The Mumbai suburb of Bandra, or ‘Queen of the Suburbs’ as it’s often called, is one of the most affluent and well-known parts of Mumbai. It’s home to some of the wealthiest and most popular movie stars and sports stars in the country. Many visit Bandra to shop at Linking Road; to sit on the promenade at the Bandra Bandstand and watch the waves hit the rocks donning the coast; or to just enjoy a good meal (or drinks) at the end of a tiring day at work. But what doesn’t seem apparent at first glance is that Bandra is an amalgamation of many villages, some of which continue to exist today in some form. Ranwar is one such village.
Also locally known as Vandre, the suburb of Bandra most likely derives its name from ‘Bandar’, the Arabic and Farsi word for ‘port’, and was located at the southwestern tip of Salsette Island (on which Mumbai’s suburbs lie today), and was settled in 1534 by the Portuguese, who called it ‘Bandora’. After 241 years of Portuguese rule, Bandra went into British hands in 1775, and then to the Marathas in 1779 during the First Anglo-Maratha War, and finally returned to British control in 1802 when Bajirao II (not the one the movie ‘Bajirao Mastani’ was based on – that was Bajirao I) signed the Treaty of Bassein (Vasai). It remained under British control till 1947 when India became independent.
There are said to be 24 villages that sprung up in the area that is today Bandra. Most of these villages are now lost to urbanisation. A few like Ranwar remain.
The history of Ranwar can be traced to 1716 through records kept at St. Andrew’s Church, and it is likely much older. It was built on elevated land, surrounded by fields of rice, coconuts, onions, vegetables and fruits, on which most of its population worked.
There used to exist a few wells in the village, used for farming as well as for recreational swimming. However, as per the village’s oral history, they were also used by the villagers to hide their gold and other jewellery from Arab pirates who occasionally attacked the coast.
The centre of all village activity was the Ranwar Square, where children would play and the community rosary would be recited in the evenings. A cross was erected at the square in the year 1866 that still stands today.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this very charming hamlet is the story of the passage that goes through the centre of the village: Veronica Street. It was named in honour of Saint Veronica, who, according to extra-Biblical Christian folklore, was a woman who saw Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary (where he was crucified) and gave him her veil so he could wipe his forehead. As per the story, Jesus accepted her offering, held it to his face, and then gave it back to her, who saw that the veil now had a miraculous impression of his face on it. This piece of cloth came to be known as the Veil of Veronica. According to local oral history, many years ago, there would be an annual procession to celebrate Palm Sunday (that commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem) which passed through the village of Ranwar, where an enactment of St. Veronica giving Jesus her veil took place. Traditionally, the role of Veronica was played by one of the young women living in Ranwar.
Ranwar today is becoming a popular location for Mumbai’s street art scene, thanks in particular to a street art initiative called the Bollywood Art Project. It’s also home to quite a few restaurants and cafes serving European food.
Walking through Ranwar, especially in the evenings, is sure to make you feel like you have been transported to another place, and possibly another time, removed from the rush of 21st century Mumbai. Those who have been to Goa may find the architecture of the village and overall vibe of the residents of Ranwar reminding them of villages in Goa. It’s an experience that is really calming, and makes you want to slow down and just absorb as much of its charm for you to remember later.
The village of Ranwar can be accessed from Waroda Road, that branches off Hill Road, one mile west of Bandra Railway Station.
This post is especially dedicated to Simran Arora, who has spent many evenings walking the streets of the village and enjoys showing others around.