The history and contribution of Mumbai’s indigenous fishing community – the Kolis, span more than 500 years making them the original inhabitants of the city. Closely tied to the seas for their daily bread, their koliwadas or villages, entrenched along the city’s coastline, serve as notable reminders of their unique cultural identity.
However, in recent years, the Kolis have had to bear the brunt of rapid urbanisation, unsustainable fishing practices by large corporations, and climate change which have resulted in submerging their socioeconomic identity at the cost of providing mobility and prosperity to others.
Join us for a
panel discussion with experts and representatives from the Koli community that
makes up Bombay’s historic DNA to explore the lasting impact of the Kolis on
Mumbai's development, culture, and economy as well as the challenges they face
The discussion is part of the ongoing ‘Uncovering
Urban Legacies’ series that looks at the legacy of small but unique
diasporas that have historically, economically and socio-culturally shaped our
city as we know it.
Gayatri is a sociologist researching urban informal labour with an emphasis on the question of technology, caste and gender. With a focus on political economy, she has published work examining the links between caste, gender and cultures of modernity, working caste lives and popular culture. She is currently researching gig work in Delhi, and is the author of 'Set Adrift; Capitalist Transformations and Community Politics Along Mumbai's Shore published by Oxford University Press (2021).Read more
Ganesh Nakhawa, a Member of the Karanja Fishing Cooperative Society in Mumbai has been working to highlight key challenges fisherfolks are facing; climate change, overfishing practices, plastic and industrial pollution, industrial fishing from foreign fishing fleets, sustainability and value addition issues in seafood consumption as well working on marine wildlife conservation across Indian coast. “From a young age, the passion for the sea and specifically fishing drove me to ensure I give something back to the community”, he says. Ganesh Nakhawa is part of a seven-generation-old traditional Mumbai Koli fisher family and began fishing at the age of 12. After studying Finance in Edinburgh, Scotland and returning in 2011, he decided to pursue his lifelong passion for fishing, adamant that his education, along with a modern approach, could be applied to the fishing industry to bring about the much-needed change to improve the lives of Fisherfolks in India. Nakhawa has been working closely with communities and governments across South Asia to solve issues of supply chains, post-harvest loss, fisheries regulations, government policies, seafood sustainability & traceability on Global platforms.Read more
Parag is a visual auto-ethnographer who archives what he perceives around him and his relationship with the scenery he inhabits. His visual art and socially engaged art practices are raising issues of loss and identity. He is archiving prevailing circumstances and intervening in the oral narratives regarding the colonial and imperial history of the Fisherfolks of Mumbai. Tandel earned a Diploma in Creative Sculpture from M. S University, Baroda (2005) after completing a Diploma in sculpture and modeling from Sir J.J School of Art, Mumbai (2003). Tandel’s solo exhibitions include Chronicle at TARQ, Mumbai (2016) and Autopolisphilia curated by Noopur Desai at Sudarshan art gallery, Pune, India (2018) as well as Pregnant Room 1 and Pregnant Room 2, both showcased at Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai (2008 & 2010). His artist book, Ek bagal mein chand hoga ek bagal mein rotiyan was published in 2022 by TARQ with support from Mumbai Water Narratives at the Living Waters Museum.Read more
Anita Yewale is an independent museum docent and Graphic designer by profession. A maritime history lover and heritage enthusiast by choice. A teacher at heart. A learner for life. Anita Yewale is a BFA (Commercial Art) from J. J. School of Applied Arts with Post-Graduate Diplomas in Advertising & Public Relations and Art History. She works as a freelance Graphic Designer and has been a Museum Docent with Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Byculla-Mumbai) for the last 10 years. She is a history and heritage enthusiast conducting heritage walks in the city of Mumbai along with art workshops for children and adults. Her interest and experiments lie in teaching students History and Art in a more hands on way with a practical approach by using tools such as museum visits , heritage walks and art workshops. Anita says she is not an expert. Nor a historian. But definitely an Art, History and Heritage enthusiast , who engages with spaces which she finds she has some personal connect with.Read more
Kolis - Original Inhabitants
The Koli people are an indigenous community that traditionally lived along the western coast of India, including the regions that are now Maharashtra and Gujarat. The community played a significant role in the early history of Bombay. According to historical records, the Koli people were the original inhabitants of the seven islands that formed the city of Bombay. It is believed that the Kolis, who were primarily fishermen arrived in Bombay during the time King Pratap Bimb established his formal kingdom at Mahikawati (present-day Mahim) in the 12th century. However, some historians argue that Koils had been around the Maharashtra coastline for centuries, possibly even before the time of Alexander the Great.
Name and Origin
The name Koli is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word
"kula," which means clan or community. The Koli community is
considered to be one of the oldest and most ancient communities in India, with
a rich cultural heritage that has been passed down from generation to
generation. Some scholars believe that they are a western branch of the larger Kol
tribal group, while others suggest that they emigrated from Sindh, an area that
is now in present-day Pakistan. According to Professor, Sandeep Hegde, The Koli community is divided into several
subgroups, and the four main groups are the Malhar Kolis, the Mahadev Kolis,
the Son Kolis, and the Dhor Kolis. Each subgroup has its unique identity and
cultural traditions, and they also have its own set of sub-castes. They
primarily reside in Koliwadas (fishing villages) typically located in the
coastal areas of the city, from Cuffe Parade to Juhu and Worli to Versova.
There are around 30 Koilwadas located in and around Mumbai.
Contributions and Significance
Seafood Industry: The Koli fishermen have been
instrumental in developing Mumbai's seafood industry. They are skilled
fishermen and have been providing fresh seafood to the city for centuries,
which has helped make Mumbai famous for its seafood cuisine.
Cultural Significance: The Koli community has
a rich cultural heritage that is deeply rooted in the city's history. Their
traditions and festivals, such as the Koli Mahotsav, are an integral part of
Mumbai's cultural fabric.
Environmental Conservation: The Koli community
is aware of the importance of preserving the marine ecosystem and has been
actively involved in conservation efforts to protect the biodiversity of the
Community Support: The Koli community is known
for its tight-knit community bonds and support for each other. They have a
strong sense of community and have been instrumental in providing support to
members in need.
The Koli community in Mumbai has a unique identity that is deeply
rooted in their maritime heritage and coastal lifestyle, contributing greatly
to the city's development and economy.
Challenges Being Faced by
Traditional fishing practices are being challenged by modern fishing
methods and technologies. This has led to a decline in the fish population and
reduced the community's fishing yields. Rapid urbanization and
industrialization have led to increased pollution of the coastal areas,
affecting the quality of the marine environment and the fish population,
directly impacting their livelihoods. The development of infrastructure and
real estate projects often leads to the acquisition of Koli lands and fishing
About Uncovering Urban Legacies Series
This will be Avid Learning’s seventh episode in the ongoing Uncovering
Urban Legacies series. Launched during Avid Learning's online avatar in 2021,
the series aims to explore how small but unique communities and their rich
culture and legacy have historically, economically, and socio-culturally shaped
the city of Bombay. In the past, Avid Learning has explored the indelible
legacy, history, and contributions of the Jewish diaspora in Bombay, followed
by the Iranian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Armenian diasporas. Earlier this year,
in January, we celebrated and explored the prosperous heritage of the Parsi and
Sindhi communities in our multipolis.