Monday, December 24, 2012

campaigning to save Vasai Fort.

Explicit stone tablet found in Vasai

Explicit stone tablet found in Vasai
The 750-year-old stone bears an image of a donkey copulating with a human female and may have been intended to warn intruders to keep off the territory.
MUMBAI: The otherwise-articulate historians of Vasai have been left fumbling for words as they try to explain a new discovery. Early this month, a team of historians recovered a 750-year-old stone tablet with a sexually explicit inscription that would make a sailor blush.

A bygone local king or chieftain, whose identity is yet to be ascertained, had most likely commissioned the carving as a warning sign either to keep intruders at bay or to ensure that tax collectors deposited their revenue, said the historians.

"The stone bears an image of a donkey copulating with a human female, perhapsthreatening transgressors that a similar fate would befall their women should their menfolk ignore the warning," said historian Shridatta Raut, of Kille Vasai Mohim, who chanced upon the tablet. Traditionally, property owners in the area placed carved stones at the entrance to their plots, a practice that Vasaikars follow to this day. Intruders were warned with abusive words, although such pictorial abuse is uncommon. The mohim (a mission group) is campaigning to save Vasai Fort.
The stone, dating back to 1268 AD, was recovered from Kiravali village. It measures 126cm in length, 56cm in width and 22cm in breadth. The 'bliss water' picture with carvings of the sun and moon on the stone are meant to signify the respected nature of the person who issued the warning and his protection day and night.

Villagers won't hand over tablet to ASI

Kille Vasai Mohim has unearthed a sexually explicit tablet. "The stone dates back to the era of the Shilahara kings, who ruled Vasai around 1,000 years ago. It bears a few lines in Sanskrit that we are trying to decipher. Years of exposure to the elements and accumulated dirt have blurred the inscription, but we have read a series of 'Shri Shri Shri Shri' , which shows that the tablet must have been commissioned by a senior courtier or perhaps a Brahmin," said Shridatta Raut of the Mohim.

The Shilahara kings ruled over Vasai before the advent of the Portuguese rule in 1536. Raut says an unexplained gap in leadership spanning centuries may be solved with this recovery. Interestingly, the tablet was once a venerated artefact in the village.

It lay in the Chankai Devi Mandir , where villagers used to break coconuts upon it on amavasya or new moon day. Later, it was kept beside a nearby pond.

Raut was visiting the temple when villagers mentioned the tablet. The historian and his team carefully removed and cleaned the tablet and were surprised at its historical value.

The villagers are determined not to hand over the treasure to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for safekeeping. "For one thing, the ASI did not find it. Moreover, its record of conservation and storage of artefacts is so poor that some years later you might not know if the tablet belonged to Vasai or Churchgate," said Raut. 

Vasai, also called Bassein, lies about 48 kms north of Mumbai just across the Ulhas River.  The fort in the old city was the headquarter of the Portuguese in the north, next in importance to Goa.  The coastal land-fort of Vasai was surrounded by sea on three sides and to the landside it had a moat which was filled by sea-water.  Its 4.5kms long strong stone wall had 11 bastions.  The fort had two gates – the westward land-gate.  There was also a small citadel in the fort.  Well – equipped with water-tanks, store-houses, armoury, etc., the fort also had fields for growing grains and vegetables.  All the old structures inside the wall are now in ruins.
Vasai came into prominence when the ancient harbour of Sopara (now Nalsopara village, 10kms north of Vasai) became unfit for use.  However, Vasai continued to be a trading centre.  A small fort-like structure was erected here in 1533 AD by Malik Tughan, the commander of Bahadur Shah, Sultan of Gujarat.  In 1534 AD, the Portuguese forced Bahadur Shah to cede Vasai in perpetuity.  Here, first they constructed the citadel (Balekilla), and then in 1590AD, the present fort with its ramparts and other structures came into being.  For the next about 150 years Vasai enjoyed opulence and prosperity.  The Portuguese built here magnificent houses, convents, churches and an orphanage.  Only the Hidalgos (Portuguese nobles) were allowed to reside within the fort walls.  Vasai was the main naval base and sort of ship-building centre of the Portuguese.  The end came in 1739AD, when Chimaji Appa, Peshwa Bajirav’s brother, stormed the fort and captured it with great loss of life.  It was here in 1802 AD, the Peshwa Bajirav II signed the infamous “Treaty of Bassein” which virtually dissolved the Maratha Confederacy.  Finally, the fort and the city of Vasai was ceded to the British in 1817 AD.