The Bohras were originally traders who traced their lineage to the North Western part of India. They settled in British Ceylon especially in the coastal belt. But Colombo has been their stronghold for long.
The Borahs in Sri Lanka believe that their ancestors were originally Gujaratis, and their vernacular, which is a dialect of Gujarati known as Dawat-ni-Zaban, helps corroborate their claim.
The Bohra familes, Adamalee and Adamjee Lukmanjee, trace their roots from Kutch district in Gujarat. It is interesting to note that the term ‘Bohra’ is derived from the Gujarati word for trade and their ancestral livelihood has survived to this day. Pettah, in North Colombo, a place bristling with bazaars and markets exemplifies the influence of Borahs in local trade. They are the best known paper merchants in the country.
The Bombay Sweet Marts, haven for those with a strong appetite for sweets, were introduced to the country by the Borahs who still continue the business. Bombay sweets are delicacies introduced by the Borahs in Sri Lanka. Some of their mouth-watering delicacies are: gulab jamun, jelebi, halwa, laddoo, bhoondhi, rasagulla, muskats and so on.
Their cuisine is indeed unique. Unlike other locals, they are noted for the extensive use of ghee when cooking. They use a long grain rice known as ‘Basmati’ which is traditionally from North India and Pakistan.The population is concentrated in the Bambalapitiya area of Colombo and their number in Sri Lanka is around 2500. Similar to the Parsis, Bharathas, Burghers and Malays, the Bohras have their own distinguishing factors which range from traditional clothes to patronymics.
The men are identified by the special headgear known as ‘Bohra cap’ which is adorned with a distinctive gold band while the female-folk are clad in a burqa known as ‘ridah’ in a wide range of colors.
Their patronymics include Abbasbhoy, Adamjee Lukmanjee, Akbarally, Davoodbhoy, FazalAbbas, Fazleali, Hebtulabhoy, Jafferjee, Jeevunjee, Miajee, Moosajee, Nathani, Rehmanjee and Shethwala. It is noteworthy that all these are established names in the trade industry, especially in import and export.
The firm established by Carimjee Jafferjee family in 1831 is considered the oldest Bohra firm in the country with branches all over India and even extending to Mauritius.
The Company exported all types of local commodities and imported rice, sugar, flour, pepper, and groceries.Likewise, other Bohra families have also left their mark in international trade.Through the years, the Sri Lankan Bohra community has produced several doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, business consultants and economists in the country.
Unlike other minorities they have erected their exclusive places of worship and set up educational institutions.
The Bohras are Muslim and are of the Shia sect. Their forefathers of the community had erected their mosques in Jaffna, and Galle besides Colombo.
The Bohras form a close knit community in the country and through the years they have lived in friendly brotherhood with other communities.