Mumbai: A Kaleidoscope of Culture and Religions

Mumbai is a global city where the astonishing energy and the spirit of India culminate. As the world’s fourth most populous city and home to some 21 million people, Mumbai is big, fast, exciting, and beautiful. Mosques float in the sea, and temples sit on hills. Some call it the City of Gold, a place where opportunities abound. The people move from home to work to play, some hoping to achieve their dreams, some hoping to overcome their caste, and many hoping to appease their gods.

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is a collection of reclaimed islands situated on the Arabian Sea against India’s west coast. Once home to the fishing communities of the Koli people, the city is now an amalgam of people, languages, and food from all over India.

The diversity of culture, religion, and social status produces three traits that help define Mumbai’s character.

It’s a City of Economic Extremes

Mumbai is both India’s wealthiest city and the location of one of the world’s largest slums. The juxtaposition of rich and poor is striking. Mumbai boasts one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets. Yet the Dharavi slum sits on roughly five hundred acres in the middle of the city and houses hundreds of thousands of rural migrants who have come looking for hope and a future.

Mumbai is both India’s wealthiest city and the location of one of the world’s largest slums.

The city also is the center of India’s commercial and financial industries, a major hub for fashion, and the heart of the Hindi film industry, Bollywood. Glamorous movie stars, captains of business, and people making less than a dollar a day call this city home.

It’s a City of Multiple Gods

Mumbai is a medley of religions and cultures. Although the majority of people are Hindu, there is also a significant Muslim population, as well as Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Christians. The call to prayer from mosques can be heard throughout the city, and elaborate Hindu temples dot the landscape.

Mumbai’s biggest and most spectacularly celebrated festival is the Hindu celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi each year in August or September. Hindus believe Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is the giver of wisdom and knowledge and the remover of obstacles. Families and communities bring lavishly decorated clay idols of Ganesh into their homes and neighborhoods for worship. The festival ends with a procession of singing, dancing, and chanting to the nearest body of water where the idol is immersed. In Mumbai, more than 50,000 clay idols were submerged in ponds, streams, and the ocean in 2015.

Mumbai is a medley of religions and cultures.

It’s a City of Many Dreams

Mumbai is where the dreamers and the downtrodden of India come to escape a bleak destiny foretold by caste and make their fortunes. For centuries in India, your job opportunities, economic status, and even marriage prospects have been determined by the caste you’re born into, but those class lines are a little more blurred in Mumbai. Here, you are free to pursue a different life. Lured by this opportunity, laborers and professionals flock to Mumbai hoping to find money, fame, and a new life.

The news of new life through Jesus has yet to reach the millions who live in Mumbai, but that news is spreading. Read here about how the gospel unifies people across castes, and here to learn ways you can ask God to move in the hearts of those who worship Ganesh.


Polly Maclean is a writer for IMB. She serves with her family in Southeast Asia. Jon Nyquist was a missionary kid in Bolivia and now works as a videographer in Southern California.