Home > Beach Resort, General, Mumbai, Mumbai Beach, Mumbai History, Mumbai Weekend Tour > East Indians of West Coast of India

East Indians of West Coast of India

East Indians of West Coast of India

Dongri, Pali, Uttan Gorai and other fishing villages of north Mumbai

East Indian Christians, or simply East Indians are an ethno-religious Indian Christian community. They trace their roots to those who converted to Christianity in the 16th century when Portugal took over Bombay. They are considered as the original inhabitants of the Mumbai, Thane and Raigad area.

Clockwise from top left: Fishing boats at Dongri, Chariots at Gorai, Fishing trawler at Pali, Dried fish at Pali, Sunrise at Dongri and cyclist at Gorai

Clockwise from top left: Fishing boats at Dongri, Chariots at Gorai, Fishing trawler at Pali, Dried fish at Pali, Sunrise at Dongri and cyclist at Gorai

On 11 May 1661, the marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King João IV of Portugal—made Mumbai (then Bombay) part of the British Empire, as part of marriage dowry.

Statue of a East Indian fishing family

Statue of a East Indian fishing family, Bhoot Bangla

The East India Company soon started recruiting these Christians of the Konkan cost. Also the Portuguese Christians from the nearby Portuguese colony of Goa started joining the East India Company. This lead to a confusion as the two ethnic group of Christians could not be distinguished.

During the Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee the Konkan Christians renamed them as East Indian Christians, who later came to be known as East Indians, as they were employees of East India Company.

With the process they became the earliest Roman Catholic subjects of the British Crown in western part of India and were entitled to certain natural rights and privileges compared with the immigrants from Goa.

So in spite of living on the western cost of India they call themselves East Indians and speak a dialect of Marathi that has words borrowed from Portuguese.

Today the East Indians are a predominant fishing community settled in the northern corner of Mumbai. The lush green coastal villages are marked with relatively large houses along with with scattered grottoes and occasional churches. The smell of fresh and dried fish are an interesting characteristics of the villages inhabited by the East Indians.

Churches and Forts

With the arrival of Vasco da Gama on the western coast of India in 1498 the Portuguese stared settling along the entire west cost of India. They soon started building forts and churches all along the west coast.

Our Lady of Bethlehem Church, Dongri

Our Lady of Bethlehem Church, Dongri

The northern part of Mumbai, the abode of the East Indians was not an exception. The area still houses ruined forts and ancient churches. Sadly most of the churches have been given a modern look.

Velankanni Church, Uttan

Velankanni Church, Uttan

Our Lady of Bethlehem Church, located in Dongri, is one of the oldest surviving church of the region.

Dating back to 1613 the church has a simple faced and houses the the gold-plated wooden statue of Mother Mary with child Jesus.

Over the centuries the church has gone through several renovation but the main facade have remained the same for over 400 years.

Another important church of the East Indian community is the Velankinni Church at Uttan. Unlike Our Lady of Bethlehem Church this is a new church constructed only in 2000. The altar houses a simple but elegant statue of mother Mary with infant Jesus.

Dongri Fort

Dongri Fort

Apart from building churches the Portuguese also build several forts to protect the area not only from the locals but also from other foreign invaders.

Dongri Fort is one of the few remaining Portuguese forts that still dot the East Indian settlements of North Mumbai.

Although in ruins the fort still stands at the mouth of the Vasai Creek and lies on the southern side of the Vasai Creek.

Some roof less structures and parts of the boundary wall along with the remains of bastions are all that remains of the magnificent fort. Located atop a small hill the ruined fort provides a great view of the Dongri jetty along with the Mumbai skyline north of the Vasai Creek.

East Indian Christian shrine at Utan

East Indian Christian shrine at Utan

Apart from the numerous churches the East Indian settlements are dotted with small shrines housing small statues of mother Mary, Jesus and other Christian saints. Several of the villages are marked with gigantic cross towering above the tree line of the lush green vegetation.

Fishing activities

The East Indian Christians or simply East Indians are still a predominantly fishing community and there villages are marked with various fishing activities throughout the day and even at night.

Fishing trawlers being repaired at Pali Beach

Fishing trawlers being repaired at Pali Beach

The beaches along with villages are full of activities including trawler repair, net repair, sorting & drying of fish and various other fishing activities.

Generally the trawlers leaves for the high seas in the early morning, The trawlers are usually located far from the beach and equipment are loaded in the trawlers by boats.

Heading for the seas

Trawlers are integral part of high sea fishing and they require regular maintenance and repairs. The Pali Beach is a hub of trawler repair. The trawlers are loaded with huge spherical floaters are a regular sight on Pali Beach.

Trawler repair on beach

The fishing nets, like the trawlers, are integral part of fishing and also requires regular repairs and maintenance. Throughout the entire day the East Indian community can be seen maintaining the nets along the coastal villages of north Mumbai.

Fishing net repair

Fish form the livelihood of the East Indians. The catch of fresh fish from the high seas is the backbone of their economy. Since the fish catching depends on the tide there is no fixed time for the fresh catch to arrive. Whether day or night the moment the catch arrives they are sorted and packed in ice cases.

Fresh catch

Fish sorting is also an important activity among the fishing folks of the East Indians. Throughout the day the women of the village sort out the dried and semi dried fish all along the coast.

Fish sorting

Dried fish forms an integral part of the diet of East Indians. Fishes drying on bamboo scaffolding, along with the pungent smell, are a regular sites of East Indian villages of north Mumbai. These dried fish also have a market all over the country and are even exported beyond the country.

Dried Fish

Among the most preferred dried fish of the region is the Bombay Duck a dried Bombila Fish. The word actually referees to Dawk (Post) and the name originate as the fish arrived from Bombay via post.

Beaches and Tourist spots

The East Indian settlements are located just north of Mumbai and the beautiful beaches of the region serves as a excellent weekend gateway for Mumbikars.

Uttan Light House

Uttan Light House

The more adventurous cycle all the way from Mumbai to visit these beautiful beaches. The beaches of Gorai, Utan, Pali, Dongi and several others serve even as a day tour for Mubaikars.

Even for tourist and corporate visitors these beaches lined with lush green vegetation are a perfect short gateway out of the hustle and bustle of Mumbai.

Numerous resorts with all modern felicities are available for the tourist. They serve excellent food consisting of fried fish along with crabs, prawns, squids and other sea foods.

Several makeshift sacks all along the beach sell excellent sea food and other fried snack. Tender coconuts are also sold along with other seasonal fruits.

Apart from the beaches and food the Uttan Lighthouse is another tourist attraction of the region.

The light house is open to public from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm. The entry fees for child is ₹ 3, adult ₹ 10, for foreigners ₹ 25. Additional ₹ 20 for photography and ₹ 25 for videography.

View from Uttan Lighthouse

The Uttan Light hose is located on a rocky outcrop jutting into the sea and seperates the Pali and Uttan beaches (Google map location). The lighthouse an amazing view of the sea and the adjoining beaches along with the lush green villages.

Gorai Beach 10

Sunrise at Gorai Beach, Mumbai

Gorai Beach is one of the most touristic of beaches inhabited by East Indians. There are several resort right on the beach and the beach provides life guard felicities.

Horse chariot of Gorai Bech

Early morning horse drawn carriages are spotted on the Gorai Bech, he beach serves as a training ground for the horses and these trained horses will later pull chariots on Mumbai’s more famous beaches like Juhu and Alibaug.

Note:

  • The blog post is part of my visit to Mumbai on the occasion of a Wikipedia workshop known as Train The Trainer (TTT).
  • The post has material collected from an oficial TTT Photo Walk along with four personal exploration of the region.
  • The blog post is not exhaustive and covers only a handfull of villages inhabitated by East Indians or East Indian Christians.
  1. December 16, 2020 at 11:06 AM

    Nice write up. I wonder what kind of food they eat and cuisines specific to their community.

    • December 16, 2020 at 11:10 AM

      It is a fish based diet with rice. I need to get back again and know more.

  2. December 17, 2020 at 3:20 AM

    Nice blog

  3. December 20, 2020 at 6:26 PM

    Very detailed description as usual

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