Finding Ali in Alibaug
Alibaug is a coastal town in Raigad district, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, very close to the bustling metropolis of Mumbai. Over the centuries, this has been a port of call for traders and powerful naval fleets. Given its strategic location, it is not surprising that the famed Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre made Alibaug his headquarters!
Alibaug gets its name from a benevolent, rich merchant by the name of Ali, who lived in the area 300 years ago. Ali owned large orchards and plantations in the area and dug a number of wells, for public use, endearing himself to the locals. Soon people started calling the area Alichi Baug or Ali’s garden, which eventually became Alibaug.
The Kolaba fort is situated on a rocky island, at a distance of about 2 kms from Alibaug beach. The fort was constructed during the time of the Maratha great, Chhatrapati Shivaji but gained great prominence, later under the famous Maratha Admiral, Kanhoji Angre.
Inside the fort are ruined remnants of palaces, temples and fresh water tanks built by Kanhoji Angre. The Kolaba Fort, derives its name from Kolibhat , (an estate belonging to the koli or fishing community) . While Kolaba Fort is a far cry from the very popular Colaba area in South Mumbai, Colaba too gets its name from the local kolis.
Till the 1950s, Alibaug also had a thriving Jewish quarter with a substantial Bene Israel Jewish population. Today, the only remnants of this Jewish past are houses with ‘Stars of David’ on them and a locked up Synagogue.
The Bene Israel synagogue at the centre of the Jewish quarter is locked up and opened only when an occasional worshipper visits.