KORLAI Fort History

Korlai (Murud Peta; 18°30′ N, 72°50′ E; p. 1,494; RS. Khopoli, 96 m.) lies opposite Revdanda, at the west point of the left or south bank of the Roha creek. It is almost an island, a narrow rocky ridge about 300 feet high which stretches north-west half across the river. Inside of the ridge, hid in a grove of coco-palms, lies the large village of Korlai. From the top of Korlai hill, which is 271 feet high, to the level of the beach in the extreme north, the crest of the ridge is flanked by walls, defences strengthened by an outwork on the rocks just above sea level, and by three cross walls and towers between the outwork on the sea and the main fortifications on the top of the hill. These walls are almost dilapidated at present. Mr. Nairne considered it the most interesting Portuguese fortification in British Konkan. [ Nairne’s Konkan, 61.]

During the sixteenth century this point was known to Europeans as Ceul Rock, ‘II Morro de Ceul’. It was the scene of several severe struggles between the Portuguese and the Musalmans. In 1521, when the Ahmadnagar king allowed them to build a fort at Ceul, the Portuguese raised a bulwark on the other side of the river, probably on the flat space at the north foot of the Korlai ridge. [Faria y Souza in Kerr’s Voyages, VI. 191-192; Gemelli Careri Chiurchill, IV 200) says that Nizzamaluc (Nizamul Mulk) allowed the Portuguese to build the fort on condition that they should bring him over 303 horses at reasonable talis out of Persia or Arabia, because of the scarcity of them in India, to serve hint in his wars against Hindalcan (Adilkhan). ] This redoubt was attacked by the Cambay fleet, which was then at the river mouth. But the Korlai garrison was strengthened from Ceul and drove off the Gujaratis with heavy loss. [Da Cunha’s Chaul, 35.] In 1557, apparently taking advantage of the disturbances that followed the death of Burhan Nizam (1508-1553) of Ahmadnagar, the Portuguese asked for the cession of Korlai. The Ahmadnagar king refused, and, sending some of his best engineers, ordered the place to he strongly fortified. The Portuguese resisted, and. after some lighting, it was settled that the hill should remain unfortified. [Da. Cunha’s Chaul, 45-47.] The Portuguese redoubt seems to have been dismantled, but, according to Portuguese accounts, one sign of their possession re-mained, a small wooden cross at the extreme point, which neither Musalman swords could cut nor Musalman elephants drag away.

In 1594, [Ferishta gives 1592, the Portuguese 1594. The Portuguese say the two nations were at peace, but the Viceroy seems to have given some ground for quarrel. Nairne in Ind. Ant. III. 181; Da Cunha’s Chaul, 89.] Burhan Nizam II (1590-1594), who was then at war with the Portuguese, built a fort ‘a wonder of strength and com-pleteness’ on the Korlai ridge, and from it did much injury to the Revadanda walls. On the fourth of September (1594) the Portuguese, strongly reinforced from Bassein and Salsette, determined to annoy the Musalmans by destroying the Korlai market. Abranches, the Captain of Ceul with 1,500 Portuguese and as many trusty natives, crossing in small boats, landed on the Korlai shore, and, after a sharp fight, drove the Musalmans before them and chased them to the outer gate. This gate was blocked by a dead elephant, and the garrison, failing to shut it, the Portuguese forced their way through and entered the fort. Enraged at the death of Antonio, a Franciscan father who had led them with a crucifix fastened to a lance, the Portuguese rushed forward and forced their way through the second gate, which the garrison were unable to shut as the passage was blocked by a dead horse. After a fierce resistance the Musalman general Fath Khan was taken prisoner. The Tower of Resistance still held out, hut with the help of scaling ladders was captured after a deadly struggle. Fath Khan, convinced of the power of the Portuguese God, became a Christian, and dying of his wounds was buried at Ceul with great pomp. His wife and daughter were taken in the Castle of Resistance. The wife was ransomed, and the daughter becoming a Christian was sent to Goa and afterwards to Lisbon. [Nairne in Indian Antiquary, III. 182.] The trophies of the day were besides the riches of the market, much ammunition, many horses, five elephants, seventy-seven pieces of; artillery, and a store of small arms. The Portuguese loss was twenty-one killed and about fifty wounded; the Musalman loss was about 1,000 killed. [According to Ferishta (Briggs, III. 286) 12,000 Musalmans were killed. The very small Portuguese loss is partly explained by their custom of recording no deaths but those of Europeans. See-Ahmadnagarchi Nizamshahi-Kunte F. N. pp. 278-279.] As the Portuguese had not men enough to guard the works, they were destroyed. Only the Castle of Resistance on the hill top and the battery on the water’s edge, at the north point, were kept, and furnished with a small garrison. [See inscription below. Thevenot (1666, Voyages, V. 248) speaks of the harbour being defended by a strong citadel on the top of a hill called Morro de Ciaul.]

Before its destruction by the Portuguese, Korlai is described by Do Couto (1602) as a great fortress as strong as any in the world. [The Account is from a translation of Do Couto (Decade II. Cap. 30) published by Mr. Nairne, C. S., in the Indian Antiquary, III. 181.] On the inland side, where alone it was open to a land attack, from the sea to the river it was protected by a ditch crossed by a wooden drawbridge. Within the ditch was a high strong wall relieved by two great bastions, with a bronze lion between them bearing the words ‘None passes me but flies’. Within the wall, about halfway up the hill side, ran a second bastioned line of walls, and, on the hill top, rose a great strong tower, the Castle of Resistance. From the highest point of the castle looked down a bronze eagle with outstretched wings and the motto ‘None passes me but flies’. On the north point within the outer wall was another great bastion. Inside the walls were some good houses, a deep cistern of dressed stone, and several magazines. The whole was defended by seventy great guns, and had a garrison of 8,000 horse and foot, among them many noble Moors, quartered outside the walls in rich gay tents. Close to the camp was a market with 1,000 people, all engaged in trade with great store of stuffs, money, and mer-chandise.

The Portuguese do not seem to have allowed the fortress to re-main long dismantled. In 1623 Delia Valle described the Ceul rock as, on the right, crowned by a Musalman fort, which the Portuguese had greatly strengthened. Formerly, he adds, the Nizam Shah had fortified Korlai fort and another hill a little in-land, and greatly annoyed Portuguese Ceul, preventing ships from entering the river. [Viaggi di pietro Delia Valle, Venice 1667, part III, 133-136.] In 1634, Antonio Bocarro, the successor of Diogo do Couto as king’s chronicler, described the Morro or Hill of Ceul as lying on the right hand on entering the Ceul river. The hill was about 720 feet (150 brasses) high. [Even taking the brasse as a yard, not a fathom, the height is excessive.] To the wen and north lay the sea, to the east the river, and to the south the main-land. On the south, west, and east the sides were very steep; the hill could be climbed only from the north. At the north point, on the level of the sea was an outwork or cuiras called Santa Cruce or Holy Cross. It had side walls nine feet or twelve palms high a watch-house and ammunition tower, and it had room for ten pieces of artillery. In 1634, there were five pieces in the Santa Cruce redoubt, a colubrina or calverine of gun-metal able to throw an iron ball of fifty pounds, a half colubrina of gun-metal able to throw a sixteen-pound iron ball, a half camel of gun-metal, and an iron sakre able to throw an eight-pound iron ball. Of the fifth piece no details are given. The outwork was manned by twenty soldiers and two bombardiers.

From the Santa Cruce outwork the hill rose southward, as if by a number of steps, the
crest of the ridge being flanked by walls. About 500 paces from the Santa Cruce was a watch-tower or cavaleiro, about fifteen feet (about twenty palms) high, with a terrace-roof suitable for musketeers. If armed with heavy guns this tower would command Santa Cruce; but the only gun was a falcon, which threw a shot of about four pounds. From this bastion the flanking walls about thirty feet (forty palms) apart, led up the hill 800 paces to the towers of Sam Thiago and Sam Francisco Xaviers terrace-roofed bastions, one over the sea face, the other over the river face. Each had a falcon and room enough to work heavy artillery. Above these towers the hill rose, still between Hanking walls, to another cross wall with a tower of Sam Philippe and Sam Thiago. Inside of this defence, by steps and sharp ascents, the ridge rose to the hill-top which was from twenty-five to thirty paces broad and about 300 paces long. The top of the hill was surround-ed by a wall from eight to fifteen feet (ten to twenty palms) high, accordnig to the nature of the ground. To the south the wall was closed by two acute triangles, called Scissors in military phrase, and commonly known as Hare’s Ears. The inside height of the wall varied from three feet four inches to five feet (four to six palms). The only guns on the hill-top were three falcons, because the hill sides were so steep that, to reach the foot of the wall was a work of great difficulty. The chief defence was a number of stones ready to be hurled from the wall, and so numerous that, if they were set rolling nothing could remain unhurt to the very end of the sea beach. On the hill-top were some houses close to the wall. One with a verandah was the captain’s house, a second was an ammunition and food store, and a third was the magazine for the city of Ceul. In the fort was a rain water cistern sufficient for the use of the garrison. There was also a church whose chapel had stone walls and a tiled roof, but whose body had an inner roof of palm leaf matting and an outer roof of thatch. Every Sunday and holiday a priest came to the chapel to say mass, being paid 15 annas (5 larines) for each visit. A boat with a captain and six sailors was kept to run between Korlai and Ceul. [The hire of the boat was Rs. If (Xeraphins 3) a, month. Each of the men was paid 15 cms. (5 larines) a month and a tnaund of rice and the captain got twice as much as the men.] The Morro garrison included a captain, a constable and fifty men. The cost of the fort garrison was Rs. 2,150 (Xeraphins 3,426) a year, and Rs. 950 (Xeraphins 1,513) more for powder and guns, repairs, and masses The fort was of great value to the Portuguese as it commanded the mouth of the river, and as, in the hands of an enemy, it might greatly annoy Ceul. Moreover, it was a place in which in an emergency the people of Ceul might take shelter. [O Chron. de Tis. IV. 3-5. The details of the cost were: a captain, appointed by the king and paid reis 60,000 that is Xs. 200 or Rs. 125; a constable of the fort on reis 50,000, that is Xs. 116 or Rs. 72. Of the garrison of fifty men, forty got pay at the rate of Xs. 10 (Rs. 6½) and one tanga (ans. 2½) a quarter with food worth 8 larines Rs. li a month; that is a total cost of Xs. 2772 or Rs. 1,780. The ten other men larines 8 a month each or Xs. 288 or Rs. 186 a year. The original amounts in reis, larines and Xerophins have been turned into rupees on the basis of 1000 reis-Rs. 2-2-4, larine= 3 as., and I Xeraphin = 10 as. 3 ps. Compare O Chron.de Tis. IV. 5.] In 1728, the Morro or Korlai Fort is described as an admirable piece, protected on both sides, from the top to the sea, by admirable breastworks with seven bastions and one watch-tower. The fort was garrison-ed by 130 soldiers and a constable and two artillerymen from Ceul. There were thirty-two to twenty-four pounder cannon, five of which were damaged and one was useless. [ O Chron. de Tis. I. 35, 59.] After the capture of Bassein by the Marathas in 1739 the Portuguese power withdrew from Kolaba and with it the fort passed into the hands of the Marathas.

The Fort.

The fort is 2,828 feet long, and its average breadth is eighty-nine feet. The enclosing wall was 5′ 3″ high and was loopholed into 305 battlements for musketry. It is entered by eleven gates, of which four are outer and seven are inner. Except the outer wall on the eastern slope, the fort is in good repair. At the north point, within a pistol-shot of the chief channel, is the water battery named Santa Cruz. Inside of the walls is a level space, from which the hill rises gently, the slope being divided into three en closures by two lines of bastioned fortifications that cross from wall to wall. The top of the hill is bastioned and surrounded by a parapet. It has a large rain-water cistern with three mouths, each one foot wide, and the ruins of the magazine and the chapel which is now a roofless cattle-pen. Each of the seven bastions bears the name of the saint, those of Sam Thiago, Sam Francisco Xavier, Sam Pedro, Sam Ignacio, and Sam Philippe may still be read. There are three Portuguese inscriptions.

This castle was commanded to be built by the Portuguese viceroy D. Felippe Mascarenhas in November of the year 1646, Fernao Miranda Henriques being captain of Ceul, and was finished in May 1680, Christovao d Abreu d’ Azevedo being Captain of this fort. [The Portuguese runs: (I) EAST CASTELO MANDO V. FAZER; (2) OVIZORI. DA INDIA Do FELIPHE; (3) MZSEDNOV BRODE 1646 ANOS 9 (4) SENDOCAPITACDE CHAVL. FELIPHE RNAO DE MIRANDA E RIQEAS; EA; (6) CABOV SENE MAIO DE 1680 SENDO; (7) CAPITAO DE SRPRACRIS TOVAO; (8) DABREV DAZEVDO. The numbers 1-8 represent the lines of the original inscription.]

Over the inscription, surmounted by a cross was a coat of arms with a shield, the Portuguese stars (quinas) in the centre, and seven castles round. The other inscriptions, one over the chief entrance, the other over an altar in the chapel, are worn and unreadable.

During the Maratha rule (1739-1818), they bore Marathi names and old shrines and temples came to be revived. [The Marathi names of the seven bastions are Pusati, Ganesh, Pashchim (west) Devi”, Chauburji, Ram and Pan. All of the following Hindu buildings are rooflless: Ganapati’s temple, twenty-two feet long and nineteen feet broad; Maniradevi’s temple, seventy feet long and thirty feet broad. The image of the Manjra goddess was taken to the village of Korlai by the Native Christians. Havildar’s Sadar, twenty-two feet long and sixteen feet broad; Vedikadevi’s temple, twenty-one feet long and sixteen feet broad; the image of this goddess has also been taken to Korlai.]

There are two villages below the fort, a Hindu village chiefly of Kolis, and a Portuguese Christian settlement. Behind the village are the walls of dilapidated church of Nossa Senhora de Carmel. Let into the vicarage wall is a stone lion in relief. It is said to have been brought from the fort and may perhaps be the lion mentioned in Do Couto’s account. [Mr. W. F. Sinclair, C. S. see above p. 831.]

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