Battle of Vasai

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Battle of Vasai
Date17 February 1739 – 16 May 1739
(2 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)
Vasai and surrounding area
19°19′50.4″N 72°48′50.8″E / 19.330667°N 72.814111°E / 19.330667; 72.814111

Maratha Empire victory

  • Portuguese army and administration pulled out of Baçaim on 23 May 1739.

Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Maratha Empire

Flag Portugal (1707).svg Portuguese Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Chimaji Appa
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Malhar Rao Holkar
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Esajirao Surve Shrungarpur
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Baji Bhivrao Rethrekar
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Girmaji Kanitkar
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Naro Shankar Dani
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Manaji Angre
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Ranojirao Shinde
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Khanderao Holkar
Flag Portugal (1707).svg Captain Caetano de Souza PereiraTemplate:Surrendered
Flag Portugal (1707).svg Captain João Xavier Pinto
Flag Portugal (1707).svg General Martinho da Silveira
Flag Portugal (1707).svg General Pedro de Melho
Flag Portugal (1707).svg Colonel João Malhão
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Maratha Empire:

Flag Portugal (1707).svg Portuguese Empire:

Casualties and losses
21,000 Killed
Unknown Wounded[2]
800 killed
Unknown Wounded[3]

The Battle of Vasai or the Battle of Bassein was fought between the Marathas and the Portuguese rulers of Vasai (Portuguese, Baçaim; English, Bassein), a town lying near Mumbai (Bombay) in the Konkan region of present-day state of Maharashtra, India. The Marathas were led by Chimaji Appa, a brother of Peshwa Baji Rao I. [4]


The Provincia do Norte (Province of the North) region ruled by the Portuguese included not just the town of Baçaim but also areas far away as Bombay, Thana, Kalyan, Chaul and Revdanda. Baçaim is located about 50 kilometers north of Bombay, on the Arabian Sea. Baçaim, was an important trading center, and its sources of wealth was trade in horses, fish, salt, timber, basalt and granite, as well as shipbuilding. The town was a significant trading center long before the Portuguese arrived. Ancient Sopara was an important port that traded with the Arabs and Greeks, Romans and Persians. It was also a wealthy agricultural region with rice, betel nut, cotton, and sugar-cane widely grown.[5][unreliable source?]

16th Century

In 1530, Portuguese army captain António da Silveira burnt the city of Baçaim and continued the burning and looting up to nearby Bombaim, when the King of Thana surrendered islands of Mahim and Bombaim. Subsequently, the towns of Thana, Bandora, Mahim and Bombaim (Bombay) were brought under Portuguese control.[6][unreliable source?] In 1531, António de Saldanha while returning from Gujarat to Goa, set fire to Baçaim again — to punish Sultanate of Gujarat king Bahadur Shah for not ceding Diu.[citation needed]

Plant of the Baçaim Fortress (1635)

In 1533, Diogo (Heytor) de Sylveira, burnt the entire sea coast from Bandora, Thana, Baçaim, to Surat. Diogo de Sylveira returned to Goa with 4000 slaves and spoils of pillaging.[7][unreliable source?] 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 Baçaim with 14,000 men.

Engraving depicting Antonio Galvano (c.1490–1557)

Nuno da Cunha saw this fortification as a threat. He assembled a fleet of 150 ships with 4000 men and sailed to Baçaim. Upon seeing such a formidable naval power, Malik Tokan made overtures of peace to Nuno da Cunha. The peace overtures were rejected. Malik Tokan had no option but to fight the Portuguese. The Portuguese landed north of the Baçaim and invaded the fortification. Even though the Portuguese were numerically insignificant, they fought with skill and valor killing off most of the enemy soldiers while losing only a handful of their own.[8][unreliable source?]

Portrait of Nuno da Cunha

On 23 December 1534, the Sultan of Gujarat Bahadur Shah, signed a treaty with the Portuguese and ceded Baçaim with its dependencies of Salsette, Bombaim (Bombay), Parel, Vadala, Siao (Sion), Vorli (Worli), Mazagao (Mazgao), Thana, Bandra, Mahim, and Caranja (Uran).[9][unreliable source?] In 1536, Nuno da Cunha appointed his brother-in-law Garcia de Sá as the first Captain/Governor of Baçaim. The first corner stone for the Fort was laid by António Galvão. In 1548, the Governorship of Baçaim was passed on to Jorge Cabral.[8]

Jorge Cabral

In the second half of 16th century, the Portuguese built a new fortress enclosing a whole town within the fort walls. The fort included 10 bastions, of these nine were named as: Cavalheiro, Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Reis Magos Santiago, São Gonçalo, Madre de Deus, São João, Elefante, São Pedro, São Paulo and São Sebastião, São Sebastião was also called "Porta Pia" or pious door of Baçaim. 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.[10][unreliable source?]

In 1548, St. Francisco Xavier stopped in Baçaim, and a portion of the Baçaim 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), Mercês (1606). All these beautiful churches are still used by the Christian community of Vasai. In 1573 alone 1600 people were baptized.[7]

17th Century

Map of Baçaim from Portuguese Atlas

As Baçaim 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. Baçaim became so famous that a great Portuguese man would be called "Fidalgo ou Cavalheiro de Baçaim" or "Nobleman of Bassein".[11] Baçaim during the Portuguese period was known for the refinement and wealth and splendor of its buildings, palaces and for the beauty of its churches. The Bassein fort which now lies in ruins was the administrative centre and court of the northern province, and was subordinate only to Velha Goa in the south, the capital of the East Indies or the eastern faction of the Portuguese empire. The northern province consisted a territory which extended as far as 100 kilometers along the coast, in between Damaon (Daman) and Chaul (Colaba district), and in some places extended 30-50 kilometres inland. It was the most productive Indian area under Portuguese rule.[citation needed]

In 1618, Baçaim suffered from a succession of disasters. First it was struck by a plague then on 15 May, the city was struck by a deadly cyclone. It caused considerable damage to the boats and houses, and thousands of coconut trees were uprooted and flattened, monsoon winds had pushed brackish sea water inland. Many churches and convents of the Franciscans and Augustinians were affected by the disaster. The roofs of three of the largest churches in Bassein city including the seminary and the chapel of the Jesuits were ripped off, making the structure almost beyond repair. This storm was followed by so complete a failure of rains which resulted in famine-like conditions. In a few months, the situation grew so precarious that parents were openly selling their children to Muslim brokers into slavery rather than to starve them to death. The practice was stopped by the Jesuits, partly by saving from their own scanty allowances and partly by donations from the rich.[12] In 1634, Baçaim's population numbered about 400 Portuguese families, 200 Indian Christian families and 1800 slaves (Indians and Africans). In 1674, Bassein had 2 colleges, 4 convents, and 6 churches.[13]

St. James Church, Agashi

In 1674, 600 Arab pirates from Muscat landed at Baçaim. The fort garrison panicked and was too scared to oppose the pirates outside the fort walls. The pirates plundered all the churches outside of the fort walls and spared no violence and cruelty towards the people of Baçaim.[14][unreliable source?] In 1674, More Pundit stationed himself in Kalyan, and forced the Portuguese to pay him one-fourth of Baçaim's revenues. Two years later, Shivaji advanced near Saivan.[15] As the Portuguese power waned towards the end of the 17th century, Baçaim suffered considerably. The importance of Baçaim was reduced by transfer of neighboring Bombaim island to the British in 1665. The East India Company had been coveting the relatively safe Bombay Harbour for many years, even before their trading post was affected by the Sack of Surat. Bombaim was finally acquired by them through the royal dowry of Catherine Braganza, before that 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.[16][unreliable source?] The intolerance of the Portuguese to other religions seriously hindered the growth of Baçaim or Bombaim 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.[17] 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 opulent society based upon slave labour. The cruelties of the Inquisition (from 1560) alienated the native population of New Christians, and the Iberian Union of Portugal with Spain (1580) deprived the Indian settlements of care of the home government.[citation needed] The Portuguese trade monopoly with Europe could henceforth last only so long as no European rival came upon the scene.[18]

18th century Maratha conquest

In 1720, one of the ports of the Northern Province, Kalyan, was conquered by the Marathas and in 1737, they took possession of Thana including all the forts in Salsette island and the forts of Parsica, Trangipara, Saibana (Present-day Saivan, south bank of the Tansa river), Ilha das Vaccas (Island of Arnala), Manora (Manor), Sabajo (Sambayo/Shabaz near Belapur), the hills of Santa Cruz and Santa Maria.[19][unreliable source?] The only places in the Northern Province that now remained with the Portuguese were Chaul (Revdanda), Caranja, Bandra, Versova, Baçaim, Mahim, Quelme (Kelve/Mahim), Sirgão (Present day Shirgao), Dahanu Sao Gens (Sanjan), Asserim (Asheri/Asherigad), Tarapor (Tarapur) and Damão.[20][unreliable source?] 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.[21] The locals who 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.Template:Source needed These were some of the factors that weakened Baçaim and set the stage for Maratha attacks.

After the war of 1737- 39, Chimaji appa and his Maratha soldiers took the church bells from Vasai as memorabilia and installed them in various Hindu mandirs of Maharashtra, some of the bells they installed in Khandoba mandir, Tulja bhavani mandir of Jejuri and Osmanabad respectively . These church bells are still present in these mandirs.[22]

Siege of Baçaim

The siege of Baçaim began on 17 February 1739.[23] All the Portuguese outposts around the major fort at Baçaim had been taken. Their supply routes from the north and south had been blocked, and with the English manning the seas, even that route was unreliable. Chimaji Appa arrived at Bhadrapur near Baçaim in February 1739. According to a Portuguese account, his forces numbered 40,000 infantry, 25,000 cavalry, and around 4,000 soldiers trained in laying mines. Furthermore, he had 5,000 camels and 50 elephants. More joined from Salsette in the following days, increasing the total Maratha troops amassed to take Baçaim to close to 100,000. The Portuguese, alarmed at this threat, decided to vacate Bandra, Versova and Dongri so as to better defend Baçaim. As per orders of the Portuguese Governor, only Baçaim, Damão, Diu and Karanja (Uran) were to be defended. These were duly fortified. In March 1739, Manaji Angre attacked Uran and captured it from the Portuguese. This was followed by easy Maratha victories at Bandra, Versova and Dharavi which the Portuguese garrison had vacated. Manaji Angre joined Chimaji Appa at Vasai after this. Thus by April 1739, the noose around Baçaim had further tightened.

Malhar Rao Holkar I

The capture of Thana and Dharavi meant that even small boats could not reach Baçaim without being fired upon by Maratha cannons. Still, General Martinho De Silva decided to fight. Chimaji Appa now decided to bring down the fort of Baçaim itself.[24] All except Vasai in Maratha hands, including the forts at Bandra, Versova, Dongri and Uran.[25] The fort at Baçaim is situated on land with the Arabian sea on one side, and the Vasai creek on another two sides.[26][unreliable source?]

A painting of Chimaji Ballal Peshwa near Parvati temple in Pune

The village of Baçaim itself and the large Maratha camp at Bhadrapur were to the north.[27][unreliable source?] Within the fort itself, the towers of São Sebastião and Remedios faced the Marathas at Bhadrapur. The barracks and everything else was inside, with the main gate facing the Vasai creek. Chimaji Appa began the siege on 1 May 1739 by laying 10 mines next to the walls near the tower of Remedios. Maratha soldiers charged into the breach caused by exploding four of them. Almost immediately, they came under fire from Portuguese guns and muskets. Chimaji Appa, Malhar Rao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde and Manaji Angre goaded their contingents to scale the walls throughout the day. Next day on 2 May, the tower of São Sebastião and Remedios were repeatedly attacked. More mines were set off during the day, causing large breaches in the walls, between the two towers. Around 4,000 Maratha soldiers tried to pour into the fort, but the Portuguese opposition was fierce. They also managed to defend the two towers by lighting firewood. On 3 May, the tower of São Sebastião was demolished by a Maratha mine. Maratha armies could now easily march into the fort, without the fear of being fired upon from the tower. The encirclement and defeat of the Portuguese was complete. Chimaji Appa decided to settle the war at this point by sending an envoy to the Portuguese. In his letter, he warned them that the entire garrison would be slaughtered and the fort levelled if the war continued. The Portuguese commander in charge of the fort duly surrendered on 16 May 1739.[28] On 23 May 1739, the saffron flag flew atop Baçaim.[29]

See also


  1. "[FortsMaharashtra] Vasai Fort - Fort Bassein". 9 July 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  2. "[Lokmat] Vasai Fort illuminated by 21000 lamps". 22 October 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  3. "Chapter2 : Maratha-Portuguese". Archived from the original on 13 August 2021. Retrieved 11 November 2017. The Portuguese losses amounted to eight hundred officers and men killed and unknown number wounded.
  4. Jaques, Tony (12 November 2017). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A-E. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313335372. Retrieved 12 November 2017 – via Google Books.
  5. "V E R N O N S V E N T U R E S @vernonsventures Instagram Profile - Picbear".
  6. Ramerini, Marco (9 February 2014). "The Portuguese in Bassein (Baçaim, Vasai): the ruins of a Portuguese town in India". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Vasai Fort - Bassein Fort – Solotravellers".
  8. 8.0 8.1 "History of Vasai - 2984 Words". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  9. "Nuno da Cunha & Treaty of Bassein - General Knowledge Today".
  10. "Travel India". Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  11. Asiatic Society of Bombay (3 March 1875). "Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay". Asiatic Society of Bombay – via Internet Archive.
  12. "Places of Interest : Bassein". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  13. "Greater Bombay District : Ancient History". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  14. "The English in Western India - Piracy".
  15. Campbell, James MacNabb; Enthoven, R. E. (Reginald Edward) (3 March 1883). "Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency". Bombay : Gov. Central Press – via Internet Archive.
  16. "Did You Know Mumbai Was Given As Dowry To The British By The Portuguese?". 10 February 2016.
  17. "Full text of "Imperial Gazetteer of India Provincial Series Bombay Presidency Vol-i"". Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  18. "portugal no mundo".
  19. ""belapur fort" in a sentence - belapur fort sentence examples - sentence maker".
  20. "Opinions on Shirgaon, Thane".
  21. Pritchett, Frances. "10chapter".
  22. "Why bells from Portuguese-era churches ring in temples across Maharashtra". Hindustan Times. 22 December 2018. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  23. "How Chimaji Appa defeated the Portuguese". 1 January 2017.
  24. "Marathas v/s Portuguese – Vasai , May 1739". 15 November 2016.
  25. Homegrown. "Hidden History: The Forgotten Stories Behind 12 Of Mumbai's Forts".
  26. "Vasai Creek empties west into the Arabian Sea - Rally For Rivers". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  27. "Vasai in Maharashtra, Bassein Fort, Traveling Bassein, Temples of Vasai, Aagashi Jain Mandir, Arnala Fort, Chinchoti Waterfalls, Holy Christ Church in Vasai".
  28. "Chapter V : The Victorious Campaigns of the Marathas Against the Siddis and the Portuguese" (PDF). p. 166. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  29. "Maharashtra State Gazetteers Greater Bombay District". 17 February 2009. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009.

Other sources

Coordinates: 19°28′N 72°48′E / 19.467°N 72.800°E / 19.467; 72.800