Explore thematic expressions seen in Bombay's Deco

Discover native stories, religious symbols, mythology and lettering representations seen in Art Deco buildings spread across the different neighbourhoods of Mumbai.

By Art Deco Mumbai

Pavillon de la Place Clichy (1925/1925)Original Source: Book: Art Deco by Bevis Hillier

STYLE MODERNE TO ART DECO

Art Deco (name coined only in 1967), initially known as Style Moderne, got its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a world fair held in Paris in the summer of 1925. It was at this Exposition Internationale that Art Deco debuted and later in 1930s it found a home in Bombay.

Archival photograph along the western edge of Oval MaidanArt Deco Mumbai

ART DECO IN BOMBAY

The style first emerged in the southern part of the city in conjunction with the development of the Churchgate neighbourhood in South Mumbai. These buildings were quite a faithful adoption of the “original Art Deco style” and used “the newly available technology,” namely reinforced concrete. At large, they also reflected luxury and modernity aspired by Indian elite.

Archival Image of Bhoj Mahal, Tejookaya Park (2017/2017)Original Source: Publication: The Modern House in India by ACC

Over time, Art Deco acquired a distinctly domestic flavour as the style spread through Bombay, particularly towards the northern suburbs. Standard motifs were interlaced with strains of the Indian visual tradition to produce a string of uniquely “Bombay” buildings.

Most of these iterations can be categorised into
four broad themes:

NATIVE STORIES,

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS,

MYTHOLOGY, and

LETTERING.

In this exhibit you will see digital artwork that showcases these thematic details interspersed with iconic signs of street life such as bird life, water tank, meter box, bus stop, etc. that reflect the city's character.

Illustration of Kanti Mahal, Matunga (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS

Kanti Mahal in Tejookaya Park, Matunga was designed by architectural firm Suvernpatki & Vora. Apart from numerous Deco elements, the entrances of Kanti Mahal are consecrated with religious symbols from Hinduism. A set of auspicious swastika symbols, in red, adorn the lower half of the wrought iron gate. Notice the lotus-shaped entrance canopy, in red and green, associated with Lakshmi and Vishnu (Hindu gods), placed below the lettering 'Kanti Mahal'.

Illustration of Hira Mahal (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

Hira Mahal is a unique Art Deco apartment building in the suburb of Wadala in northern Mumbai. Here, unmistakable Hindu elements have been paired with hallmark Deco form and features such as nautically inspired observatory towers and dark blue bands. Executed in plaster relief, a red ‘Om’ symbol in a blazing sun rises above two diyas (oil-lamps) that sit directly below it. ‘Om’ is a sacred sound and a spiritual symbol in Indian religions. This auspicious relief work is prominently emblazoned along the street corner façade of the building.

Illustration of Uday Vihar (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

LETTERING

Uday Vihar is situated in Shivaji Park neighbourhood of North Mumbai. Distinctive large stained glass lettering crowns its entrance. Couched between balconies with green bands and concrete grills, the stained glass reads ‘Uday Vihar’ in Hindi, along with ‘1937;’ the year the building was built. The reds, yellows, and greens of the stained glass are vibrant and festive. Can you spot the auspicious swastika symbol on the metal grillwork on the right side of the crow?

Illustration of Daulat Villa (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

Daulat Villa is an apartment building in the suburb of Matunga with another stained-glass detail. Here, the circular stained-glass that reads ‘Daulat Villa’ in Gujarati, eclipses many of the building’s other adornments. Nestled in a ring of red and green zig-zags, the name proudly arches over a rising sun with blue-yellow rays. Its circularity pays homage to nautical inspired porthole windows while the three red, vertical speedlines are also unmistakably Deco.

Close-up photograph of Ismail Begmuhammad High School (2018/2018)Art Deco Mumbai

Outside of variants of the Devanagari script with Hindi and Gujarati lettering, special lettering also extended to Urdu.

Ismail Begmuhammad High School is an Urdu medium school situated along the thoroughfare Mohd. Ali Road. Notice the pearly white lettering in Urdu that spells the school name along the curvilinear façade. Its façade is also blanketed in a sunburst and pyramid motif. This repeating low-relief motif, executed in plaster, is part of the tropical imagery repertoire popular in Bombay’s Deco.

Illustration of N M Petit Fasli Agiary (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

MYTHOLOGY

N M Petit Fasli Agiary, designed by Gregson, Batley & King in 1937-40, in the Churchgate suburb is a rare example of a temple built in Art Deco style. Lamassu figures-protective deities from Assyrian mythology-are notable fixtures at Zoroastrian fire temples. These hybrid creatures in dark yellow have a human head, wings of a bird, and a lion’s body. Here, the ornate wings and flowing beard usually associated with lamassus have been traded in for clean geometric lines: a classic Deco look.

Mythological features seen on Lakshmi Insurance building, Fort, 2018/2018, From the collection of: Art Deco Mumbai
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Lakshmi Insurance designed by Master, Sathe & Bhuta was built in 1938. The building draws from Hindu mythology as Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and fortune, aptly fits the brand of an insurance company. An 18-foot bronze statue of the goddess proudly stands atop a clocktower.

Illustration of a sculptural feature seen on Lakshmi Insurance building, Tarini Gandhi, 2019/2019, From the collection of: Art Deco Mumbai
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Lakshmi’s iconography, by V.A. Kamat, such as the lotus and her mount, the elephant, are also recurring motifs on the building’s façade.

Illustration of New India Assurance (2019/2019) by Tarini GandhiArt Deco Mumbai

NATIVE STORIES

New India Assurance was designed by Master Sathe and Bhuta and built for a ‘New India’ in 1937. These bas-reliefs all over the structure are a signal that Bombay did indeed develop an “architecture of its own” using regional narratives. Sculpted by N.G. Pansare, one depicts a larger-than-life standing worker with gears and cogs behind him. Another, an ode to the Swadeshi movement and a return to native roots, shows a woman with the charkha (spinning wheel).

Close-up photograph of Cotton Exchange building (2019/2019)Art Deco Mumbai

Built in 1938, the Cotton Exchange Building was a hub for cotton trade in a native suburb of Kalbadevi in Mumbai. Now a jewellery market, the building’s origins remain chronicled in the bas-relief, seen here, that winds around its façade. The building, designed by Sykes, Patker & Divecha, was declared “Bombay’s first ‘skyscraper.’”

Photograph of United India building (2018/2018)Art Deco Mumbai

These buildings featured hallmark Deco elements such as streamlined design or ziggurats with dashes of Indian cultural markers such as native lettering or religious symbols, among other motifs. Indian visual traditions have been comfortably incorporated into the language of Art Deco, that these buildings stand out as a “Bombay Style.”

Photograph of balcony grille of Anil Kunj (2018/2018)Art Deco Mumbai

This unique style of Deco owes much to Bombay’s many residents and their communities that settled and flourished in the city. Here you see a lotus flower as a metal grill detail on the balcony of Anil Kunj in Matunga, South Mumbai.

Such expressions have become a symbol of a wonderful syncretism, yet this syncretism is symptomatic of the varied people—from merchants, thinkers, and religious communities—that called Bombay home.

Credits: Story

Art Deco Mumbai showcases Mumbai’s Art Deco, advocates its conservation, chronicles its history, documents neighbourhoods and has created the only online repository dedicated to Mumbai’s Deco buildings. All the images are from Art Deco Mumbai’s archive.

To know more visit Art Deco: Bombay Style

Explore the Art Deco Mumbai Gallery

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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