In the early days of the British occupation, Matunga was a swampy area. And although it was important from a defence point of view, illness and disease were rampant in the area and casualties among the soldiers were high. In fact, during the late 18th century, the military outpost was abandoned and the soldiers were moved.
Eventually, the area was occupied by the Koli, Agri, and the Kunbi communities who made a living from farming and fishing. When the Bombay Plague of 1896 hit, it came back on the radar for the British. The Bombay City Improvement Trust (BCIT) formulated the first ever planned suburban scheme in Bombay in 1899-1900: the Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion scheme and the Agri, Koli, and Kunbi communities were made to resettle to implement the scheme.
After that, the earliest communities to move to Matunga were people from the South of India, especially those from Palakkad and Travancore regions. And with them came their cultural milieu – temples, hotels offering South Indian food, and stores selling South Indian provisions.
Today, Matunga is a suburb characterised by the smells of filter coffee and freshly plucked flowers. It is characterised by many hole-in-the-wall flower stalls and south Indian restaurants. Despite the changes in Matunga’s topography, “Matunga phool market”, or flower market, is still the reference point for those driving to this part of the city. The market opens as early as 4 am, with workers running about in preparation, and it runs until 9 pm, the usual closing time. The flower market was once exclusively occupied by migrants from Tamil Nadu and at present, although there are many workers from West Bengal, the ownership continues to be rooted to the southern state. Over the years with the availability of flowers locally and with a store opening at every corner, the buzz of clients has decreased. This has led to the closure of many stores including the oldest flower shop established in 1942.
The best time to experience the market in its full glory is around big festivals such as the Ganesh festival, Dushehra, and Diwali.