A trendy, artistic neighborhood packed with designer cafes, independent galleries, and sidewalk art sellers. The annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is well-known for its avant-garde installations, performances, and debates.
In the heart of Mumbai’s commercial district, Fort is precinct that proudly bucks the trend- Kala Ghoda. For decades, there was no horse but for mumbaikars the name remained synonymous with city’s premiere art district.
But, how did this precinct got its name? To answer that question, lets rewind to the mid 19th century, to when the Prince of Whales(later King Edward VII) ordered over this strategic piece of Bombay
Dressed in military attire with a sword hanging by his side, a sculpture of the prince astride a horse mounted on a tall pedestal was placed at the junction of D.N road, M.G road and Rampart road. As he surveyed all that lay before him with an air of regal condescension, Prince Albert Edward, aka ‘Bertie’, dwarfed mere mortals below. It was a sight to behold! Significantly the bronze sculpture was polished to black sheen ‘Kala Ghoda’.
The Kala Ghoda sculpture was gifted to the city by Sir Albert Sassoon, a scion of Sassoon family(one of the founding families of Bombay). The Sasoons were Baghdadi Jews who made their fortune in cotton and opium and had settled in Bombay after being prosecuted in their hometown Baghdad.
It was one of their many acts of philanthropy in their adopted city, among these being the David Sassoon library, across from the Kala Ghoda’s original location. The Sassoon’s were significant contributors to the development of the Bombay and supported the creations of institutions like Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum, the Gateway of India, Bank of India, Sassoon Dock and Masina hospital.
The statue was sculpted by the noted London based sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm at the cost of Rs 12,500 and it was unveiled by the then Governor of Bombay, Sir Richard Temple on June 29th, 1879.
The majestic Kala Ghoda and it imperious rider was a symbol imperial power, and together they towers in this tiny piece ofreal estate even as India went from being a colonial pawn to an independent nation and Bombay from (Urbs Primus in India) to fledgling global power.
However, in the 1960s, it was felt that having a British ruler in such a prominent location in the financial capital of a newly independent country mocked at India’s nationalistic spirit.
The Kala Ghoda had to be removed from that place thus, in 1965 the sculpture was summarily relocated to ‘Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan’ the city’s zoo. Although, it still stands here today, in all its splendid glory, greeting children with trailing parents excited to visit the animals in their enclosures with a few paces along.
Although, physically Kala Ghoda was replaced, it lingered the spirit and gave its name to precinct at fort. Over the years, ‘Kala Ghoda’ became a pin code, a name uttered by rote for a locality that housed some of the Mumbai’s iconic landmarks – Elphiston college,Rhythm house, popular restaurants and apparel stores.
For the most part ‘Kala Ghoda’ remained an enigma.
Finally, in 2017, the residents and stakeholders of the precinct decided to give a locality of new mascot. They couldn’t bring back the original kala ghoda but needed something that would epitomise the precinct and its name and hence, placed the sculpture of black but riderless horse.