their older counterparts. When one envisions the term Koliwada, it typically evokes images of coastal hamlets situated along the shores of the open sea or other water bodies, owing to the convenience they offer to the inhabiting Kolis whose livelihood depends on access to water. However, there are exceptions to this norm, and this essay will focus on one such Koliwada.

Vazira Koliwada and its History

The Vazira Koliwada is situated at the intersection of Lokmanya Tilak Road and Linking Road in the western side of Borivali suburb, Mumbai. It is one of the indigenous Koliwadas in the Borivali region. While neighbouring Eksar and Shimpoli gaothans are mentioned in the Mahikavatichi Bakhar, Vazira finds no mention in this work or in any other old documents related to the city. According to a local resident, Yavan Vaity, Vazira has been in existence for at least the past century, as per accounts passed down by village elders. The name Vazira is peculiar compared to other Koliwadas, and the current inhabitants have no information on its etymological origins.

A plausible explanation, suggested by Rajhans Tapke, editor of the only Koli newspaper Sagar Shakti, sheds light on the matter. Tapke mentions the existence of an administrator in Malad known as Vazir by local Kolis. His jurisdiction extended from Borivali to Andheri, with Koliwadas in this region paying revenue to him. This office of the Vazir existed during the British rule in Mumbai, which spanned from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is conceivable that Vazira Koliwada Vazira Koliwada emerged during this period under the aegis of this Vazir, whose name may have influenced the naming of the settlement. This also serves as the only remaining trace of that now-defunct office. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the existence of Vazira dates back at least two to three centuries. The earliest families to settle in Vazira Koliwada, who continue to reside there, are Patil, Keni, Vaity, Koli, Bhandari, and Bhoir.

Image 1: A lane within Vazira Koliwada.

Vazira Koliwada, as previously mentioned, is not situated directly on the coastline but lies approximately two kilometres from Gorai Creek, which is the nearest water body and the traditional fishing grounds of the Vazira Kolis. Historically, before urbanization enveloped the modern environs of Borivali, the socio-economic sphere of Vazira Koliwada extended from present-day Maharashtra Nagar on Lokmanya Tilak Road in the north to Gorai Creek in the south. Prior to the urban development projects undertaken by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) in the Charkop and Gorai localities during the 1980s, the catchment area of Manori creek extended eastwards as far as the present-day Gorai BEST (Bombay Electric Supply & Transport) depot and Akashwani and Doordarshan Metro Staff Quarters in Borivali, which were also built by reclaiming pre-existing tidal wetlands. During high tide, seawater would reach this point, and the fishing boats of the Vazira Kolis were once docked along these shores.

Image 2: 1893 map of Mumbai showing the wetland between Dharavi Island and Borivali in the north, which was the traditional fishing ground of Vazira Kolis. Image courtesy: Wikimedia.

Fishing Practices in Vazira Koliwada

Manori creek is one of the major creeks of Mumbai's mainland, stretching from Marve and Manori in the south to Dahisar in the north. Traditionally, the fishing areas within this narrow water strip were and continue to be shared by all the Koli villages located along its shores and within its catchment area. Vazira, situated within its catchment zone, possesses its fishing territory located in the central area of the creek. It shares its fishing border with Charkop Kolis in the south and Dahisar Kolis in the north. The Kolis inhabiting this stretch have historically engaged in fishing these waters with mutual understanding and cooperation. Ramakant Bhandari, a native fisherman of Vazira, recounts tales from the past where if one of their boats drifted away into distant waters due to high tide, the Kolis of either Charkop or Dahisar would safeguard it until it was reclaimed by its owner in Vazira. This cooperative and symbiotic fishing arrangement has been a longstanding tradition among the communities sharing these waters.

Image 3: Satellite image of Manori creek. Image courtesy: Google Maps.

Vazira has always been a relatively smaller Koliwada, where the natives traditionally practiced fishing using small boats called hodya.’ as opposed to the larger boats or boati used in larger Koliwadas. According to M. Dilip Vaity, a native fisherman from Vazira, their forefathers would trek daily from Vazira to Manori creek to fish. They would then bring their catch home in kavads (baskets), which they carried on their shoulders. The catch was sorted by their womenfolk, smaller catches were sold locally in the Babhai fish market, while larger catches were taken to the wholesale fish markets in Malad or Bhayandar on bullock carts. Vaity also notes that the waters of Manori Creek contain small fishes and crustaceans as opposed to larger fishes in the open sea. One of the major marine products for the Vazira Kolis were shivlya (clams) which were abundantly found on the sandy shores of Manori and Gorai creeks. In the past, entire households would go to the shores to forage for clams, which formed a significant part of the seafood commodities exported from Vazira Koliwada. Other fish catches included various types of prawns, boi (flathead grey mullets), and shingada (catfish).

However, the initiation and construction of urban housing projects by MHADA in Charkop and Gorai led to the drainage lines from these new townships being discharged into the Manori creek. Over the last three decades, this has severely polluted the water body, drastically impacting fish production and thereby affecting the livelihood of the Kolis, including the Vazira Kolis. According to another senior inhabitant, Yavan Vaity, the shores of Manori creek were pristine and unpolluted during his childhood. One could safely tread even in the marshy patches of the creek while catching clams and other crustaceans. However, over the last thirty years, due to sewage releases from Charkop and Gorai, the sandy shores have been replaced by polluted and mucky shorelines, which are highly unsafe due to the presence of glass shards and other toxic elements from the sewage lines. The disappearance of the sand also led to the vanishing of clams, once a vital part of the daily catch of the Vazira Kolis. It has also resulted in a decline in the population of crustaceans, adversely impacting the economic life of the Vazira fishermen.

Socio-Cultural and Religious Traditions

The socio-cultural fabric of Vazira Koliwada is vibrant, mirroring the vitality found in their counterparts in other Koliwadas. Traditionally, matrimonial ties, known as Soyrik, in Vazira extended within a spatial range from Rai Koliwada near Uttan in the north to Madh Koliwada in the south. In contemporary times, this has expanded to include Thane and other Koliwadas in the eastern suburbs of the city. Many marriages historically occurred with the Koli families from Charkop and Bandar Pakhadi Koliwadas of Kandivali due to their close proximity to Vazira. Wedding rituals in Vazira are similar to those found in other Koli communities across the city, and halad (turmeric ceremony), stands out as the most extravagant and joyous part of the wedding ceremony, where people from different communities join in the celebrations drawn by the revelries of the halad day.

Image 4: Communal space in Vazira Koliwada where most public functions are organized.

Vazira might be one of the few Koliwadas whose Gram Devta is situated outside its boundaries. The Gaondevi Temple of Vazira is located in the Maharashtra Nagar locality of Borivali West, a reflection of the Koliwada’s original expanse as mentioned earlier. Despite urban development over the years reducing Vazira Koliwada to its present-day limits, physically distancing it from its Gram Devta, the reverence for Gaondevi remains undiminished among the Kolis of Vazira. They continue to honour her with unwavering devotion, paying homage before the commencement of any auspicious occasion in their households. Milan Bhandari, a native, recalls that in the old days, all wedding processions would start from the Gaondevi Temple and end at the groom’s residence in the Koliwada. However, this custom has waned due to the emergence of large buildings and the busy traffic of modern-day Borivali.

Vazira is also renowned citywide for its Ganpati Temple, attracting devotees from afar. It is considered the second-largest Ganpati Temple in the city after Siddhivinayak. Initially housed in a small wooden shrine, the Swayambhu Ganpati (naturally occurring image of Ganpati) of Vazira gained fame from the 1980s onwards as the ‘Navsala pavnara Ganpati’. Consequently, the temple structure underwent significant construction, transforming into the sprawling complex of the present-day Vazira Ganpati Devasthan, complete with an in-house natural lake.

Image 5: Vazira Ganpati shrine. Image courtesy: Prathamesh Bhandari.

Another important deity within the Vazira Ganpati Temple complex is the Aljidev shrine. Revered as the rakhandar (guardian) of the Vazira Koliwada by the inhabitants, Aljidev is an integral part of the religious life of Vazira Kolis. According to the elders of the Koliwada, the safed ghoda (white horse) of Aljidev still roams the streets at night, patrolling the locality of Vazira Koliwada and safeguarding it from any negative energies.


The two most celebrated festivities in Vazira Koliwada are Holi and Gauri Ganpati. Holi, locally referred to as Shimga, is passionately celebrated, similar to other Koliwadas in Mumbai. The month of March is known as Shimgyacha Mahina (month in which Shimga is celebrated) by the native inhabitants. Shimga is a fourteen-day celebration in Vazira, and begins from the amavasya (new moon) night preceding the calendar date of Holi. During Shimga, children in Vazira visit households in the Koliwada, asking for wooden sticks and kerosene to light small bonfires in different lanes of Koliwada every night till the main Holi day. Traditionally, the Kolis of Vazira use one of the three trees for making the Holi bonfires; mango, jambul (java plum), and bhendi (portia tree). In the past, when Vazira was surrounded by thick vegetation, the locals used to cut down one of the aforementioned trees for Holika Dahan (burning of Holika). However, since the surrounding vegetation was cleared for urban development and tree cutting was criminalized, this practice ceased. To meet their festive requirements sustainably, the Kolis of Vazira began planting these trees in a designated patch within the Koliwada about two to three decades ago. The seedlings planted then have now grown into trees, and portions of them are cut each year to create the Holi bonfire. These bonfires are lit in a designated open space in the Koliwada known as Holicha Maidan.

The night prior to the actual Holi, known as Kombad Haul, is celebrated with great pomp by all the residents of Koliwada. Wood from the bhendi tree is used for the bonfire on this night. An interesting social aspect of Vazira is that households experiencing death in the family are ceremoniously invited to the Holicha Maidan. They are seated by the wider community on mats, and every member of the Koliwada puts a gulal tikka (vermillion mark) on their foreheads, and a snack of plain boiled chavli (black-eyed beans) is offered to them. This signifies community support for the mourning family, and they are invited to participate in the upcoming Holi celebrations along with the rest of the Koliwada. No water or colour is used on Kombad Haul, which is a night of pure merriment with music, singing, and traditional dances such as tiprya by the womenfolk of Vazira.

The main Holi, also known as Mothi Holi, is another huge celebration, with wood from the mango tree specifically used for the bonfire. The tree is beautifully decked up in garlands and finery and is erected in a pit, pulled by all members of the Koliwada. Newly married couples in the Koliwada are specially invited to conduct puja of the Holi and they carry a sugarcane stick as an offering to Holika Mata, beseeching the deity for fertility. A naivedya of puranpoli (flatbread stuffed with lentil and jaggery) and kheer (rice pudding) is offered to the Holi by all households. The honour of lighting the bonfire is reserved for individuals who have contributed positively to the Koliwada and the wider society in the previous year, chosen collectively by all members of the Koliwada. Once the Holi tree is lit, womenfolk dance to Koli folk tunes played on traditional Koli brass bands. The Vazira Kolis believe that if the Holi bonfire collapses in the direction of the Koliwada, it is a blessing from Holika Mata, assuring them of her protection and benefaction for the rest of the year. Thus, the tree is erected in such a manner that it collapses towards the Koliwada.

Image 6: Decorated Holi bonfire in Vazira Koliwada. Image courtesy: Prathamesh Bhandari.

Gauri Ganpati is another important celebration for the Vazira Kolis. Unlike many other areas, Vazira Koliwada does not have a Sarvajanik Ganpati (Ganpati idol shared by the public, bringing together people from all walks of life). Instead, every household brings its own Ganpati for worship. The Ganpati celebrations typically span five or seven days, depending on the family, with Gauri being brought in and worshipped on the last one and a half days of the celebrations. As a reflection of the community's marine livelihood in its religious aspects, a naivedya of fish is offered to Gauri. Throughout the duration of the Ganpati celebrations, every household within the Koliwada remains active and awake. Communal feasts are arranged in every lane on every single day of the festival, fostering a sense of community and togetherness.

Image 7: High rises like these now surround Vazira Koliwada from all sides.

The march of modernity in bustling metropolises like Mumbai has often resulted in the gradual erosion of diverse elements of indigenous cultures that have long inhabited these regions, even preceding the emergence of modern urban life. Despite this ongoing transformation, many native inhabitants remain steadfast, determined to preserve their belief systems and worldviews amidst the relentless tide of change. The Kolis of Vazira, along with their Koliwada, exemplify one such native group within this city, demonstrating resilience and tenacity in the face of an ever-changing cityscape.


The author would like to thank Rajhans Tapke, Dilip Vaity, Milan Bhandari, Yavan Vaity, Prashant Vaity, Ramakant Bhandari and Prathamesh Bhandari for their assistance with the research.


Rajhans Tapke, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Dilip Vaity, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Milan Bhandari, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Yavan Vaity, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Prashant Vaity, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Ramakant Bhandari, in discussion with the author, February, 2024

Prathamesh Bhandari, in discussion with the author, February, 2024