Who are Pathare Prabhus?
Very few people know that Pathare Prabhus (PPs) form an indigenous, colorful community in Mumbai, small in number (current estimate is about 7,000 across the world, mostly still in and around Mumbai) and yet significant in the early history of the development of Mumbai city and neighboring areas.
Although very little is known and established about the history of this small and introverted community, Pathare Prabhus seem to have traveled the length and breadth of Western India, from one location to another, persecuted by the locals and rulers alike, and yet trying to protect their traditions and rituals. They moved, most likely starting from Rajasthan, going towards Gujarat, then to Maharashtra, finally settling down in Bombay, now Mumbai, in the 13th century.
Pathare Prabhus are known for their contribution to the building of modern Mumbai, their special customs, a Gujarati-Marathi mixed wardrobe and language, and a relaxed general attitude bordering laziness, along with a ruefully tiny interest in their own colorful past and history, just like most Indians. But more than anything else, they are known for their special cuisine, especially their seafood specialties, their special recipes and spices.
A Brief History of Pathare Prabhus
Pathare Prabhus, along with Kolis and five other communities, were one of the first people to inhibit the island group now known as Mumbai.
It is believed that PPs traveled the length and breadth of Western India, from one location to another. They most likely started from Prabhas Patan (near Somnath) in modern-day Rajasthan to Anhilwada Patan in Gujarat in 1027CE, then to Devagiri in ca 1240CE, which is modern-day Daulatabad near Aurangabad during the Yadava dynasty's rule in Maharashtra.
The Pathare Prabhus finally settled down near Mumbai circa 1298CE when one of the Yadav princes, Raja Bimbadev, came to the region in search of a new territory, which he called Mahikawati (modern-day Kelve Mahim, or simply Mahim, in the northern parts of Mumbai).
PPs grew in numbers and rank as the rulers of the region changed hands, first the Gujarat Sultanant in 1348CE, then the Portuguese in 1534CE, then to the British in 1661CE. There are several words Pathare Prabhus use, even now, that are closer to Gujarati colloquial words than to Marathi language, a relic from this era.
PPs flourished under the new British rulers, and developed their own lifestyle. They did well in all areas of society, and added greatly to the building of the new city; the signs of their influence being visible even in modern times.
Several public structures, schools, markets, and temples were built and owned by PPs in Mumbai during this and the later times. These include the Kirtikar Market at Dadar, Khota chi Wadi, Mahalakshmi Temple at Mahalaxmi, Shri Ram Mandir at Kalbadevi, Gora Ram – Kala Ram Mandir at Thakurdwar, and Prabhadevi Mandir at Dadar. Pathare Prabhu ladies would study and get educated even in those days.
The temple of Prabhadevi in modern-day Dadar, Mumbai was built by PPs in 1715CE.
Bombay’s first wet dock, still in use at the ferry wharf, was constructed in 1841 by “Bhau” Lakshman Hari Chandarjee Ajinkya (1789-1858), a Pathare Prabhu. It is now called “Bhau cha dhakka” (Bhau’s warf).
Shri M. V. Dhurandhar (1867 – 1944) was a popular painter during British Rule and Vice Principal of J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai.
Shivkar Bapuji Talpade (1864 - 1917) possibly attempted unmanned flight of a flying machine (drone) in 1895 over Chowpatty beach, eight years before the Wright brothers' famous flight.
The First Indian Municipal Commissioner in 1940 was a Pathare Prabhu, Rao Bahadur Narayan Dinanath Velkar. N.D. Velkar was also one of the first publishers of the Bombay Times bi-weekly in 1938, now the Times of India.
Barrister Mukundrao Ramrao Jayakar (1873-1959) was the First Vice-Chancellor of the University of Poona, and leader of Swaraj Party, Hindu Mahasabha.
Dr. M. B. Velkar was a social activist contemporary of famous Indian political leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and has a street named after him in Mumbai (1934).
Smt. Kamala Vijayakar (1890 - 1972), was the first Hindu female student at St. Xavier's college, and later became magistrate at Malad District Court, Western Mumbai.
PPs continue to influence the social and political lives in Western India in the modern times.