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This Week In History

The capture of Suvarnadurg. April 2, 1775.

Suvarnadurg is a fort that is located between Mumbai and Goa on a small island in the Arabian Sea, along the West Coast of India, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The fort also includes another small land fort called the Kanakadurga at the base of headland of Harnai port on the coast. Building of the fort is credited to Shivaji Maharaj, founder of the Maratha Empire, in 1660. Subsequently, Shivaji, other Peshwas and the Angres further fortified the forts for defensive purposes.

The literal meaning of Suvanadurga is “Golden Fort” as it was considered as the pride or the “feather in the golden cap of Marathas“. Built for the Maratha Navy, the fort also had a shipbuilding facility. The basic objective of establishing the fort was to counter enemy attacks, mainly by the colonialists of Europe and also by the local chieftains.

The fort was formally handed over to Kanhoji in 1713 by Shahu Raja. Kanhoji Angre was appointed in 1698 as Admiral of the Maratha Naval Fleet by the Peshwas. He had complete control over the west coast, from Bombay to Vengurla. Angre was considered to be a mercenary who attacked defenseless towns and also traders. He even attacked an East Indian Company‘s ship in 1702 and refused to release the six British captives.

In 1713, he had captured Peshwa’s general Bhairu, which forced the Peshwa to come to an agreement with him. For maintaining “fealty” with the Sataras (Chatrapati Shivaji’s family stronghold), he was granted 26 forts and its dependent villages, which included Suvarnadurg. In subsequent years, these forts became strongholds for piracy. According to historians of Anglo-Maratha Wars, the pejorative “pirate” was used in British records, but the correspondence between the English and Maratha Navy suggests more a communication between the Maratha state and a trading company without permits, the English East India Company.

Kanhoji held complete control over a coast line stretching over a length of 240 miles and 40 miles width extending from Bombay to Vengurla to the south. He later entered into an agreement with the British, but they finally flouted terms with him. Humiliated by this treatment by the British, he decided to attack. He entered into an alliance with the Raja of Satara, equipped his vessels and manned them by the best crew consisting of Dutchmen.

Kanhoji relentlessly carried on his fight against the British and in 1721 joined hands with the Portuguese. In 1722, when Kanhoji was to attack an English factory at Karwar, in spite of the British sending their ships ‘Victoria‘ and the ‘Revenge‘ to attack Kanhoji’s forces, he was not cowed down; even though his Dutch Commander was killed and his ships were captured. However, he died on 4 June 1729, an unvanquished hero for 31 years against all foreign attacks.

Subsequent to Kanhoji’s death, Tulaji Angre, one of his legitimate sons, took charge of Suvarnadurg and it became the seat of his power. He became enemy of the Peshwas, and they were supported by the British. The joint siege of the fort lasted from 25 March to 2 April 1755. On 12 April 1755, Commodore William James captured the fort and formally handed it over to the Peshwas. However, in exchange for this support, the British extracted, as a reward, control over the Bankot fort and only allowed the Peshwas to have control over the Suvarnadurg.

 

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