The Kumbhars of Mumbai came from Saurashtra to Bombay in 1877 when their region was ravaged by drought and set up their kilns in an area in south Bombay. But as the city grew, and with it the needs of the elite who lived in the southern part of the city, the Kumbhars had to be pushed further north. So they were packed off to Sion, on the northern edge of the island city. But once again the land on which they set up shop was needed—for a British army camp. So they were relocated, this time to the edge of the island city, close to a swamp that is Dharavi today. Thus, in fifty years this community has had to move three times, once from its original home to Bombay and thenceforth within the city.
Kumbharwada, where a community of potters from Gujarat has lived since 1932, has a distinct personality of its own. All the houses accommodate the potter’s wheel and a bunch of houses open out into an open space where there is a shared kiln for firing the pots. Over time, the Kumbhars have developed their own social links and keep to themselves. There are few cases of inter-marriage between Kumbhars and other communities. They have their own way of settling disputes and only turn to the police if this does not work. And they have evolved a cooperative system of buying commonly needed supplies like cotton waste for lighting their kilns. Thus, the Prajapati Sahakari Utpadan Mandal serves many different purposes: it buys cotton waste, it runs two rationing shops, a bal mandir (a creche) and a clinic.
Kumbharwada occupies twelve and a half acres of prime property in Dharavi. It is strategically located at the point where 90 Feet Road meets 60 Feet Road. Over 250 potters work in this area but there are many more families living there.
‘The first Kumbharwada was at Naigaun in front of Chitra Cinema (in central Bombay). The government removed them from there to Sion (north of Dharavi). There a military camp came up, so they were then removed to Dharavi in the 1930s. In 1932, all the huts of the Kumbhars got burnt. One Velji Lakhu Seth saw what had happened. We told him that all we wanted was houses, we would manage the rest ourselves,’ said a potter named Ramjibhai. So, according to Ramjibhai, Lakhu Seth got contributions from various business houses like the Birlas and the Tatas, and helped the Kumbhars to build their houses in their present location.
In 1932, there were 319 Kumbhar families, today there are more than 2,000. The population of Kumbhars increased after 1947 when many of them left Junagadh and moved to Bombay. The Kumbhars already settled in Bombay accommodated the newcomers.
However, due to lack of modernization, they haven’t grown much financially, their life is hard and there is no pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.
(Source: Compiled from Kalpana Sharma’s book ‘Rediscovering Dharavi’, Penguin Books, 2000))