One of the ‘earliest inhabitants’ in Mumbai, members of the Bhandari community claim a historic connection with the city and the sea. Originally warriors, the Bhandaris claim they trace origins to North India, from where their ancestors travelled to many parts of the country along with the dynasties they fought for.
“The Bhandari community warriors fought for various armies, including that of Chhatrapati Shivaji. After the British established control over India, members settled in various parts of the country. On the coast of Konkan, including Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, Bhandaris can be found even today,” said Nagesh Hari Raikar, chairman of the Karwar Jilla Bhandari Samaj, based in Mumbai. The Samaj was registered in 1950 and is one of the three sub-groups within the Bhandaris in Mumbai. Other groups include Hetkaris and Kitte, based on their geographical position and occupation.
Raikar, a retired ACP with the Mumbai police, says community members settled in the coastal regions took to related occupations. “Many of them became toddy tappers, some built boats and nets for fishing,” he says. There are various historical records regarding the origins of the name ‘Bhandari’. While the Samaj claims it is derived from the Sanskrit word Bhanda, meaning a large ship, other records say the name was given by Shivaji.
A book called The Bombay City Police by SM Edwards also refers to the community as part of the first force for the prevention of crime that was established by Gerald Aungier, the Governor of the Island in the 17th Century, as night watchers. The book states that the East India Company’s attempt at protecting its trade and possessions from the Dutch, Portuguese, Mughals and others was done through organising a militia under the command of Subhedars who were Bhandaris.
“The most important section of the Hindu element in this force of military night-watchmen was that of the Bhandaris, whose ancestors formed a settlement in Bombay in early ages.” the book states. The Bombay Bhandaris were formed into a battalion composed of 48 officers and 400 men, which furnished nightly a guard of officers and 100 men ‘for the protection of the woods’.
“When employment in the armed profession was reduced, community members took to other jobs. They also worked with the Railways to collect wood for the tracks for a long time,” Raikar says. He adds that due to the economic backwardness the community experienced, they were given OBC status in the state.
“We as a community attempt to give our members financial help in cases of illnesses, or for educational purposes through the community group,” Raikar says.