July 18, 2024

Dreams, Dreams and Dreams

In days of yore, the largest island had a rocky coast and
little water separating it from the Worli hamlet of the fisher folk. Arab
traders, who visited the islands, called it the ‘burj’ or watery break.
Combined with the locals word of ‘khadi’, meaning rocky coast, was born the
word ‘Burj-Khadi’. This became ‘Breach Candy’ to the English and today remains
as the elite site of the Hospital & Club with that name, and home to many
who enjoy the western coast and its winds.

One wealthy Muslim merchant named Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari ‘gave up his worldly possessions after a pilgrimage to Mecca’, travelled the world and finally settled on the main island. He was revered for his kindness to the poor and many visited him to seek his blessings. Legend has it that one day a poor woman, carrying a pot and crying, approached him. She was crying because the oil she was to have carried home had spilled, and she was afraid that her husband would beat her. The saint consoled her and ‘put a finger to the ground and oil gushed out’ for her to fill her pot. Later he dreamt that he had injured the Earth. Full of remorse he fell ill and made another trip to Mecca. Unfortunately he passed away en route, but he had admonished his followers that he did not want to defile the Earth again. His wish was that his body be cast in a casket into the Arabian Sea. The followers abided by his wishes, but the casket did not sink and instead settled on the ‘khadi’ in the ‘burj’. So they built a beautiful memorial in marble around the casket in 1431 in Indo-Islamic architecture. The minarets and the structure are a beacon in the sea off the Cumballa Hills, visited daily by thousands who pay their homage to the saint.

By the middle of 18th century, the Fort and the main island
was ‘too crowded’ and Governor William Hornby set out to realise Gerald
Aungier’s dream of ‘a city waiting to be built’ by uniting the seven islands
with causeways. The first of these envisaged by him  was to block the Worli creek.  He requested the East India Company for
permission in 1782, but this was refused. He thus went ahead and held ‘lottery’
to raise the requisite funds, and started the construction. He was suspended
and recalled, but he ignored the order and completed the work before end of his
term in 1784. He realised his dream and gave us the first linkage, called
Hornby Vellard in his honour, renamed as Lala Lajpatrai Marg.

Contract for construction of this first ‘bund’ was awarded
to a firm named ‘Dadaji Dhakji’. It was a very difficult task as nature
rebelled against this attempt at intervention. The mighty waters of the Arabian
Sea would rush in and destroy any built portion. Then one night, the chief
engineer, had a dream. A dream wherein the goddess Mahalakshmi appeared before
him, and told him to find a statue of her at the southern side of the planned
causeway. If he would then construct a temple at that site, she would allow the
waters to recede for him to complete his task. He found the little statue,
built a small temple and realised Governor Hornby’s dream to expand Bombay.

The Shilaharas, who ruled the islands from the 8th to 13th
centuries,  worshipped three godesses,
Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali. They built several temples and carved
statues of their dieties. It is believed that the statue that was found is one
of them. The bigger Mahalakshmi Temple was built in 1785, and it is the most
visited temple in the city today.

Old dreams for our Hills were realised.


Will our dreams be realised? 

Our dreams for

–   Cleanliness

–   Respect for our heritage

– Planned development with requisite infrastructure

(This Article is contributed by


Mrs Anita Garware, Resident of Malabar Hill and Chairperson, Indian Heritage Society – Mumbai)