Vasai Knowledge Guide


Pre-Portuguese Era

The history of Vasai dates back to the ancient Puranic ages. Vasai was a trading ground for many Greek, Arabs, Persian and Roman traders and merchants who would enter through the west coast of India. The Greek merchant Cosma Indicopleustes is known to have visited the areas around Vasai in the 6th century and the Chinese traveller Xuanzang later on June or July 640. According to historian José Gerson da Cunha, during this time, Bassein and its surrounding areas appeared to have been ruled by the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka. Until the 11th century, several Arabian geographers had mentioned references to towns nearby Vasai, like Thana and Sopara, but no references had been made to Vasai. Vasai was later ruled by the Silhara dynasty of Konkan and eventually passed to the Seuna dynasty. It was head of district under the Seuna (1184-1318). Later being conquered by the Gujarat Sultanate, where it was named Basai, a few years later Barbosa (1514) described it under the name Baxay (pronounced Basai) as a town with a good seaport belonging to the King of Gujarat.In 1295, Italian explorer Marco Polo passed through Vasai.

Portuguese Era

The Portuguese first reached the west coast of India when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498. According to historian Manuel de Faria e Sousa, 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 harbour of Mumbai, with 24 citizens of the Gujarat Sultanate aboard. To the Portuguese, Basai was an important trading centre located on the Arabian Sea. They saw it as a vital service station to would give them access to global sea routes and goods such salt, fish, timber and mineral resources. They wanted to build a shipyard to manufacture ships and use the fertile land to grow rice, sugarcane, cotton, betel nuts and other crops to trade globally.The presence of the Portuguese significantly shaped the region into what it is today.

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 after the Battle of Baçaim. 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.After the death of Madhavrao I in 1772, his brother Narayan Rao became Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. Narayan Rao was the fifth Peshwa of the Maratha Empire from November 1772 until his murder by his palace guards in August 1773. Narayan Rao's widow, Gangabai, gave birth to a posthumous son, who was legal heir to the throne. The newborn infant was named Sawai Madhavrao. Twelve Maratha chiefs, led by Nana Fadnavis, directed an effort to name the infant as the new Peshwa and rule under him as regents. Raghunathrao, unwilling to give up his position of power, sought help from the British at Bombay and signed the Treaty of Surat on 6 March 1775. According to the treaty, Raghunathrao ceded the territories of Salsette and Bassein to the British, along with part of the revenues from the Surat and Bharuch districts. In return, the British promised to provide Raghunathrao with 2,500 soldiers. The treaty was later annulled by the British Supreme Council of Bengal and replaced by the Treaty of Purandhar on 1 March 1776. Raghunathrao was pensioned and his cause abandoned, but the revenues of the Salsette and Bharuch districts were 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 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. Reinforcements from northern India, commanded by Colonel Thomas Goddard, arrived too late to save the Bombay force. 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 rebelled against the rival factions of the Maratha Empire. He defeated the combined forces of the Daulat Rao Scindia and Peshwa Baji Rao II in the Battle of Poona and captured Poona (Pune). 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.


The Bassein Fort, originally built in 1184, is a major tourist attraction in the region for its Indo-Portuguese history. The Archaeological Survey of India has started restoration work of the fort, although the quality of the work has been severely criticised by conservation activists. In August 2010 a wall of the fort collapsed, raising questions about the quality of the work.There are also three well-known religious sites including the Vajreshwari Temple, St. Francis Xavier's Church, Giriz and the Datta Mandir of Dongri. There are various festivals tourists come to visit.