Koli Christians

Koli Christians

The name Koli Christians is possibly derived from the Marathi word "Koli", which means a spider (one who spins a web - in Marathi that translates to 'one who weaves a net', and hence the fisherman, who weaves the net, is also called a Koli).

The fishermen were here first ... when Bombay was a dumbbell-shaped island which could be seen as the finest and largest natural harbour in Asia. "Midnight's Children", Salman Rushdie Kolbhat, Palva Bunder, Dongri, Mazagaon, Naigaum and Worli were among the islands the Kolis gave their names to. Kolbhat was distorted to Colaba; Palva Bunder became Apollo Bunder. The temple to Mumbadevi in Dongri gave rise to the name of the city. One of the smaller islands near Colaba, variously called Old Man's Island and Old Woman's Island, was a distortion of the Arab name Al-Omani, given for the same fishermen who ranged as far away as the gulf of Oman.

The development of the modern city slowly marginalised these people of the sea. They were removed from Dongri already in 1770 by the East India Company.During the British Rule the East India Company converted some of the Koli's of Mumbai to Christianity.These people are now known as Christian Koli.Since then they have happily and willingly accepted Christianty as their religion. This historical process of elimination eventually pushed them to the strand near Cuffe Parade, from where they plied their ancient trade of deep water fishing. The Backbay reclamation of the 60's would have further marginalised them had they not approached the courts to stay the reclamation. Now their settlements are protected by law. The places where the koli communities places called Koliwada. (e.g.Chimbai, Sewri, Sion, etc.)You will find these koliwadas from Mumbai city to its suburbs. There is also a railway station called Koliwada on central railway harbour line route, which name replaced with Guru Teg Bahaddur Nagar for migratory population of sikhs from borders of India, though there was a strong agitation made by this people but government overlooked it as the strong vote bank was seen by the existing Indira Gandhi Govt, Also the fishing mangroves named Ravali, Sheikh mestri are dumped now for migratory population in the city and the largest village Koliwada (Sheev) on border of city had become a property of Municipal corporation after BIT takeover there land. The Kolis are divided into two main occupational classes: the Dolkars and states. The Dolkars do the actual fishing while the latter purchase the haul wholesale. The name Dolkar is derived from dol or dhola the large funnel shaped net. The smaller nets are known as jal. Every Koli house comprises an oti (verandah) which is reserved for weaving and repairing nets. Though house patterns differ, every house has a chool (kitchen), vathan (room) and a devghar (the worship room). Even in the poorest of families, living in one room tenements one corner of the house is reserved for the God. Deeply religious, even the Christian converts, follow their original Hindu beliefs as well. The annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Ekvira, at the Karla caves in Pune district in undertaken by both the Hindus and the Christian Kolis. The chief Hindu religious festivals are ‘Gauru Shimga’ and ‘Narial Poornima’. No. Koli whatever his faith, will recommence fishing after the rainy season without offering a coconut to the sea on Narial Poornima day.

The Hindu Kolis worship Mahadev, Hanuman and Khandoba and the Christian Kolis worship these and images of Christ and Virgin Mary. The oldest members of the family both male and female are also worshipped.

Songs from an important part of the Kolis culture. Almost every ceremony or festival has its special song without which the ceremony does not commence. At the beginning of every such song a stanza is devoted to the deities. The deities are invoked andinvited to the ceremony. The name Mumbai is derived from the goddess, ‘Mumba’, the patron deity of the pre-Christian Kolis, the earliest inhabitants of the island. In the present day the shrine of Mumbadevi, situated at the south-west corner of the Mumbadevi tank in the very heart of the city is accorded more reverence than perhaps any other shrine.

Various records reveal that Kolis have been found in Mumbai from early times. Dr. Gerson da Cunha in the book ‘Origin of Mumbai’ describes old Mumbai as ‘the desolate islet of the Mumbai Koli fishermen. The Kolis are reported to have occupied the land in A.D. 1138.

Mumbai-Heptanesia as it was once known, comprised seven separate and amorphous isles namely Kolaba, Old Woman’s Island, Mumbai, Mazagaon, Sion, Worli and Mahim (all of which have now been joined by bridges and reclamations). Records of the earlier settlements of Mumbai speak of Koli villages in all the seven islands. Though they are completely dwarfed by the highrise, congested apartments, Koli villages exist all along the sea coast of Mumbai even today. Mazagaon, it is believed, owes its name to fish, Machchagaun meaning fish-village, Kolaba means the Koli estate.

In the matter of dress too, Kolis possess an individuality. Standing out distinctly, even in the sea of humanity that is Mumbai, is the koli who has not given up his or her traditional attire. The dress of a Koli woman consists of two or three garments namely a lugat(sari), a choli (blouse) and a parkhi (a shoulder scarf). The Christian Kolis don’t use a parkhi and wear a typical red-checked saree with a tiny border and use the palla of the saree to cover their shoulders. Lugat is really the lower garment, nine yards in length in bright floral designs. It is worn in a peculiar way so that when draped at the waist it reaches just below the knees and is drawn up tightly between the legs.

The men generally wear a surkha (a loin cloth). It is a square piece of cloth, thrown diagonally in front on a string tied round the waist. The lower end of the cloth is tightly drawn through the legs and knotted at the back so as to cover the divided of the buttocks. A waist-coat and close fitting cap complete the attire. When not at sea the modern Koli wears a pair of pants and shirts.

Fond o jewellery, even their men wear armlets, bangles and earnings. The women don’t believe in bank accounts and invest almost all their savings in gold. They wear traditional chunky typically Koli jewellery like the earnings patterned like the Pisces symbol (fish swimming in opposite directions) worn by almost all of them.

Otherwise the Kolis live a very simple life. The ordinary Koli meal consists of curry (ambat), rice, and fried fish. When at sea the men eat dried fish and rice gruel. They make a lot of sweet dishes at the Koli women are extremely fond of them.

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