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History of Vasai

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Today's Vasai-Virar area has rapidly changed and starting in the 1980's, the change is brought about by a large influx of people due to availability of more affordable housing than in Mumbai (Bombay). History of Vasai dates back to Puranic ages. The present day name of Vasai originates from Sanskrit, Sanskrit word "waas" meaning dwelling or residence.  The name was changed to Basai by Muslims who occupied Vasai before the Portuguese. The Portuguese named it Baaim. The Marathas named it Bajipura or Bajipur. The British named it Bassein and today it is called Vasai. The most significant past in Vasai's history is the rein of the Portuguese, since they largely influenced or changed to what Vasai-Virar area is today. Historically, the entire region has attracted traders and merchants from Rome, Greece and Middle East. In 1295 AD the famous Marco Polo visited Thana/Vasai area.

 The Bassein region ruled by Portuguese in not just Bassein but included areas far away as Bombay, Thane, Kalyan and Chaul (Revdanda). It is located about 50 Kilometers North of Bombay, on the Arabian Sea, at approximately (1920'N - 7249'E). Bassein, was important trading center, it's sources of wealth and trade were horses, fish, salt, timber, stone quarry (basalt and granite) and shipbuilding. It was a significant trading center long before the Portuguese arrived. (Ancient Sopara was a important port in trade with the Arabs and Greeks, Romans and Persians.). It was also a wealthy agricultural region with rice, betel, cotton, and sugar-cane as some of the crops.

The Portuguese with their naval power and their crusading valor were unquestioned masters of the Indian Ocean. When the Portuguese arrived, Bassein was under the rule of Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat. 

In 1530 Antonio de  Sylveria burnt the city of Bassein and continued the burning and looting to nearby Bombay, when the King of Thana surrendered islands of Mahim and Bombay. Subsequently, the towns of Thana, Bandora (Bandra), Mahim and Mombaim (Bombay) were brought under Portuguese control.

In 1531, Antonio de Saldahna while returning from Gujarat  to Goa, set fire to Bassein again - to punish Bahadur Shah of Gujrat for not ceding Diu. 

In 1533 Diogo (Heytor) de Sylveira, burnt the entire sea coast from Bandora, Thana, city of Bassein and areas up to Surat. Diogo de Sylveira returned to Goa with 4000 slaves and spoils of pillaging. 

For the Portuguese, Diu was an important island to protect their trade, which they had to capture. While devising the means to capture Diu, Portuguese General Nuno da Cunha, found out that the governor of Diu was Malik Ayaz whose son Malik Tokan was fortifying Bassein with 14,000 men. Nano da Cunha saw this fortification as a threat. He assembled a fleet of 150 ships with 4000 men and sailed to Bassein. Upon seeing such a formidable naval power, Malik Tokan made overtures of peace to Nano da Cunha. The peace overtures were rejected. Malik Tokan had no option but to fight the Portuguese. The Portuguese landed north of the Bassein and invaded the fortification. Even though the Portuguese were numerically insignificant, they fought with skill and valor killing off most of the enemy soldiers but lost only a handful of their own.

On 23 December 1534, the Sultan of Gujarat, signed a treaty with the Portuguese and ceded Bassein with its dependencies of Salsette, Mombaim (Bombay), Parel, Vadala, Siao (Sion), Vorli (Worli), Mazagao (Mazgao), Thana, Bandra, Mahim, Caranja.

In 1536, Nuno da Cunha appointed his brother-in-law  Garcia de S as the first Captain/Governor of Bassein. The first corner stone for the Fort was laid by Antonio Galvao. In 1548 the Governorship of Bassein was passed on to Jorge Cabral

 

In the second half of 16th century the Portuguese built a new fortress enclosing a whole town with in the fort walls. The fort included 10 bastions, of these nine were named as: Cavallerio, Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, Reis Magos Santiago, Sam Gonalo, Madre de Deos, and Sam Sebastio, Sam Sebastio was also called "Potra Pia" or pious door of Bassein. It was through this bastion that the Marathas would enter to defeat the Portuguese. There were two medieval gateways, one on seaside called Porta do Mar with massive teak gates cased with iron spikes and the other one called Porta da Terra. There were ninety pieces of artillery, 27 of which were made of bronze and seventy mortars, 7 of these mortars were made of bronze. The port was defended by 21 gun boats each carrying 16 to 18 guns. This fort stands till today with the outer shell and ruins of churches.
In 1548, St. Francisco Xavier stopped in Bassein, and a portion of the Bassein population was converted to Christianity. In Salsette island, the Portuguese built 9 churches: Nirmal (1557), Remedi (1557), Sandor (1566), Agashi (1568), Nandakhal (1573), Papdi (1574), Pali (1595), Manickpur (1606), Merces (1606). All these beautiful churches are still used by the Christian community of Vasai.
 

 

As Bassein prospered under the Portuguese, it came to be known as "a Corte do Norte" or "Court of the North",  it became a resort to "fidalgos" or noblemen and richest merchants of Portuguese India. Bassein became so famous that a great Portuguese man would be called "Fidalgo ou Cavalheiro de Baaim" or Nobleman of Bassein.

Bassein during the Portuguese period was known for the refinement and wealth and splendor of it's buildings, palaces and for the beauty of it's churches. This Northern Province, included a territory which extended as far as 100 kilometers along the coast, between Damao (Daman) and Mombaim (Bombay), and in some places extended for 30-50 kilometers inland. It was the most productive Indian area under Portuguese rule.                             

 


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 1634, Bassein numbered a population of 400 Portuguese families, 200 Christian Indians families and 1800 slaves (possibly from it's African colonies). In 1674, Bassein had 2 colleges, 4 convents and 6 churches.


At the end of 17th century Bassein reached the height of the prosperity. In 1675, Dr. Fryer who came to treat the daughter of the Captain of Bassein, Joo Mendes, reports that the Captaincy of Bassein was rotated between certain descendents of the conquerors of Bassein.

In 1719, the province of Bassein numbered about 60,000 inhabitants, of these were 2,000 Portuguese and 58,000 Christian Indians.


The importance of Bassein was reduced by transfer of neighboring Bombay island to the British in 1665 (It was a wedding dowry from Catherine Braganza of Portugal to Charles the Second of England). The British had coveted and eyed Bombay for many years before it came into their possession under the terms of the marriage treaty. They had ventured to seize it by force in 1626 and had urged the Directors of the East India Company to purchase it in 1652.

The Portuguese in India were however opposed to the cession of Bombay. They retained their hold upon the northern portion of the island, declaring that it was private property but after show of force by the British, Portuguese finally relinquished island of Bombay.

The intolerance of the Portuguese to other religions seriously hindered the growth of Bassein or Bombay as a prosperous settlement. Their colonization efforts were not successful because they had gradually divided the lands into estates or fiefs, which were granted as rewards to deserving individuals or to religious orders on a system known as aforamento whereby the grantees were bound to furnish military aid to the king of Portugal or where military service was not deemed necessary, to pay a certain rent.

The efficiency of the Portuguese administration was weakened by frequent transfers of officers, and by the practice of allowing the great nobles to remain at court and administer their provinces. They soon became a corrupt and luxurious society based upon slave labor. The cruelties of the Inquisition (from 1560) alienated the native population and the union of Portugal with Spain (1580) deprived the Indian settlements of care of the home government. The Portuguese trade monopoly with Europe could henceforth last only so long as no European rival came upon the scene.
 

By 1736 the Portuguese had been at work for 4 years constructing the fortress of Thana, and aside from the long delays, the workers were unpaid and unfed. The people were tired of the oppression, finally invited the Marathas to take possession of the island of Salsette, preferring their rule to the oppression of the Portuguese. These were some of the factors that weakened Bassein and set stage for attack by Marathas.

 

In 1720, one of the ports of Bassein, Kalyan, was conquered by the Marathas and in 1737, they took possession of Thane including all the forts in Salsette island and the forts of Parsica, Trangipara, Saibana, Ilha das Vaccas - (Island of Arnala), Manora, Sabajo, the hills of Santa Cruz and Santa Maria.

The only places in the Northern Provinces that now remained with the Portuguese were Chaul (Revdanda), Caranja, Bandra, Versova, Bassein, Mahim, Quelme -(Kelve/Mahim), Sirgo (Sirgao), Dahanu, Asserim, Tarapur and Daman.

In November 1738, Marathas led by Chimaji Appa, captured the fort of Dahanu and on 20 January 1739, Mahim capitulated, the loss of Mahim, was speedily followed by the capture of the forts of Quelme -(Kelve/Mahim), Sirgo, Tarapur, and Asserim on 13 February 1739.

On 28 March 1739 Portuguese lost the island and the fortress of Caranja. The Marathas first attacked lha das Vaccas - (Island of Arnala) before attacking the fort of Bassein. 
  

 

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