Vasai's Majestic Fort: A Glimpse into Its Rich History

In Mumbai, Vasai is well known for its fresh fruits and vegetables, which are in great demand in the markets, but Vasai has more historical significance than its fruits and vegetables. One of my colleagues is from Vasai and used to post scenic pictures of Vasai in our WhatsApp group. Those pictures caught my attention and I decided to explore along.

On 27th February 2021, we reached Vasai station by train at 7.30 am. Vasai is on Western railway line of Mumbai's lifeline which are local trains. Any Virar bound train on western line can be taken to reach Vasai. (Later we came to know that one can also alight at Naigaon railway station to reach the fort which is more convenient). Then we took auto-rickshaws outside the station for Vasai Fort (you also get a bus near the railway station for Vasai Fort, the bus services are very good). We also explored a Koli village nearby the fort and saw trawlers making their way towards the Arabian Sea. The way to Vasai Fort is very narrow and it is amazing to see the skill of the drivers maneuvering their vehicles through such narrow lanes.

The Grand Gate of Vasai Fort

The Grand Gate of Vasai Fort

Vasai Fort

This suburb of Mumbai, also called Bassein (Bacaim) by the Portuguese, is about 40 kilometers west of central Mumbai in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. While we're obsessed with Mumbai's glitz, there's a whole other world out here. The ruins of Vasai Fort tell the story of one of the most important Portuguese forts in the west coast of India during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Vasai was the headquarter of the Portuguese, second in importance to Goa. Surrounded by sea on three sides, it had a moat filled with seawater on the landside. Its 4.5 km long strong stone wall had 11 bastions. The fort had two gates and a small citadel. It had water tanks, storehouses, an armory, etc. It also had fields where grains and vegetables were grown. Vasai Fort was once a living city that was more important than the then backwaters of Mumbai (Bombay), when the latter were still a collection of seven islands. Vasai was famous for the exotic lifestyles of its rulers in those days.

Vasai's influence in its heyday spread to Pakistan, Oman, and other parts of the middle east gulf. It stands as a testament to India's diverse history. Soldiers, saint's artisans and residents lived there, as well as a huge township with a citadel, chapel, hospital, college, library and a busy market.

Temples in Vasai Fort

Upon reaching the fort, we discovered a small Hanuman temple built by Chimaji Appa. A very interesting aspect of this temple is the Hanuman idol with a mustache face and Peshwa turban.

Additionally, the fort has a Nageshwar temple, which was restored by the Peshwas. After their victory over Vasai fort, Chimaji Appa built a temple of goddess Vajreshwari which was also built inside the fort.

Who Built Vasai Fort?

Vasai Fort was constructed in 1533 AD by Malik Tughan, the commander of Bahadur Shah, Sultan of Gujarat. In 1534 AD, the Portuguese forced Bahadur Shah to cede Vasai forever. Over the next 150 years Vasai enjoyed opulence and prosperity under the Portuguese. The Portuguese built magnificent houses, convents, churches, and an orphanage. Only Portuguese nobles were permitted to reside within the fort walls. Vasai Fort was the main naval base and a sort of shipbuilding center for the Portuguese. It was captured in 1739 AD by Chimaji Appa, Peshwa Bajirav's brother, with great loss of life. Peshwa Bajirav II signed this “Treaty of Bassein” in 1802 AD, effectively dissolving the Maratha Confederacy. The fort and city of Vasai were eventually ceded to the British in 1817 AD.

Famous Churches in Vasai Fort

Among the most prominent remnants of Vasai Fort are three churches - the Holy Name of Jesus Church (also known as the Jesuit Church), Saint Joseph's Church and the Franciscan Church of Saint Anthony.

There is only one church left in the fort, which is located in Vasai village. The annual feast of Saint Gonsalo Garcia is still celebrated there. Saint Francis Xavier is said to have lived in Vasai.

Map of Vasai Fort

Map of Vasai Fort

Visitors to Vasai in ancient times who were famous foreigners

The Greek merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes is known to have visited Bassein in the 6th century and the Chinese traveller Xuanzang in June or July AD 640. The apostle Bartholomew is believed to have visited Kalyan in the 6th century. Elephants dancing in the Fort engravings The Maratha's placed these engravings of dancing elephants throughout the fort as victory symbols. Victory Pole

On the ramparts inside the fort's western Land Gate, there is a flat platform with a stark flagpole. It was here, on 12th May 1739, that the Maratha's led by Chimaji Appa brought down their flag.

Chimaji Appa

A painting of the Brave Chimanji Appa

A painting of the Brave Chimanji Appa

It is worth talking about Chimaji Appa or Bhau when discussing Vasai fort. He was the son of Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and the brother of Bajirao Peshwa. In a hard-fought battle, he liberated Vasai Fort from the Portuguese, marking the pinnacle of his career as a military commander. In addition to planning all the battles for Bajirao, he ran the strategy for the Maratha Empire. Chimaji Appa liberated the western coast of India from the Portuguese, who ruled the coast for 200 years. Vasai, Bhayander, Virar, Thane & Palghar celebrate every year on 12th May the capture of Vasai Fort by the Marathas. Chimaji Appa is well known and highly respected in these areas.

Secret Tunnel in Vasai Fort

A secret tunnel runs under the Saint Sabestine Bastion. It was built in 1554 and has two entrances and two exits. The tunnel is 530 feet long. Its strategically placed windows are the only source of light, sound, and air. Pointed arrow heads once had poisoned tips on the tips, and these lethal arrows were used to instantly kill enemies who tried to enter the tunnel. As the enemy enters the tunnel, seeing the shaft of light from the window, the arrowheads are strategically positioned besides the window so that the enemy crawls towards the window and is killed.

We went to Suruchi beach after visiting the Vasai Fort, Koli Village, and the garden. We took a bus to Parnaka from the Chimaji Appa monument. From Parnaka, we hired an auto rickshaw to reach Suruchi beach. The road to the beach from Parnaka is in poor condition and is quite isolated.

Suruchi Beach

There are many suru (Casuarina) trees along Suruchi beach. It is located 7.6 km from Vasai Road railway station. We reached Suruchi beach at 10 am and it was not crowded, in fact, it was pretty deserted. There were few vendors on the beach. As it was low tide that day, we were able to get a good view of the beach.

Vasai, according to legend

The legend has it that Vasai was established by Bhagawan Parshuram during the Treta Yuga. Vasai also known as Oppire, Orparak, Shorparag or Shurparaka, was founded by Bhagawan Parshuram. Vimaleshwar Mandir and Vimala Sarovara (now Nirmal Lake) were established by Bhagawan Parshuram in and around Vasai, because the yoginis were considered the devotees of His mother Goddess Renuka. The Skanda Purana and Padma Purana (Lotus Purana) mention that he established 108 Teertha Kundas or Pushkarinis in Vasai.

From 2020 to today, we have made many more trips to Vasai but this was the most memorable since it was our first trip there.

You will find the people of Vasai very friendly and helpful. Friends and Mumbaites, please do visit Vasai, for its historical significance, for its magnificent Vasai Fort, for its beautiful beaches. ( Suruchi, Kalam, Rangoan, Bhuigoan, Rajodi, and Navapur) and also for its fresh fruits and vegetables.

Current State

Today, its overgrown ruins are used as a backdrop for selfies and Bollywood movies, and children play cricket on the expanse that makes up the fort's citadel. It falls under the Archaeological Survey of India as a national monument. Sadly, little money or effort has been put into maintaining the fort. The buildings inside the fort are in ruins. The standing walls give a good idea of the floor plans of the old structures. Three chapels within the fort are still recognizable. The Archaeological Survey of India has begun restoration work on the fort, but the quality of the work has been criticized by conservation activists.

Activities to do

Fort can be visited anytime of the year, but the best time to visit is from October to March, as well as other places in the country when the weather is less humid and hot. Visit the manmade structure and soak in the richness of yesteryears culture and architecture. Makes an amazing spot for photography, with some beautiful shots especially during the monsoon season with all the lushness and greenery It has many restoes, beaches fort and some more attractions nearby to visit and enjoy Among the nearby attractions are the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Global Vipassana Pagoda, Rangao Beach, Jivdani Temple, Tungareshwar Temple, Gorai Beach, Chinchoti water falls, and Vailankanni Church. Safety Concerns

  1. Early in the morning is the best time to visit

  2. This place is beautiful but after 5pm you will find drunk people and the place is dangerous

  3. There are no street lights in the fort

  4. There are very few people across the fort and it’s lonely out there

  5. There is almost a city resides inside at other end of fort and all people are fishermen