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History of Bassein

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Vasai which is a small city located in the outskirts of Mumbai, apart from being a part of the western railway line is also a land with historic significance. Vasai’s (formerly and alternatively Bassein) history has roots back from the ancient puranic ages. 

Not just a long background of changing dominance, but this land has also seen a long history of names. Let’s go round the brief history of Vasai. 

Pre-Portuguese era

Entering through the west coast Vasai was a trading ground for many nations like Greek, Arabians, Persians and Romans. The land was known by the name of Mhatre Ilaka, oldest known name. The city holds trading history since the 6th century where Greek merchant Cosma Indicopleustes is known to visit first, followed by Chinese traveler Xuanzang in 640. Historian José Gerson da Cunha mentioned that during this time Vasai was a part of the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka. Later it was ruled by the Silhara dynasty of Konkan and eventually passed to the Seuna dynasty (1184-1318). The Sultanate of Gujarat conquered this land and renamed it Basai, a few years later Barbosa stated that the great seaport belongs to the King of Gujarat (1514).

In 1295, Italian explorer Marco Polo passed through Vasai.

Portuguese Era

The coast of Basai was first visited by the Portuguese in 1509, when Francisco de Almeida on his way to Diu captured a Muslim ship in the harbor of Mumbai, with 24 citizens of the Gujarat Sultanate aboard. 

Basai being situated on the coast of Arabian sea was an important trading center for the Portuguese. A shipyard at Basai would help them ships, this would strengthen their naval base also resulting in easy access to global sea routes and goods such as salt, fish, timber and mineral resources. They could also use the fertile land to grow rice, sugarcane, cotton, betel nuts and other crops to trade globally.

The Portuguese also built the Vasai Fort here to strengthen their naval superiority over Arabian sea. The presence of the Portuguese significantly shaped the region into what it is today.

Treaty of Bassein (1534)

The treaty of Bassein was signed by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and the kingdom of Portuguese on 23rd December 1534, as the Sultanate of Gujarat could not sustain constant attack from the Portuguese. 

In 1530 Antonio de Sylveria started looting and burning the village of Basai, in order to weaken the Sultanate. As Portugal forces were stronger than the Sultanate, despite fighting hard the Portuguese defeated the Gujarat Sultanate. 

In 1531, Antonio once again set fire on Basai as the Sultanate was not ready to give away Diu, which was a vital island that would protect trade in the region. In 1533 Diogo de Sylveria set fire on the Western coast from Bandora through Thank and Basai to Surat.

On this son of Meliqueaz, the governor of Diu, Malik Tokan was fortifying Basai with 14,000 men. Seeing this a threat Portuguese General Nuno da Cunha assembled a fleet of 150 ships with 4,000 men sailed to North of Basai.

Due to the naval superiority of Portuguese, Malik Tokan wished to make a peace agreement. But upon rejection, Malik Tokan was forced to fight against the Portuguese. Despite having less soldiers, the Portuguese managed to almost kill the enemy while losing only a few of their own.

On this a Treaty was signed. Based on the terms of agreement, Portuguese Empire gained control over Basai, it’s territories, islands and seas including Bombay. The village was renamed to Baçaim and became the Portuguese northern capital in Portuguese India.

Garcia de Sá was later appointed as the first Captain (governor) of Baçaim by his brother-in-law Nuno da Cunha in 1536, who ruled until 1548 when the governorship was passed onto Jorge Cabral. The first cornerstone for the Bassein Fort was laid by António Galvão.

Under Portuguese rule, the Bassein Fort was the Northern Court, or ‘Corte da Norte’, functioning as the headquarters of the Court of the North. Baçaim became the most productive village of Portuguese India. By 1674, the Portuguese constructed 2 colleges, 4 convent schools and 15 churches in total in Baçaim’s territories. For approximately 205 years, the presence of the Portuguese made the surrounding area vibrant and wealthier.

In 1674, about 600 Arab pirates from Muscat entered Baçaim via the west and looted the churches in Baçaim. The unexpected attack weakened the Portuguese control outside the fort walls and Maratha warriors guarding the west isolated them further.

Maratha Era

In the 18th century, the Bassein Fort was attacked by the Maratha Empire under Peshwa Baji Rao’s brother Chimaji Appa and the Portuguese surrendered on 16 May 1739. The Marathas allowed the women and the children of the enemy to leave peacefully. The Portuguese lost a total of 4 main ports, 8 cities, 2 fortified hills, 340 villages and 20 fortresses.

This defeat of the Portuguese, combined with Portuguese royal Catherine of Braganza’s wedding dowry of the Seven Islands of Bombay to Charles II of England, led to Bombay overtaking Bajipur (the Maratha name for Vasai) as the dominant economic power in the region.

British Era

With the British ruling the island of Bombay just south of the Vasai Creek, the region’s prominence as a trade centre in India became increasingly overshadowed by Bombay.

Due to changing ties and the hunger for power gave opportunities to the British to rule the city from 1775, when Raghunathrao who was unwilling to give his position for an infant named Sawai Madhavrao son of Peshwa Narayanrao who was murdered in 1773. Twelve Maratha chiefs led by Nana Fadnavis, directed efforts to name the infant as new Peshwa.

On this Raghunathrao on 6th March 1775 signed the Treaty of Surat with the British according to which he gave up the territories of Salsette and Bassein to the British, along with the revenue from Surat and Bharuch districts, in return Britishers provided him with 2,500 soldiers. Which was later annulled by the British themselves and replaced with the Treaty of Purandhar in March 1776.

Raghunathrao was removed from all the powers but revenue shared by him was retained by the British. The British Bombay presidency rejected this new treaty and gave refuge to Raghunathrao. In 1777, Nana Fadnavis violated his treaty with the British Supreme Council of Bengal by granting the French a port on the west coast. The British retaliated by sending a force towards Pune.

Following a treaty between France and the Maratha Empire in 1776, the British Bombay Presidency decided to invade and reinstate Raghunathrao. They sent a force under Colonel Egerton, but were defeated. The British were forced to sign the Treaty of Wadgaon on 16 January 1779, a victory for the Marathas. The British Governor-General in the British Bengal Presidency, Warren Hastings, rejected the treaty on the grounds that the Bombay officials had no legal power to sign it. He ordered Goddard to secure British interests in the area. Goddard captured Bassein on December 11, 1780. The city was renamed from Bajipur to Bassein under British rule.

In 1801, Yashwantrao Holkar defeated the combined forces of the Daulat Rao Scindia and Peshwa Baji Rao II in the Battle of Poona and captured Poona. Peshwa Baji Rao II eventually took refuge in Bassein, where the British had a stronghold. The Bassein Fort played a strategic role in the First Anglo-Maratha War.

Treaty of Bassein (1802) 

The Treaty of Bassein (1802) was signed on 31 December 1802 between the British East India Company and Baji Rao II, the Maratha Peshwa of Pune, in India after the Battle of Poona. The treaty was a decisive step in the dissolution of the Maratha Empire and the expansion of British rule over the Indian subcontinent.

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