There is an uneasy calm at the break of dawn on 17th February 1739 at Baçaim, an island off the west coast of India. In the fortified part of Baçaim, the Portuguese Commandant, Sylveira de Menezes, who has been tossing and turning the entire night, finally gives up on trying to sleep and prepares to carry out his first inspection of the day.
As Menezes is leaving his quarters, he gets a message from the Captain of the night watch requesting him to make haste to the easternmost rampart of the fort. Menezes rushes to the spot to find the Captain and a sombre group of soldiers waiting for him. Without saying anything, the Captain leads Menezes to a spot from where he can look over the ramparts.
The early morning light reveals a military commandant’s worst nightmare — the Baçaim Fort is surrounded by enemy soldiers, the Marathas, who have managed to reach the outer fort walls under the cover of darkness. This is the beginning of the siege of Baçaim Fort. Initial attempts of the Marathas to secure a breach and enter the Fort are unsuccessful. When they finally do enter the Fort and hold on to their advantage, 3 months have passed and lives of 12,000 Marathas and 800 Portuguese, including that of Menezes, have been lost.
The Portuguese are forced to surrender and the treaty of surrender and capitulation is signed on 16th May 1739. The Portuguese leave Baçaim a week later never to return again.
The moment I enter St. Thomas’ Cathedral in the Fort area of Mumbai, I am transported to England. Everything about the Cathedral from the cool white-washed interiors to the simple wooden pews to its polished brass memorials and wall plaques, and its many stained glass windows reminds me of the Anglican churches of England.
St. Thomas’ Cathedral is the first Anglican church in Mumbai and is also believed to to the oldest British building in this city. Though construction of the Cathedral of St. Thomas began in 1676, it was abandoned and remained neglected for nearly 40 years, when it was “adopted by an East India Company Chaplain in 1710. It was opened for worship as a church on Christmas Day in 1718″ (for details click here). St. Thomas’ was consecrated as a cathedral in 1837 and was selected for the UNESCO Asia-Pacific heritage conservation award 2004.
I love stained glass windows and spend quite a while admiring the many windows in the Cathedral. But the one window that completely captivates me is one that I almost missed. It is to one side and in a niche: a stained glass window of St. Thomas, flanked by two archangelsSt. Michael and St. Gabriel in a single frame.
It was about 10.30 in the morning and vehicles were depositing tourists outside Bikaner’s Junagarh Fort. As I walked up to the Fort’s entrance, I overheard these comments:
“This is a fort? Isn’t a fort supposed to be, like, on a hill?”
“This is no fort. It looks more like a walled palace.”
“And why is it called Junagarh Fort? Junagadh is in Gujarat. Shouldn’t this be called Bikaner Fort or something?”
“Are you sure we are at the right place? Is this the only fort in Bikaner?
Now, if I had also been deposited outside the Fort in question like these people and was seeing the Fort for the first time, it is quite possible that I might have asked some of the questions myself. But since I had the opportunity to see the Fort from my hotel terrace the previous evening (see photo below), I knew that though it was not on a hill, it was a proper fort alright with a moat and all other fortifications befitting one.
I could also see Bikaner’s flat landscape from the terrace, which indicated that the builders of the fort had no choice in the terrain. And, yes, I could also see that this was the only fort around. The only answer that the view of the Junagarh Fort from the hotel terrace did not give was why it was called so.
I hoped that a tour of the Fort complex would answer questions for all of us.