Friday, December 14, 2007

Vasai Fort - Reminiscence Of Our Heritage

Before you go on to read CLICK HERE for awesome photos

Decadence is a state of mind. So is indifference. It is indicative of a carelessness for which there are no excuses.

Recently, we came across the same state of affairs when we were faced with the challenge of The Taj Mahal losing its status as a world heritage sites because of the state in which it was due to Indian Government’s attitude towards it. The world’s most beloved site that is a living example of what a man’s love for a woman can be! But for the government of India, it is of no concern.

Not in the same league and yet, a definite part of our history as India, the vasai Fort is only one such examples of indifference. I am sure many will say at this point, Vasai Fort? Where? What?

Here is the answer to these questions.

Vasai or Bassein as it used to be called earlier, is a station which falls in the western railway track if you are to travel from Churchgate station in Bombay to Virar. The fifth station after Borivali towards Virar, it was under the Portuguese who conquered it via Gujarat and ruled there from 1534 – 1739. The Fort there covering 110 acres of land, out of which about 88 acres and 38 gunthas is under the Archaeological Department of India. In 1739, Vasai fell in the hands of the Marathas and flowing that, in 1818, Vasai along with other territories was conquered by the British to form the Bombay Presidency. The area covering the Fort was declared protected area under the provision of Section 3 of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act VII of 1904. Alas, despite this the Fort is in a state of dilapidation.

In the years of its glory, it could have been a fort lifted from Europe and put at Bassein, with the torrential rains of the Konkan and the roaring waves of the Arabian sea, kissing and caressing its walls, it might have been that royal beauty mixing and passionately bathing in the waters of the sea. But had she mingled too much and allowed the sea to break her, was she too close for too long, unprotected and forever submissive to the growing relationship she had with the sea, that finally broke her? We do not know, but we do know that not even the Government of India was able to protect her from her deadly relationship with the Arabian Sea, which if it did care it could have done, if it really wanted to. Alas! Only a skeleton remains of the ‘Classic Bacaim’. Yet, even in its broken state it still continues to attract visitors, artists and photographers alike.

A brief history of the fort:

Initially the Muslim rulers began to construct a fortress in 1532

The Portuguese fought with them, conquered the fortress on 20th January, 1533 and destroyed it the same evening

During the period 1590 – 1600 the Portuguese put up a rampart wall around the ‘Portuguese township’ which is now commonly called the Vasai Fort.

“They began erecting another fortress (Citadel) on 20th Junuary, 1535 on that very spot as by that time all the land-transactions were completed by the Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Vasai, along with other villages were duely handed over to the Portuguese. These so called villages were Salsette, Bombaim (Bombay), Parel, Vadala, Siao (Sion), Vorli (Worli), Mazagao (Mazgao), Thana, Bandra, Mahim, and Caranja. . At the end of 17th century Bassein reached the height of the prosperity. From 1611, Bassein and the whole region under the Portuguese had a mint or "Casa da Moeda". These old coins were found occasionally during digs and were locally called "Firgi paisa".*

“In February 1739, Chimaji Appa attacked Bassein and after a desperate resistance on 16th May 1739 the Portuguese signed surrender. The Portuguese lost eight cities, four chief ports, twenty fortress, two fortified hills, the island of Salcete (Salsette) with the city and the fortress of Thana, the "Ilha das Vaccas", the island of Karanj√† (Juem), and 340 villages. They left Bassein on 23rd May 1739. After 205 years of uninterrupted Portuguese rule, Bassein was progressively neglected, and the neighboring English Bombay assumed importance in trade and commerce. In 1801 in Poona (Pune), Jaswant Rao Holkar rose in rebellion with a huge army and defeated the combined armies of Daulat Rao Sindhia and Peshwa Baji Rao II and captured the city of Poona. Peshwa Baji Rao took refuge in Bassein. The defeated Baji Rao had no hesitation in accepting the Subsidiary Alliance with the British and signed the Treaty of Bassein with East India Company on December 31, 1802. In May 1803 Baji Rao II was restored as Peshwa under the protection of the British. The treaty of Bassein eventually led to expansion and influence of the East India Company over the Indian subcontinent.” **
At one time there were in Vasai as many as 2500 Portuguese, many of them Doma persons who had been granted titles of nobility by their Royal Masters, The King Of Portugal. Therefore Vasai at that time was called ‘Dom Bacaim’. During the take over of Vasai, by the Marathas it is believed the 800 Portuguese soldiers died in the battle Of Vasai lead by 22,000 Marathas. On 16th May, 1739, the Marathas hoisted their saffron flog declaring their victory over the Portuguese. As far as the 800 who died in the battle their bones were found in the tank in the fort area, cremated in Hindu style.

The Vasai Fort houses seven churches inside which are of Dominican, Jesuit, Augustinian and Franciscan origin and the Ganesh Temple.

In 1917, The Government of Bombay by its Notification # GM407-G.D dated 22/01/1917, declared the fort area as a protected area under the provision of section 3 of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Acts VII of 1904.

It is for us to ensure that places which are a part of what we call our Indian heritage, is preserved lovingly, because we are what we are, because of what we have shown the world always – we are a hospitable country and not a hostile one. We have a large heart to accommodate all.

Fast Facts
Maharashtra, India
City: Bombay ( Mumbai)
Location: 50-km North Of Mumbai
Formerly Known As: BasseinAttractions: Vasai (Bassein) Fort, Aagashi Jain Mandir, Arnala Fort, Chinchoti Waterfalls, Holy Christ Church
Best Time To Visit: October To March

Getting There
Local Fast train from Churchgate to Virar. Get off at Vasai Road. Come over to the western side of the station and take an Autorickshaw to Vasai Fort. Full Auto only drop Rs 60 - 80/ Share avoidable.You can also get busses from outside the Vasai Station to Vasai Fort starting as early as 5 am – past midnight. However, for the first timer, auto is the preferred mode of communication.

Source: A visit To Vasai Fort by Father Francis Correa, Papari Church, Vasai West, Distt Thane Pin 401202 Tel (from outstation) 0520-2322803; (from Bombay) 95250-2322803; Father Francis Correa Mobile 09325631274

Please note: Father Francis Correa is a scholar and authority on this subject. He has other books too written on this fort.

* & **:


Durgasankar Mandal said...

A very nice reading. And the photographs (including that of the village belles) captivating. Reminds me the words of Lorenzo the Medici, "work of art is always sensual." For a history lover such as myself this piece a treat.

Julia Dutta said...

Thanks again....yes, those village belles were a treat really. If you go to Bombay, visit it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia. Would like to feature you on my blogroll. I live in Giriz. I'm trying to gather as much information about and regarding Vasai-kars.

Right now, I'm just delighted to see that there are so many bloggers and web users adding so much stuff about Vasai!

Do visit my blog and let me know if it's alright to add you.

Julia Dutta said...

Goodness gracious! Sorry for the delay. Of course you can.

Anonymous said...

Brill Julia! Thanks so very much. I checked out your Wordpress blog as well and I am simply captivated by your subject matter. Tell me, are you a student of philosophy?
P.S: In case you don't use this blog too often, you can always drop me a response on my blog. I know how difficult it can be when managing multiple blogs!

Cynthia D'Costa said...

Dear Julia,
I am a teacher educator in Vasai. My ten year old daughter Priya was looking for matter for her project on the vasai fort. Of course she visited the fort and read Fr Correa's book. All the same your blog was useful too. All the best and thanks from Priya and myself

Abhijit said...

Julia, this is a lovely photo-essay. It is so sad that our govt and people are still not preserving our precious heritage. Had this fort been in Europe, they would have made a heaven out of it.

Well, the fort site is still not safe for a lone traveler, I suppose!

There is a nice, considerably well-kept monument of Chimaji Appa the Peshva. It is just at the outskirts of Vasai.

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Shridhar Mhatre said...

Thanks for sharing such a valuable info.. Amazing Maharashtra