History of Vasai
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Vasai Cultural Page
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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".
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
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
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
Caranja, Bandra, Versova,
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
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.