The first of mafia elements, or syndicates, perhaps had their origins in the gambling and bootleg liquor dens set up by a pathan Ayub Khan Pathan alias Ayub Lala. He was the founder president of Pakhtun Jirga e Hind, an association of around 13,000 Afghani nationals settled in Bombay. Although Ayub Lala was labelled a mafia don, he had not even slapped a single person during his life time, to show off his muscle power. He controlled the gambling clubs mostly owned by marwaris, muslim and gujrati operators and drug cartel including spurious liquor dens in Mumbai. Ayub Lala also owned a few KawaKhanas (a drink made from opium served with black tea) and Chandolkhanas (somewhat like hokkah parlours). He left Bombay after the murder of his own step son Kashmiri Lala handing over the reigns of all his activities to Karim lala who was earlier a vendor selling liquor at a den at Dongri in south mumbai.  in the 1940s.
Varadarajan Mudaliar, who rose to be a mafia don in Bombay was most active in the 1970s with Karim Lala and Haji Mastan. He enjoyed celebrity status and there are accounts that he even helped the needy and organized religious festivals. He is also considered to be India's first celebrity criminal. The Tamil film Nayagan which is a biopic of him directed by Mani Ratnam even made it to the Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Best Films". The film was remade in Hindi called Dayavan which was directed by Feroze Khan with Vinod Khanna in leading role as the don Varadarajan Mudaliar. MeanwhileHaji Mastan is understood to be the inspiration behind the movie Deewar which was directed by Yash Chopra with Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role as the don.
There was also a don named Rama Naik who hailed from Byculla a close associate of Bada Rajan and mentor of Arun Gavli. He reigned from 70 to 1987 when he was encountered on the behest of Dawood. Currently the biggest such underworld leader is Dawood Ibrahim and Prasanta Basunia. During his rise, Dawood Ibrahim was initially challenged by Karim Lala who eventually surrendered due to Dawood's swift and shrewd moves that resulted in also eliminating members of Karim Lala's family and his mob. Dawood was also challenged by the powerful Dholakia brothers (Mahesh and Arvind Dholakia) who masterminded the murder of Dawood's key ally Babu Reshim in a daring raid inside a Mumbai police station where Babu Reshim was detained. Following this, Dawood had both Dholakia brothers assassinated (in separate incidents) and consequently became the supreme and unchallenged underworld king of Mumbai. Varadarajan Mudaliar and Haji Mastan quit all illegal activities by that time and maintained a low key presence.
In the illegal opium trade, the earliest dated mafia family was the Thane-based (Mumbai) Thanevale gang that was responsible for over 80% of the opium and heroin trafficking in the 1860s according to an article by Harkisondas Thanawala (1965).