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Blast Sites in Bombay Hold History

August 26, 2003

BOMBAY, India (AP) _ The two landmark sites where terrorists exploded their car bombs in India’s most vibrant metropolis are loaded with symbolism _ one a reminder of India’s colonial past and the other a testimony to its glittering industrial spirit.

Monday’s explosions, which killed at least 46 people, occurred almost simultaneously at the Gateway of India monument, built by India’s former British rulers 79 years ago, and in Zaveri Bazaar, a warren of unkempt lanes packed with gold and diamond shops.

The Gateway of India is to Bombay what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Statue of Liberty to New York. It is a huge archway at the edge of the Arabian Sea, and a starting point for most tourists who want to explore the city. It was built to commemorate the first visit of a British monarch to India, King George V, and Queen Mary. Although the royal couple came to India in 1911, construction on the gateway did not begin until 1913 and it was formally opened in 1924.

Built in the Indo-saracenic style, it is made of yellow basalt and reinforced concrete. The central dome is 48 feet in diameter and 83 feet above ground at its highest point.

Behind the arch, there are steps leading down to the water from where tourists take little motor boats for short cruises.

The gateway may have been a symbol of Britain’s colonial might, but the arch also became its epitaph.

The last British troops to leave India, the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, passed through the gate in a ceremony on Feb. 28, 1948.

Several miles away is the Zaveri Bazaar, or Jeweler’s Market, one of the most crowded areas in Bombay, and an example of the industrious nature of Bombay’s 16 million people who have made it India’s financial capital.

Zaveri Bazaar is also the site of an 18th century Hindu temple, whose presiding deity, Mumbadevi is considered by many as the guardian angel of the city. Some believe the name Bombay, a colonial creation, is a corruption of Mumbai, the city’s original name that they say was derived from Mumbadevi.

But Sharda Dwivedi, a historian and author of two books on Bombay, said there is no historical evidence to back any of these theories, preferring to call them credible folk tales.

The Mumbadevi temple was originally situated some miles away near what is now the Victoria Terminus train station. It was moved to its present site by the British who wanted extra space to expand their fort, said Dwivedi.

The temple’s construction was funded by a local goldsmith, she said.

She said the Zaveri Bazaar lane was chosen as a bomb site probably because it is such a busy area, as was the Gateway of India, a favorite place for Bombay residents to lounge during lunchtime.

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