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Mumbai or Bombay?

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In 1996 Bombay was renamed Mumbai, as part of a wider policy instigated by the right-wing Maharashtrian nationalist Shiv Sena Municipality to replace names of any places, roads and features in the city that had connotations of the Raj. The Shiv Sena asserted that the British term “Bombay” derived from the Marathi title of a local deity, the mouthless “Maha-amba-aiee”, Mumba Devi for short. In fact, historians are unanimously agreed that the Portuguese, who dubbed the harbour “Bom Bahia” (“Good Bay”) when they first came across it, were responsible for christening the site and that the later British moniker had nothing to do with the aboriginal Hindu earth goddess.

The name change was widely unpopular when it was first imposed, especially among the upper and middle classes, and non-Maharashtran immigrant communities, who doggedly stuck to Bombay. A couple of decades on, however, “Mumbai” seems to have definitively taken root with the dotcom generation and even outgrown the narrow agenda of its nationalist originators – just as “Bombay” outlived the Raj.

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