Each wadi of Girgaon has a story to tell

Each wadi of Girgaon has a story to tell
Girgaon area in south Mumbai is full of hustle and bustle. Not many visitors will know about the place of  Girgaon for Bombay (now Mumbai). Girgaon (often spelt Girgaum) has many firsts and several social, political, educational and cultural movements had started from this place.

Girgaon is a village at the foothill and twin hills of Malabar and Cumbala which open into the plains of Girgaum Chowpatty Bandstand, Khareghat Colony and Gowalia Tank.

“Girgaon is a very interesting place. There are lot of theories and every theory makes sense. It is a great place and exemplifies the essence and spirit of Mumbai,” says Siddhartha Fondekar, who has started “The Girgaon Chronicles”, a heritage walk of the area for Awestrich that specialises in people, places and stories.

“Girgaon is about of 3 sq km in area but what it offers is amazing,” Fondekar said. Girgaon and its neighbouring areas represent what Mumbai stands for today.

An excellent storyteller, Fondekar, who is a student and had curated the Girgaon heritage walk, takes visitors to places connected with people like Jaganath Shunkerseth and Raja Rammohan Roy, communities like Maharashtrians, Goans and Pathare-Prabhus and its culture and food. Girgaon has many wadis and every wadi  has a story to tell. “Whether it is Hindus, Parsis or Christians, these places are very important for them,” he said.  “It is actually a melting pot of communities and cultures....East Indian Christians, Khots, Agris, Pathare-Prabhus, Kolis, Bhandaris, Brahmins and Parsis....they stayed here, did business and worked,” he said.

One of the important addresses of Girgaon is Keshavji Naik Chawl where in 1893, Lokmanya Tilak organised the first public Ganesha festival with an aim to mobilise people for the Freedom movement. 

Fondekar first takes visitors to Students Literary & Scientific Society Girls High School, the first school for girls in Mumbai founded in 1848 and then to Thakurji Murlidhar Temple built in 1780. Thereafter to the wadi of Jaganath Shunkerseth, the legendary businessman and philanthropist. In 1845, along with Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, he formed the Indian Railway Association to bring railways in India. Jaganath Shunkerseth, Sir George Birdwood and Dr Bhau Daji Lad were instrumental in some of the major reconstruction efforts of the city, beginning 1857. 

He also was the first Indian member of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, and is known to have endowed a school and donated land on Grant Road for a theatre. “The history of Bombay and its transformation from Bombay to Mumbai cannot be complete without noting what Nana Shunkerseth has done,” said Fondekar as he narrates anecdotes about the legendary man, who donated generously to Hindu temples. Another popular belief about Girgaon is that Shivkar Talpade flew an unmanned airplane on the sand strip of Chowpatty in 1895, eight years before Wright Brothers. A film on the life of Talpade, Hawaizaada, was released in 2015.

Bollywood has its own history attached to Girgaon. Raja Harishchandra, the first silent film made by Dadasaheb Phalke, was screened in April, 1913 at the Coronation Theatre. India's first talkie film, Alam Ara, made by Aredshir Irani, was screened in Majestic Cinema here in March, 1932.

At the edge of Girgaon is Royal Opera House, the foundation stone for which was laid during the British Raj in 1909, and King George V inaugurated the building in 1911. It shut in 1993 but reopened last year. 
Fondekar also takes visitors to the Raja Ram Mohan English School at Prarthana Samaj. “This was the first co-ed school in Mumbai,” he said.

One of the famous localities of Girgaon is Kotachi Wadi. “It was founded in the late 18th century by Khot, a Pathare Prabhu, who sold plots to local East Indian families. There used to be 65 houses. But, now  we have 20 as old buildings are making way for new skyscrapers,” he said. Some of the structures are over 150 years old.

An imposing structure of Girgaon is the brick or red-coloured St Teresa's Church or the Portuguese Church. He also takes visitors around St Francis Xavier Church or the Dabul Church.

“There is a Kala Ram temple here and also a Gora Ram temple,” Fondekar said as he shows around the temples in the Thakurdwar area. When one enters the sanctum sanctorum of the Kala Ram temple, one can see Lord Rama with Sita along with all brothers. “Generally, in a Ram temple you would find idols of Lord Ram, Sita Mata, Laxman and Hanuman ji. But here you can see Bharata and Shatrughan as well....such a temple is rare,” he added.

The area is  crowded during Ganesha immersion. Girgaon also celebrates other festivals with equal zest whether it is Diwali, Gokulashtami or Makar Sankranti. Gudi Padwa celebrations are the best. Way back in 1873, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj at Kakadwadi in Girgaon. There is Shree Swami Samarth Math, which houses the paduka of the saint worshipped as an avatar of Sri Dattatreya.
 “One of my friends came from Delhi....I took him around Girgaon," he said, recollecting that his friend later told him that he took him to “Dev Anand ki Bambai.” “It was like seeing a black-and-white film of Dev Anand,” he said.

“Chawls and wadis are taking form of highrises....this is some issue which does not have an answer....definitely some important heritage is getting lost in the process," he concluded.


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