To most visitors, Goa is a land of fun, frolic and feni, an idyll offering solace to city slickers wanting to leave it all behind for just a little while. Another huge draw are Goa’s historic churches, from simple chapels to basilicas and cathedrals that go all the way back to the state’s Portuguese occupation.
What most visitors don’t realise is that Goa is also home to some of the most historic forts in India, which have seen the rise and fall of great powers along India west coast. One such historic fort is Tiracol Fort, 50 km north of Panaji.
Tiracol Fort is built from red laterite stone and its name is a corruption of the original Marathi name, ‘Tere-Khol’, which means ‘steep river bank’. The name derives from the Terekhol River, which flows in an east-west direction and forms a natural boundary between the Sawantwadi region in Maharashtra and Pernem taluka in Goa, before it drains into the Arabian Sea on the west coast of India.
Tiracol Fort is on the northern bank of the river, in Sawantwadi, and is thus geographically in Maharashtra although it is politically a part of Goa. Built in the 17th century by the Maratha chiefs of Sawantwadi, on a headland overlooking the mouth of the river, the fort later passed to the Portuguese and then to the Indian government in 1961.
During the early 16th century, thriving maritime trade along the West coast of India drew the attention of European powers like the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Portuguese, who had reached Calicut (present-day Kozhikode) under Vasco Da Gama in 1498 CE, soon expanded their power and captured Goa from the Adil Shah of Bijapur in 1510 CE. Over the next century, they further expanded their territories, which brought them into conflict with neighbouring Indian powers such as the Maratha rulers of Sawantwadi.
The Sawants of Sawantwadi were vassals of the Adil Shahs of Bijapur before Khem Sawant I declared his independence in 1627 CE. To keep a check on the rising influence of the Portuguese in the South of his kingdom, Khem Sawant I constructed a fortification on the northern bank of the Terekhol River, specifically at the northern end of Aronde Village in Sawantwadi. The fort gave him a commanding view of the coast and was strategically very important.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, relations between the Portuguese and the Sawants kept changing. Sometimes they rallied together against the rising Maratha power under Chhatrapati Shivaji and later the Peshwas of Pune, and sometimes they fought each other for control of the Southern Konkan. Their alliances kept changing like a game of chess.
As late as the mid-18th century, a series of conflicts took place, till Pedro Miguel de Almeida, the new Portuguese Viceroy, launched a final offensive against the Sawants, thus capturing Tiracol Fort on 23rd November 1746. To commemorate this victory, the Portuguese built a chapel dedicated to St Anthony inside the fort. A mid-sized church was raised on this spot between 1822 and 1846.
However, in 1819, a treaty was signed between the Sawantwadi state and the British East India Company, which was then ruling most of the Indian subcontinent. The treaty turned the Sawantwadi kingdom into a British protectorate. The fort still remained under Portuguese control but it was reduced to an enclave in territory controlled by the British. It thus lost its strategic importance as a frontier outpost, even as the treaty solidified the border between British India and Portuguese Goa, just a few kms away.
Tiracol Fort shot into the limelight again in 1835 CE, when it was the scene of a revolt against the Portuguese establishment. Fredrick Charles Danvers, Superintendent of the India Office Records between 1884 and 1898, in his book The Portuguese In India (1894) tells us that in 1835 CE, a civil war broke out between the Portuguese and local Goans, where Tiracol Fort saw some action. The revolt was initiated by Goans, who were outraged at the dismissal of the only Viceroy of Indian origin, Bernando Peres de Silva, who had tried to introduce reforms for the people of Goa.
Within 17 days of his appointment, Peres de Silva was taken into custody as the Portuguese leadership felt the reforms would turn the tide against them. This resulted in a pitched battle between forces loyal to Peres de Silva and Portuguese troops. The fort sustained massive shelling, and many of Peres de Silva’s supporters were killed. Peres de Silva himself escaped from custody and took refuge in Bombay, never to return to Goa. Tiracol Fort was rebuilt and, by 1935, the church inside the fort had become a Parish.
In the 1950s, the freedom struggle in Goa intensified. In 1947, India had shaken off the colonial yoke and achieved Independence from the British, while the French colonies in India were free by 1954 along with the Portuguese colony of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, which was liberated by Indian forces the same year. But Goa remained with the Portuguese. Tiracol Fort had become a symbolic place during the Indian Freedom Movement, when freedom would march in and hoist the Indian tricolor atop the fort.
Once such instance took place on 15th August 1954, when a group of freedom fighters from Goa marched across the Goa-India border and took control of the fort and hoisted the tricolour inside. The following year, on 3rd August 1955, two freedom fighters, Sheshnath Wadyekar and Pannalal Yadav, along with 150 satyagrahis attempted to hoist the Indian flag in the fort again, but the duo was shot dead and cremated on the outskirts of the fort. There is a memorial just outside the fort, commemorating the heroism of these satyagrahis.
After Goa was liberated from the Portuguese in 1961, Tiracol Fort was in a shambles till 1976, when there was an effort to develop it as a weekend resort. In 1983, the fort was brought under the purview of the Ancient Monuments, Sites and Remains Act 1978, and since then, it has been a major stop for weekenders and tourists intent on escaping the hustle and bustle of city life.
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