Vasai is a beautiful town located to the north of the most populous city of India-Mumbai. It’s a small town with a meager population in addition to being my oyster! Despite being a small town, it has been endowed with beautiful presents by the Mother Nature in the form of its ancient churches, beaches and temples. However the icing on the cake is provided by the fort of Vasai whose scenic beauty is a sight to behold!
The fort of Vasai was formerly ruled by the Sultan of Khambat. The Portuguese mariners found the fort while exploring the Northern Konkan region in the early 1400s. The Portuguese fought hard to get into the fort and finally succeeded in the second attempt. They renovated the fort and built cathedrals and houses in and around the fort. The fort became an important administrative centre for the Portuguese in the North. It was one of the main trading centres and was also used for ship-building purposes. The Portuguese christened the small town as ‘Baçaim’ and the fort was known as the ‘Fort of Saint Sebastian.’
Fort of Saint Sebastian
In February 1739, Chimaji Appa, brother of the First Bajirao Peshwa invaded the fort. The Portuguese fought fiercely using their technically advanced weapons and artillery which caused high casualties to the Marathas. The fort was surrounded by sea from three sides and the land was moat with the sea water and hence was difficult to triumph. But eventually after a long battle spanning a period of three years, the Maratha army was victorious in conquering the fort. The tower of St. Sebastian fort collapsed as a part of the collateral damage owing to an explosion which resulted in the Portuguese army losing its moral stand. On 16thth May, 1739 the Portuguese army conceded defeat. The Portuguese captain Caetano de Souza Pereira signed the surrender treaty. Finally the Portuguese army pulled out of ‘Baçaim’ by 23rd May, 1739.
Under the Maratha rule the town was again renamed as ‘Bajipur’. After the Maratha conquest, the huge church bells inside the fort were carried off on elephant backs and paraded across Maharashtra. Presently one of them is at ‘Naroshankar temple’ on the banks of Godavari River, in Nashik. Second is in the ‘Bhimashankar temple’ in the Khed taluka of Pune district while another one is in the ‘Maneshwar temple’ at Menawali, near Panchgani. And the last one is in the ‘Durga Devi temple’ in Murud which is situated in the Alibaug district.
The neighboring territory to the town was ‘Bombay’, which was ruled by the British. The British realised the importance of the town for trade and commerce. In 1774, the British Government seized the islands and tried to negotiate the surrender of the fort. They ultimately succeeded in capturing the fort after a battle on 11th December, 1780. This time, the town was renamed as ‘Bessein’.
After independence however the fort came under the purview of the Indian Government which officially named the town as ‘Vasai’.
Today the fort itself as a structure is in a distressing situation, where several watch towers still stand with a safe staircase leading up while most of the ground is covered by overgrown vegetation. Though the three chapels in the fort are fairly recognizable with their 17th century façade, the other Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins. The Archeological Survey of India had started the restoration work, but the quality has been criticized time to time by conservation activists. The walls also seem to have lost their antique and ethnic touch. However inspite of all this, the natural beauty in and around the fort is magnificent. The butterflies, birds, plants, reptiles and the beautiful roaring sea seem to captivate us with their charm.
There are easy access modes to reach to the fort. One can easily get a bus to the fort from the Vasai railway station. There are buses in every half hour to the fort. One can also opt for a rickshaw. However bus is highly recommended while taking ‘safety’ and ‘economy’ into account.
Disha’s Tip Of The Day
Don’t forget to tug your camera along. A forgetful memory in this case may prove futile as the enchanting beauty of the fort will surely leave you with some wonderful memories to cherish for a long time.