Battle Of Vasai: Forgotten Valour of Chimajj Appa Who Liberated Hindus from Two Centuries of Persecution by Portuguese

While we often get bombarded with lessons/stories from our history books about the defeat & humiliation of Bhartiya kings by militarily advanced Britishers and Portuguese, the same history books never mention the glorious victories of our kings against these European invaders. The battle of Vasai is one of the important battles among these where the mighty Maratha Forces under the leadership of Chimaji Appa crushed the Portuguese completely.

Portuguese were the first among all Europeans who established their trade Supremacy over Bharat. Initially, the motive was only trading but after few years they started interfering in the interstate matters of Bhartiya kings, extended their territories, and started the forcible conversion of Hindus, especially in Goa and Sashti/Salsette (Now Mumbai) island.

They removed Hindus from important posts, destroyed 280 temples in Sashti, and also destroyed temples in Bardesh. They banned Hindu festivals, wearing the sacred thread, and Hindu marriage ceremonies. In 1734, the Portuguese imposed high taxes on the Hindu population to meet the expanses of fort buildings in Thane. Thus, the Portuguese harassed the Hindu population in every possible manner.

To stop this persecution and to annex the Portuguese territory, Peshwa Bajirao 1 appointed his brother Chimaji Appa to launch a campaign against the Portuguese. In 1737, Chimaji Appa started his campaign against the Portuguese. He opened the attack on all Portuguese forts surrounding Sashti Island. He won Thane, Parsik, Marol, Uran, Jivadhan, Kamandurg, Tandulwadi, Manor and Arnala. But the Maratha army was unable to capture Vasai, Versova, Bandra, Sashti.

In the monsoons, the Maratha army made two brave efforts to capture Vasai, but they failed. After Monsoons, Chimaji Appa started the campaign with fresh strategies and sieged the Portuguese forts, but he had to leave this campaign because Peshwa Bajirao called him for help against Nizam. But in the absence of Chimaji Appa, Marathas lost 5000 soldiers to the Portuguese.

As the news came in that the Nizam had surrendered to Peshwa Bajirao, Chimaji Appa went to Vasai and started the campaign again with fresh forces, strategies, and energy. He, along with other Maratha Sardars now opened a fierce attack on the Portuguese.

Portuguese commander, Cardim Froes attacked Thane, but he was fiercely opposed by Malhar Rao Holkar who wrecked the Portuguese ships heavily. On the other hand, Ranoji Shinde attacked Daman (Portuguese territory) and Dahanu, Nagarol. He cut off the routes leading to Vasai.

In the southern parts, Vyankoji Rao invaded Goa and won Concolim and Margoa.  The Mighty Maratha Forces captured the Tivim fort and the Bardesh province. Thus, by winning Daman and Goa, the Marathas blocked the Portuguese aid to Vasai and isolated them.

On the other side, Chimaji Appa opened a fierce attack against the Portuguese and won Mahim, Tarapur, Kelwe, Shirgaon. Marathas captured Dharavi and with this capture, Marathas surrounded the Portuguese from all sides and isolated them in Vasai. Now, every Portuguese ship was under direct attack by Marathas.

Battle of Vasai Begins

Marathas with an army of 40000 infantry and thousands of miners tunnel builders under the leadership of Chimaji Appa captured Bandra and Versova and strengthened their grip on the Vasai fort. After a few days of fierce canon shots from both sides, Chimaji Appa learnt that the northern part of the fort is easiest to capture.

He then ordered to dig tunnels from that side. But that was not an easy task. If the tunnel was too deep, then the army would suffocate due to water in it and if the tunnel was smaller in-depth, then the army would be under the direct attack of Portuguese cannon shots.

After overcoming all these difficulties and continuous attacks from the Portuguese, Marathas were successful in digging 10 tunnels and reached the base of bastions of Sane Sebastian and Remedios.

With the help of these mines, the Maratha Forces attacked the Portuguese fiercely and the forces under Chimaji Appa, Malhar Rao Holkar, and Ranoji Shinde attacked the walls throughout the day. San Sebastian and Remedios were repeatedly attacked and on third May, San Sebastian was destroyed by Marathas and they marched into the fort. Marathas captured the fort of Vasai, around thousands of Portuguese, were killed. On fifth May 1739, the Portuguese surrendered to Marathas and on 23rd May, Bhagwa (saffron) started waving on Vasai.

After this battle, a treaty was signed between Marathas and Portuguese where the Portuguese agreed to work under the Marathas and lost their territories which they had controlled for two centuries. The important part of the treaty was that the Hindus from Goa and nearby territories shall be allowed to practice their religion freely.

Importance of the battle of Vasai

The battle of Vasai marked the end of the Portuguese supremacy and stopped their interference in the activities of other States. The British too feared that they might be defeated by the Portuguese, hence they strengthened their relationships with the Marathas. Hindus, who were repeatedly harassed and forcibly converted by the Portuguese for two centuries could now freely practice their religion.

The church bells from the Vasai fort were reinstalled in the temple of Bhima Shankar and other temples. The battle of Vasai showed that native Bharatiya kings were strong enough to crush the European invaders. But sadly, we can’t find the mention of this battle in our history books that regularly glorify the victories of invaders.

St Xavier, who persecuted Hindus is hailed as a hero in our history books, and Chimaji Appa who crushed the Portuguese and liberated Hindus from two centuries of Persecution continues to be neglected.

Sources/ reference

  1. Battles of Maratha Empire by Aneesh Gokhale.
  2. The Era of Bajirao by Uday Kulkarni

(Featured Image Source: History Under Your Feet blog)


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About the Author

Akshat Lahane
Pursuing bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering. Interested in Bharatiya History.