|Area||619 km2 (239 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||467 m (1,532 ft)|
|Highest point||Kanheri Peak, Sanjay Gandhi National Park|
|Pop. density||24,414 /km2 (63,232 /sq mi)|
|Ethnic groups||Maharashtrians (53%), Gujaratis (22%), North Indians (17%), Tamilians (3%), Sindhis (3%), Tuluvas/Kannadigas (2%)|
Salsette Island (Salsete) is an island in the state of Maharashtra on India's west coast. The metropolis of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and the city of Thane lie on it, making it very populous and one of the most densely populated islands in the world. It has about 15.1 million inhabitants living on an area of about 619 km².
Salsette is bounded on the north by Vasai Creek, on the northeast by the Ulhas River, on the east by Thane Creek and Bombay Harbour, and on the south and west by the Arabian Sea. The original seven islands of Bombay, which were merged by land reclamation during the 19th and early 20th centuries to form the city of Mumbai, are now practically a southward protruding peninsula of the much larger Salsette Island.
The island of Trombay that was to the southeast of Salsette is today part of Salsette as much of the intervening swamps have been reclaimed. It contains Borivali National Park, also known as Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The city of Thane is at the northeastern corner, on Thane Creek, while its suburb Mira-Bhayander lies in the northwest corner. Politically, the Mumbai City district covers the peninsula south of Mahim and Sion while most of the original island constitutes the Mumbai Suburban District. The northern portion lies within Thane District, which extends across Vasai and Thane creeks onto the mainland.
The word Sasashti (also shortened to Sashti) is Marathi for "sixty-six," referring to the original "sixty-six villages" on the island. It was inhabited by farmers, agriculturists, toddy tappers, artisans, and fisherfolks who trace their conversion to Christianity back to 55 AD with the arrival of Christ's disciple St. Bartholomew in north Konkan, west Maharashtra. They were converted to Roman Catholicism by four religious orders—Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Jesuits—who arrived in the 15th century with the Portuguese. These original natives of Salsette are the East Indian Catholics and Kolis.
109 Buddhist caves, including those at Kanheri, can be found on the island, and date from the end of the 2nd century. Salsette was ruled by a succession of Hindu kingdoms, the last of which were the Silharas. In 1343, the islands were annexed by the Muslim Sultanate of Gujarat. In 1534, the Portuguese took the islands from Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Sashti became part of the northern province of Portuguese India, which was governed from Baçaím (present-day Vasai) on the north shore of Vasai Creek. It was leased to D. Diogo Rodrigues from 25 October 1535 to 1548. In 1554, the islands were handed over to Garcia de Orta, a renowned physician and botanist and the author of Colloquies on the Simples, Drugs and Materia Medica of India, a seminal work on Indian and Eastern medicine of its time.
On the island of Mazagaon, the Jesuits had set up base claiming the land. The Portuguese king refused to entertain their claim and in 1572 permanently leased the island to the de Souza e Lima family. By now, there was a large Roman Catholic population. The Portuguese also brought with them African slaves known as "Kaffirs", who soon entered the ethnic mix of the people. The Portuguese had established Goa, which lay south of the islands, as their headquarters in India. Goa was then known as the "Lisbon of the East" and was capital of the Portuguese Indian Vice-Kingdom. Due to its prominence, the islands were never important to the Portuguese. Nine Roman Catholic churches were built on Sashti Island by the Portuguese: Nirmal (1557), Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (1557), Sandor (1566), Agashi (1568), Nandakal (1573), Papdy (1574), Pale (1595), Manickpur (1606), and Nossa Senhora das Mercês (1606). The St. Andrews Church and the Mount Mary's Basilica in Bandra, the Cross at Cross Maidan, Gloria Church (1632) in Mazagaon and the remnants of a church in Santa Cruz are the sole places of worship that have survived till today.
In 1661, the seven Bombay islets were ceded to Britain as part of the dowry of Catherine of Bragança to King Charles II of England while Salsette remained in Portuguese hands. King Charles, in turn, leased the Bombay islets to the British East India Company in 1668 for £10 per year. The company found the deep harbour at Bombay eminently apposite, and the population rose from 10,000 in 1661 to 60,000 by 1675. In 1687, the East India Company transferred their headquarters there from Surat. In 1737 the island was captured by the Marathas, and most of the Portuguese northern province was ceded to the Marathas in 1739.
The British occupied Salsette in 1774, and it was formally ceded to the East India Company in the 1782 Treaty of Salbai. In 1782, William Hornby, then Governor of Bombay Presidency, initiated the project of connecting the isles of Bombay. By 1845 the seven southern islands had been connected to form Old Bombay, with an area of 435 km². Railway viaducts and causeways were built in the 19th century to connect Bombay Island to the mainland via Salsette. The channels separating Bombay from Salsette and Trombay were bridged by the Sion Causeway in 1803. Accessibility considerably increased after construction of this causeway. Mahim and Bandra were connected by the Mahim Causeway in 1845. These railway lines and roads encouraged wealthier merchants to build villas on Salsette Island. By 1901, the population of Salsette had increased to 146,993 and the region began to be referred to as Greater Bombay.
Salsette is dominated by a central mass of hills surrounded by tidal flats. A number of much smaller islands lay on its western flank. These included Bandra, Juhu (an old linear sand bar rising above sea level by just a metre or two), Versova, Marve Island, Dharavi Island and Rai Murdhe, all with a knoll core and fringing wave-cut platforms and sandy beaches. These islands seem to have remained separate until as late as 1808. At the time of writing of the old Gazetteer of Thana in 1882, these islands could be reached during low tides by walking across the tidal inlets in between, except for the island of Dharavi in present-day Gorai (not to be confused with the slum near Mahim), which had to be reached by a boat. These are no longer separate, being joined to Salsette via reclamation. The highest point is the conical peak of Kanheri (467 metres) in Borivali National Park on the northern reaches of the island. This national park is the world's biggest within city limits.
The island is at the confluence of a number of fault lines. This makes the area earthquake-prone, up to a magnitude of 6. The island is mostly composed of black basalt rock. Since it is along the sea coast, it has a sandy belt on its western coast. The southern region of Old Bombay is mostly at sea level. However, the parts which were erstwhile shallows are below sea level. Many parts of the city are hilly.
There is laterite soil and rocks at a point on Bombay Island.
Other natural formations
The Mithi River (Mahim), Poisar River, Oshiwara River and Dahisar River originate in the national park and empty into the Arabian Sea. The Mithi River originates at Powai Lake. Vasai and Thane creeks are estuarine distributaries of the Ulhas River.
A number of saline or brackish creeks extend inland from the coastline. Mahim Creek separates the city from the suburbs in the west. Further north on the western coast, the Oshiwara river empties into Malad (or Marvé) Creek and the Dahisar River into Gorai Creek. The eastern waterfront also has many small creeks.
The small southern part of the eastern waterfront of Salsette forms Bombay harbour.
North of this region lie vast amounts of protected wetlands at Sewree, home to migratory birds. The northern and northwestern part of the island and parts of Mahim River have government-protected marshlands. These swampy regions form massive, dense mangrove forests.
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