How Matunga Came to Be

The Origin

This is a brand new piece.

The plan is to rewrite and update all my Matunga pieces that I wrote for Mumbai Mirror and to write a few more, to create a comprehensive historical and contemporary repository for the Matunga mentality.

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There are two theories of how the name Matunga came to be.

The first is based on the shortening of the name of a cluster of small hamlets called “Marubai Tekdi Gaon”, which became “Ma…Tun…Ga”. Marubai has been the kuldevi of the village of Matunga for the last 300 years and has grown in stature over the last few decades. The initial idol was under a peepal tree near King’s Circle, where a Jain derasar now stands, likely the one next to Anand Bhavan, but was shifted during the development of Vincent Road (the road from Dadar Circle to Sion Circle, now called Babasaheb Ambedkar Road), to its present location diagonally opposite Don Bosco High School, sometime in the early 1900s.

The second theory, which seems more likely is that the name, Matunga, is a corruption of the Sanskrit word for an elephant, “Matanga”. Matunga was part of Mahim, together forming one of the seven islands of Mumbai, called Mahikavati. The King of Mahim had his stables in what is now Matunga, and hence the name.

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After the plague epidemic in 1896, it was decided to decongest the city of Mumbai. The Bombay City Improvement Trust was formed to create a planned suburb and 440 acres of land was procured by the Goverment for the Dadar-Matunga-Sion corridor, with different communities given their own localities (hence we have Parsi Colony, Hindu Colony, etc). The main city was connected to Dadar-Matunga-Sion by the tram line, which ended just beyond King’s Circle at the BEST depot that now stands besides Aurora Cinema. It was also stipulated that no building will be more than 3 stories tall, which is why the entire area until recently had only ground plus 3 floor tall buildings. 

The idea was to also have multiple educational institutes in the area, which is how Don Bosco High School, ICT, VJTI and so many others came to be situated in Matunga. 

Jehangir Sorabjee in 2012 sent me a  treatise on Matunga written by Ms. Ruchira Banerjee in “The Bombay Explorer”, published by the “Bombay Local History Society”. Neither the Society nor the Journal is online, though the Society is active on social media. Ms. Banerjee’s fascinating article traces the history of Matunga and the Greater Matunga area, starting with its conception after the Great Plague of 1896, all through the displacement of the East Indian villagers in the VJTI - Five Gardens area, the relocation of the Marubai temple, the growth of the Kutchis and upper caste Tamils, the development of Parsi Colony and Hindu Colony on the outskirts of Matunga and the rise of Vardarajan, up to the current situation where the older buildings are giving way to high-rise condos and the area is becoming more and more homogenized with a Gujarat-Kutchi population.

That same week Mehroo had sent me a pdf of the origin of Mumbai street names by Mr. Ashwin Panemangalore, which is also available online. As Ashwin explains, in a meeting in 1911, the Chairman of the City Improvement Trust proposed that the road from Crawford Market to Sion Circle be called Kings Way and the central Circle in Matunga be called King’s Circle. While it has been renamed Maheshwari Udyan, most people still refer to the Circle as King Circle (without the “s”) or KingSircle, where the “’s” and the “C” merge into a single continuous syllable. 

In the last decade, I have twice taken friends on a walking tour of Matunga, starting at Aurora Cinema and ending at Koolar, one of the last standing Irani restaurants. Matunga is like a city within a city, heterogeneous, revealing different facades of itself as we walk from one street and area to another.