Graveyard chronicles

Nov 05, 2016, 10:49 IST | Snigdha Hasan

The Chinese, Armenians, Sunnis and Baha’is lie cheek by jowl in the undulating lanes of Antop Hill

Armenian graves. Pics/Snigdha Hasan

It is in the most unlikely of places that one comes face to face with Mumbai’s history — in all its cosmopolitan glory. For the residents of Antop Hill, or Wadala East, as the area has been re-christened, it might be amusing that their neighbourhood was once the city’s necropolis. On Sheikh Misri Road, right beneath the monorail track, is a row of burial sites dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lush green, these serene plots of land belong to the tiniest ethnic communities of Mumbai. 

Chinese whispers
First in the row is a Chinese cemetery that was completed in February 1890. It shares its wall with the Baha’i Gulistan, which was allotted to the community in 1905. The gulistan, in turn, shares its wall with a Sunni Muslim Kabrastan that has been housing the departed since 1872.

The Armenian cemetery with a verdant gulistan-like look

Mohammad Shareef, the fourth-generation caretaker of the cemetery, tells us that as per Chinese customs, “anywhere between one and eight years, the family returns to collect the remains, which are then placed in a container and permanently buried in the plot across the road.”

The community’s numbers are dwindling, and the gap between two burials could at times be four years.

A bouquet of history
The city’s association with the Baha’i faith is almost as old as the religion. The publication of the texts by the founder of the faith, Baha’u’llah, was overseen by his son who travelled to Bombay in the 1880s. The Baha’i principles lay down that the resting place for the dead must look like a gulistan or garden. When the place adjoining the cemetery became full in 1983, a new burial site opened up at a stone’s throw. 

A piece of Chinese history in the cemetery
A piece of Chinese history in the cemetery

The Armenians, another tiny community of Bombay, were happy to share their cemetery in Antop Hill with the Baha’is. The place today makes for an interesting sight — it has dilapidated Armenian graves on the right and granite graves, with golden engravings of religious tenets, of the Baha’is on the left. The site with its well-maintained garden of ornamental plants is every bit a gulistan.

At Sheikh Misri Road, Nadkarni Park, Antop Hill.


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