India’s Piece of the Renaissance in Ruin.

Bassein IN Ruin

The silence rings through the waist high weeds-green, dense and prickly. I am entangled in the vegetation and yet I walk forward. Thorns pierce through my socks as I brush off the pollen. A rash breaks out as my arms glow red, I know scratching will not help but I do not fight the stimuli. I have realised that in nature’s eye humans are an invasive species. A bulbul watches us from her ivory tower in the mango tree laughing at our endeavour to fight nature’s wall of green. I let myself fall down on the lush wild green grass, close my eyes and think, “I am in Bassein, in search for haunted forts, fallen churches and a lost Portuguese principality-India’s piece of the Renaissance.”

Vasai as we know it now is the site of the ruins of the Portuguese citadel of Bassein. What were once churches, villas and buildings that supported more than 10,000 colonialists is all but overgrown moss ridden stone. I do not know why the Portuguese chose this place to be their imperial capital in India - may be it reminded them of the lavadas of Madiera. If history had played out differently this could have been the site of Bombay [well they would have probably called it something else] and we would have all spoken Portuguese instead of English.

reflections of old.
[The Arched remains of a Church]

A rusted ASI signpost briefs us about the heritage structures we have stumbled upon. The signpost itself is an example of the neglect we see around us. Hugo was the buddy with me on this excursion if you wondering about the ‘we’ in the equation. Hugo, is a Portuguese linguist who is studying the Portuguese Creole spoken in Daman & Diu for his Phd. An ideal guide for a visit to the site of a Portuguese ruin don’t you think ? I asked him to translate some of the inscriptions and fill me on some of the history.

Of all the Portuguese forts still existing in India, Bassien, is one of the most imposing and in a better state of conservation. Today Baçaim is a tangle of ruins, the city has, still well preserved, his imposing boundary walls, with his two access doors ("Porta do Mar" and "Porta da Terra") and his 10 bastions. Scattered inside the walls there are the ruins of numerous town-houses and churches, among other things: the church and the convent of the Dominicans, the Franciscan church of Santo Antonio (with numerous Portuguese tombstones, the remains of the cloister and the ruins of the bell-tower), the church of Nossa Senhora da Vida, the church and convents of the Augustinian, the "Camara" palace, the Misericordia, the church Matriz of S. José, the ruins of the Jesuits church and convent. Well preserved are also the remains of the old citadel of Sao Sebastiao.

[source: colonial voyage]

Taking in the Ruins
[Silhouette of Hugo at the Alter of the Franciscan church of Santo Antonio]

Gravestone Coloured.
[Hugo translated this for me : Here lies an Iberian Dutchess and her heirs.]

Who said drying fish couldn't be beautiful ?
[Who said drying bombil can't be beautiful?]

Vasai by the Sea.

Fisher Women's Tales.
[Warm just like the sun in the morning]

Mother and Child. [Vasai]

Painted Lady
[Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui. We stumbled across a colony of these butterflies. With no gross exageration there were literally a thousand butterflies. ]

One of central reasons I take pictures is to overcome my inarticulacy through imagery. However, sometimes I seem to fail even with the camera in expressing my experiences. Bassien is one of those places which I have failed to express in words, pictures and thought.
If you're interested take a train to Vasai Road and bassein is just a short rickshaw ride away.

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Hiren said...

Nice photographs. Must have taken a lot of effort to put this up.

WishfulThinker said...

Reminded me of my trip to Bassein six years ago. Wonderful pgotographs I must say! Keep clicking away! :)

Intern said...

Those fisherwomen remind me of Manori & Gorai beaches! Bombay happens to be one of my fav. places on earth. Very nice photos.

karmic_jay said...

Nice photos and great article too. It's been a while since I went hiking in and around Bombay. There is so much to do and see. I was amazed even then how little we seem to care about our heritage. Just having mere ASI plaques hardly did justice to the stae of direpair of a lot of the forts. People visitng them did not help either cos some of them vandalized the place.
PS: The NY Times did a piece on India's new rich. Link to it along with my take on it is on my blog. If any one cares to visit/comments/flames..its all welcome. karmic musings..

Sunil Dabre said...

Great Photos. I am a vasai native , currently in US and this brought back memories. Thanks .

Pat Paulk said...

Have never been, but the photographs are amazing!!! Thanks for the E-trip!

Sunil said... always. The butterfly looks like it's posing for the camera.

A small point. You said....

If history had played out differently this could have been the site of Bombay [well they would have probably called it something else]

Actually, Bombay is a Portugese name. It's from bom bahia (or something like that...Vikrum should be able to help), which means "good bay" (describing the natural harbor there) :-)

Mridula said...

The drying bombil photograph is indeed very beautiful.

bharath said...

perhaps, your images say much more than you realise. thanks for sharing with us!

enjoyed this nice post.

wildpixie said...

i'm away from home and i used to haunt the ruins of the fort when i had the time.
its sad that it's falling apart and no ones doing anything for its upkeep.
thanks for the pics and the nice blogpost.

Anonymous said...

Now, that brought back some good memories! Incredibly written and incredibly documented, good job...

megs said...

m an architecture student doin thesis on bassein fort...m a native of vasai 2...can ur portuegese fren help me a bit??

Abhijit Dharmadhikari said...

Nice images and a write-up! How come you missed Chimaji Appa's statue? :-)