The Koli community is an ethnic group found throughout India. Kolis are found in maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra pradesh and rest of India. In Maharashtra they are found in the coastal regions of Maharashtra. They are also one of the original inhabitants of Greater mumbai, which comprises the seven islands of Bombay . In Gujarat, the Koli community is mainly located in the southern portion of the state, particularly around the cities of surat, Navsari and Valsad. Most are farmers or fishers, as in mumbai and Maharashtra.
In Maharashtra the Kolis almost exclusively speak marathi language, though some Koli communities speak a variant dialect of Marathi. The Kolis of mumbai are dispersed all over the city, especially along the western coast of the city. The Kolis of Vasai are Hindu and Christian, though both belong to the Marathi ethnic group. The community has several subcastes , the prominent ones are Koli kolis, mangela Kolis, Vaity kolis, Christian Kolis, Mahadeo kolis, Suryawanshi kolis.
In 1901 the number of Kolis in all India was returned as nearly 3.75 million, but this total includes a distinct weaving caste of Kolis or Kori in northern India.
Weaving caste of Kolis or Koris in Northern India located in Rajasthan ( Mahawar koli ) ,UP , MP.Now few of them has kept Verma or Gupta as their surname.
The estimate of Koli population in Gujarat is based on 1931 enumeration which is the last time caste based enumeration was taken in India.
In nineteenth century, many Koli people were engaged in works at textile mills in Bombay under British administration. The word Coolie in English language, has been derived from the name of this community at that time..
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Kolis from around Mumbai worship the goddess Ekveera situated at the Karla caves, Malavli, Lonavla. This goddess is worshipped the most on Chaitra Purnima (15th day of first month in the Hindu calendar).
Agri is the language spoken by Kolis in Mumbai. Marathi is another language spoken by Agri-Koli in interior parts of Mumbai.It is a mixture of marathi, sanskrit, hindi, english and kannada language. The agri language is a unique language, pleasent to hear and feels commedy that is why few writers starts to include this agri characters in their plays to increase commedy and fun in their plays
When Bombay was a dumbbell-shaped combination of 7 islands tapering, at the centre, to a narrow shining strand beyond which could be seen the finest and largest natural harbour in Asia. 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 fishers 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. 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. You will find these koliwadas from mumbai city to its suburbs. There is also a railway station called Koliwada on the central railway horbour line route whose name was replaced with Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar .
In Marathi, Koli means the originally heterogeneous marginal tribe-castes that took late in history to agriculture and were often press-ganged for porterage in army service. The same word also means spider and fisher, presumably because both make and use a net to catch prey.
The koli community has its own distinct identity and lively dances. The dance incorporates elements that this community is most familiar with - sea and fishing. The dance is performed by both men and women divided into two groups, where fishers stand in two rows holding oars in their hands. The dancers move in unison, portraying the movement of the rowing of a boat. Fisherwomen are in the opposite rows with their arms linked and advancing towards men folk. The separate formation then break up and they dance together with movements symbolizing the waves, the breakers and rowing from cliff to cliff and casting of nets to catch the fish.
There are many koli songs which are famous all over India. Some known once are as follows. Aga Pori Sambhaal Dariyala Tufaan Ayalay Bhari; Gorya wer Basali ; Me Hai Koli ; Chikna Chikna ; Dang Ding ; Lal lal pagote ; Chandnan Chandnya ; Dirki la bombil; Maza Kombra ; Me Dolker ; Haldin Bharlay ; Dol Doltai ; Nach go Nach ; Galyat Sakali ; Paru go Paru ; Lai Lai Liakarni ; Gomu Tuze Dadan Go; Vadal Wara ; Valav re Nakva ;
Narali punaw: This is “The day” for kolis. As per traditions kolis know that after this day the wind strength and direction changes in favor of fishing. This is the day when kolis celebrate the kick off of new business season. This is the day when they pray to god sea and make puja of their boats and begins their fishing season. There are songs for this occession as..san aaila go narali punvecha...
Shimga - Shimaga means holi in koli accent haa-wa-li. Holi and Koli goes long way. It is one of the most important Festival for Kolis. There are many koli songs for this occession
The Kolis-fisherfolk-of Mumbai are a distinct community. In Their dress, their language, their food and their lifestyle they are easily distinguishable. Especially the economically independent Koli women who are aggressive to the point of being quarrelsome.
Blocking the exit of the ladies compartment in the local train, dressed traditionally in their bright patterned sarees, noisily exchanging greetings, are the fisherwomen who squat on the floor of the train with their huge baskets of the fish. Working women hold their neatly pleated, flowing sarees well above their ankles as they gingerly tip-toe around them to avoid any close encounter with the fishy kind. If you hold your nose close to the offensive smell, the fisherwomen range in annoyance and God help you if you dare to object to the presence of her stinking fish in the commuters compartment. She’ll not merely threaten to douche you with fish water but I have been witness to a wrathful fisherwoman fling a fish rather accurately at a very well dressed young woman reducing her to tears!
Kolis, as the fisherfolk are known in Mumbai, are known to be easily excitable. Even an ordinary conversation between them often leads to a noisy quarrel in which abuses are easily exchanged. An exaggeration it may be but the statement is not inaccurate, that ‘a Koli sentence never begins without a vulgar epithet.’ Rather pleased with her aggressive image is the kolin and in the regional Marathi language kolin has become a synonym for an ‘abusive quarrelsome woman’. The kolis speak a local variation of Konkani which is a dialect of Marathi.
The Kolin’s entire position in society, her freedom of speech and action it a result of her economic power and independence arising from her kurga (her daily earnings). Dealing, as she has to, with all sorts of customers at the bazaar or during her door to door sales, she learns to quickly shed all coyness and freely interact with the men. She provides tremendous economic stability to the family and hence will not tolerate a bullying or wayward husband. Her financial position makes her more than welcome with her parents.
In return for her economic power she pays rather heavily by way of hard work. Her day begins at the break of dawn. After cooking for the family she takes off to the wharf to buy her fish and returns home only after the heavy load on her head is sold. At home, innumerous chores like mending fishing nets, fish baskets and drying to fish await her attention.
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. They usually set forth in boats to meet the returning Dolkars and buy the fish. Their popular folk song Dolkar dariyacha Raja (Dolkar, the king of the sea) underlines his supremacy.
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. A few worship ancestors (Vir) and are known in the community as Virkar in opposition to the Devkars who worship only God. 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 of restival 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.
‘Gondan’ (tattooing) to is given religious significance as it is considered a mark of recognition by God. They believe that after death at the gates of heaven a woman is asked Godhun aali ki choruni? (Do you bear the mark of God or are you sneaking in?).
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. You only wish it would give them a sweet-tongue!The Kolis are an ethnic group found throughout India, most notably in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh. In Maharashtra, the Koli community mostly inhabits the coastal region, and is among the original inhabitants of Greater Mumbai, which comprises the seven islands of Bombay. In Gujarat, the Koli community is mainly located in the southern portion of the state, particularly around the cities of Surat, Navsari and Valsad.
In Maharashtra, Kolis almost exclusively speak Marathi, though some Koli communities speak a variant dialect. The Kolis of Vasai are largely Hindu and Christian, though both belong to the Marathi ethnic group. In Gujarat, Kolis primarily speak Gujarati. The community has several subcastes, the prominent ones being Koli Kolis, Mangela Kolis, Vaity Kolis, Koli Christians, Mahadeo Kolis and Suryawanshi Kolis.
In 1901, the number of Kolis in India was returned as nearly 3.75 million, but this total includes a distinct weaving caste of Kolis, the Kori, in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in Northern India. Presently, Kolis are estimated to constitute more than twenty percent of the total population of Gujarat, or as many as 12 million individuals, although this estimate is based on 1931 enumeration, which is the last time caste based enumeration was taken in India.
In the 19th century, many Koli people were employed at textile mills in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) under British administration. The pejorative English word "coolie" (referring to Asians in general) is derived from the name of this community at that time.
 ReligionMost Kolis are adherents of Hinduism, India's dominant religion. Kolis from around Mumbai worship the goddess Ekaveera, most notably at her shrine in the Karla Caves at Malavli near Lonavala. This goddess is particularly venerated on Chaitra Purnima (the 15th day of the first month of the Hindu calendar).
The Koli goddess, Ekaveera DeviThere are also a significant number of Koli Christians in Mumbai, whose ceremonies combine elements of traditional Koli culture with the religious observances of Roman Catholicism.
 Language and dispersalKoli and Marathi are the main languages spoken by Kolis in Mumbai. The Agri-Koli in the interior parts of Mumbai speak Agri, a mixture of Marathi, Sanskrit, Hindi, English and Kannada.
In earlier times, the Kolis of Gujarat took their names from the places they lived, resulting in many of the common Koli names of today. Kolis of Wagad are called Wagadia Kolis, and Kolis from the Rann of Kutch are known as Kutchi Kolis.
 Kutchi Kolis in PakistanAs the Rann of Kutch extends into parts of Pakistan, there are also Kutchi Kolis among the Pakistanis. The Hindu Koli tribes are located mostly in southeastern Pakistan. They are primarily concentrated in the fertile flood plain of the province of Sindh. There are several major subdivisions of Koli in that area, including the Parkari Koli, the Wadiyara Koli and the Tharadari Koli.
 Koli folk cultureThe Koli community has its own distinct identity, with a particular focus on folk dance. The dance incorporates themes that this community is most familiar with - fishing and the sea. The dance is performed by both men and women divided into two groups, where fishers stand in two rows holding oars in their hands. The dancers move in unison, portraying the movement of the rowing of a boat. Fisherwomen stand opposite with their arms linked and advance towards the men folk. The separate formations then break up and dance together with movements symbolizing the waves and the actions of rowing from cliff to cliff and casting nets to catch fish.
Additionally, there are many Koli folk songs which are famous all over India. Some famous examples include:
- Aga Pori Sambhaal Dariyala Tufaan Ayalay Bhari
- Gorya wer Basali
- Me Hai Koli
- Chikna Chikna
- Dang Ding
- Lal lal pagote
- Chandnan Chandnya
- Dirki la bombil
- Maza Kombra
- Me Dolker
- Haldin Bharlay
- Dol Doltai
- Nach go Nach
- Galyat Sakali
- Paru go Paru
- Lai Lai Liakarni
- Gomu Tuze Dadan Go
- Vadal Wara
- Valav re Nakva
 Koli festivals
 Narali PunawNarali Punaw is the most important festival for Kolis. As per their seafaring tradition, Kolis know that after this day the wind strength and direction changes in favor of fishing, and thus this is the day on which Kolis celebrate the start of a new business season. Prayers are made to the sea god, and puja are made of the community's fishing boats. San aaila go narali punvecha is a well-known Koli song sung on this occasion.
 ShimgaShimaga means Holi (pronounced haa-wa-li in the Koli accent), and is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of the same name.
As the tide brought in fewer fish, Regina Vasaikar’s dreams too started ebbing away.
I met Regina at the Gorai fishing village. She was carrying home an empty basket, after wandering the streets selling fish. This 22-year-old dropped out of school in seventh grade. Since then, she has been selling her family’s meagre catch.
“My dad didn’t have money to pay our fees. So, my brother and I quit school, and started helping him at work. What we earn is only enough to pay for our food and for diesel. Some days, we sleep on an empty stomach,” says Regina from Gorai fishing village in north Mumbai. “I dreamed of working in a hospital and helping other poor people like us. But I didn’t make it to college.”
Her ambition now seems as elusive as the fish in the ocean nearby, that are dwindling every year, pushing her family further into poverty. “Earlier, my father and brothers fishing expeditions would fill two or three baskets. Now, we get one small basket, and that too, with tiny fish. The sea is now full of pollution, there are no fish,” says Regina. After starting out at dawn, Regina returned at sunset with Rs 300, of which Rs 200 will be kept aside for the diesel for the next fishing trip. The entire family will have to survive on Rs 100 until then.
Mumbai, India’s booming metropolis, was named after the Koli stone goddess Mumbadevi, whose temple still stands tall in the chaotic bustle of Babulnath market in south Mumbai. Kolis are the city’s traditional fishing community, who lived here when Mumbai was seven islands with lush palm trees, protected by swarming mangroves and reefs. The Kolis have been here much before there was a Mumbai. The names of the islands still bear their stamp. For example, Colaba (Kol-aba) which means Koli estate. Or, Mazagaon, is apparently derived from Machcha-gaun, meaning fish-village.
Koli villages still exist in these areas and all along the coast, holding out amidst the traffic and skyscrapers. But, the rajas of Mantralaya have overpowered the goddess Mumbadevi. Her people are threatened by reckless urban growth, which has ruined the sea and the coast, their only source of livelihood. The Kolis are in crisis.
The sea has been encroached. Large parts of it have been reclaimed. Mumbai’s prime commercial real estate – Backbay Reclamation and Bandra-Kurla complex - are built on reclaimed land. Mangroves, the breeding ground for fish, have also been hacked to make way for swanky apartments and offices. Mumbai’s 15 million inhabitants dump their sewage into the sea with minimal treatment. The water is also polluted by chemical plants, oil slicks and garbage. To top it all, the government plans to build more bridges and recreational boating. That just may be the last straw for fishermen.
“We have always been hardy people. We go into the sea ready to die. Unlike farmers, we don’t commit suicide. But it doesn’t mean that our plight is any better. We too are in debt and barely managing to survive. But the government doesn’t take notice. They don’t announce any schemes for us. In fact, their projects make things worse for us,” says Kishori Nakwa, a fiery Koli woman from Worli fishing colony.
Koli women are the ones who sell the fish and deal with the market. They are known to be charming and quarrelsome. Their saris are uniquely draped to reach just below the knees and are drawn up tightly between the legs – practical for all the hard work. Many Koli women hurry to the dock before daybreak. While the rest of the city sleeps, they are at the market buying fish from large trawlers, haggling with the agents. Then, they take their baskets into the streets and bargain for a good deal with their customers. With fish catch declining rapidly, many households survive solely on their acumen.
“There’s no fish and no jobs. What are our young people going to do? My daughter is studying law. But who will give her a job?” asks Kishori Nakwa, who runs the Mahila Mandal in Worli village. Her colony in central Mumbai has 40,000 people, of which around 25,000 are Kolis. Only around 60 % are still fishermen. A strange contrast of then and now, it has old temples and new churches, an old fort that houses a new gymnasium, small boats bobbing along the shore with a huge bridge under construction in the backdrop.
The meeting point in every fishing village is the co-operative society, where old men shoot the breeze, diesel is sold, loans are taken. Here, I spoke to Sameer Chandu (21). He is still in college and determined not to get into fishing. But he knows it may be his inevitable destiny. “I will look for a job. But if I don’t find one, then I will have to join my family in fishing. At least it will save them spending on workers wages. Only one in five graduates here get a proper job. The others go back to the boats,” he says.
“For one month, my father and brother have been sitting at home. There’s no catch. In Vasai (northern suburb), people have sold their boats and are working as musicians in wedding bands. What will happen to us?” Sameer asks. “After the construction of the bridge started, fish don’t come close to the shore. In the last five years, our family’s income has dropped by 80 per cent.” They sold their wooden boat (which needs nine people) and bought a smaller fibreglass one (which needs five people) which uses less fuel. “Now, we cut costs by employing less people, using less diesel, not going far out. Like farmers, we too are in debt. We take an advance from traders and have to sell at the price they dictate.”
Worli village occupies prime real estate with an amazing view of the shoreline – a builder’s paradise. Its residents are under pressure to sell. “If we live in buildings, how will we fish? Where will be put our nets, our baskets, our boats?” asks Sameer. It’s a perpetual dilemma between modernity and their heritage.
“Pollution, coastal development, mangrove degradation, ONGC surveys, overfishing, foreign trawlers are all leading to a fall in catch for fishermen. Due to pollution, there is no fish near the shore. They have to invest in bigger vessels, use more diesel and go further out into the sea,” says Gorekh Megh, the Maharashtra government’s Commissioner of Fisheries. “Ours is the only government to provide them a complete waiver on VAT for diesel worth Rs 135 crore. That makes the cost of fuel 34% cheaper for them.” But subsidies will not tackle the root of the problem. What is the government doing to address pollution, mangrove destruction etc? “We do our best to advise the other ministries on the effects that different projects will have on fishermen. But the final decision rests with the chief minister. He has to decide what is best for the state.”
Mumbai has a fisherfolk population of 50,075 (0.33 per cent of Mumbai’s population), according to the Marine Fisheries Census 2005 conducted by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). Certain fish species like sand lobster, silver pomfret, unicorn cod, rawas that were once abundant are now reaching what is called ‘fishing extinction’. Even the catch of the famous Bombil (Bombay Duck) is a third of what it was 20 years ago. Fishermen are at a loss because the catch per boat has declined due to overcapacity. Trawlers in Maharashtra should be limited to 2,500, but at present, there are 4,500. Small fishermen suffer because big trawlers deplete fish stock in the deep seas. They are also worst affected by pollution and mangrove destruction.
In Gorai creek, north Mumbai, one of the few large stretches of mangrove has plastic bags strewn amongst the leaves. The mud is green with sewage and pollution. A five-minute trip across the creek takes you to another world - sleepy fishing villages unperturbed by the chaos of Mumbai. But here too, fishermen are facing the aftershocks of urban ruin. “The water is polluted upto 20 km, further out, the ONGC are doing a survey and won’t let us fish, so where do we go?” asks Anthony Valis, who owns a small mechanized boat. “Boats are just lying on the shore. People have sent the migrant workers who work on the boats back to their villages. We share the catch with them. But they get only Rs 25, so it’s not worth it for them.
”Around one-fifth of the boats here are lying idle. “I used to fish 12 days in a month. Now it’s only two or three. Ten years back, I could earn around Rs 80,000-90,000 a year, now it’s down to Rs 60,000. The earning of our workers are half of what they were,” says Anthony.
After encroaching on their fishing grounds, the government now wants to capture the villages. It plans to acquire land from five fishing/agricultural villages for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that will be an amusement park run by the Essel group. “The rich are becoming richer by grabbing our lands, but we are going to starve. They have no right to take our village, however poor we might be,” said Stella Murzello, an elderly vegetable farmer from Gorai.
Amusement parks, high speed bridges, pollution – it’s life in the fast lane for Mumbai’s elite. The Kolis are suffering the repercussions of their lifestyle. The dreams of Mumbai’s urban planners are turning into a nightmare for Mumbai’s fishermen and other deprived communities. Like Regina, their dreams have been drowned out.Mumbai’s fishermen community - known as Kolis - are celebrating the annual festival of ‘Nariyal Poonima’, marking the beginning of the fishing season.
During the festival, fishermen made an offering to Lord Varuna (the god of sea) so that they can net bountiful fish from the sea.
The significance of Nariyal Poornima heralds resumption of fishing activities after a break during the monsoon. Venturing into the high seas is prohibited during the monsoon season.
Members of Koli community celebrated the Nariyal Poornima by breaking and offering coconuts to lord Varuna. Later, the juicy kernel pieces of the coconut were distributed among the people.
“During this festival many fishes enter into the sea. Hence we perform rituals for the sea at every shore. We pray so that we can catch more fish. This festival has great significance for us. We pray to the Mother Goddess so that she gives us peace and prosperity,” said Yeshwant Katkar, a resident of Mumbai.
Dances and spraying of colours marked the festive occasion as the fishermen lit a bonfire.
The celebrations continue for three days leading to Holi.
History of Mumbai is quite interesting. It was cluster of seven islands till came in the possession of British. The seven islands were inhabited by different fishing tribes called Kolis. They were the traditional habitant of these islands since ancient period. The Koli communities are still therein Mumbai, spread over different koliwadas, Sion Koliwada, Thane Koliwada, Versovs Koliwada, Khar Danda, Mahim Koliwada, are the prominent and popular amongst them. The seven islands namely Colaba, Smaller Colaba, Worli, Parel, Mazgaon, Mumbadevi and Mahim were in possession of Aryans from North India for a very long period. They ruled over these islands for about a thousand years. Then came the Mouryas and Satvahana followed by Silaharas and Yadavas.