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Shivaji and the bastion fort at Betul

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Till December 19, 1961, Goa was always ruled by royalties and dynasties. Though many attempts were made to free the people of this land,  somehow with numerous incidents of weaknesses and greed, these attempts were struck down, either with an exchange of a few pieces of silver or by threat of death!

After 1510, many armed attempts and rebellions by the powerful Hindu king of Marathas, Chattrapati Maharaj Shivaji Raje Bhosle, as well as by other locals, were made to overthrow the Portuguese from these lands. Shivaji was a power to reckon with, even by the powerful Mughal Empire. His acts of bravery and strategic acumen are appreciated in India and beyond. Many countries around the world, celebrate certain days in his memory and include his accomplishments in academic syllabus.

Shivaji, having heard about the religious atrocities by the Portuguese evangelists in the Konkan region, got an opportunity to test the strength of the Portuguese forces, when he rallied his forces to arrest a few Desais of Konkan, who had defrauded him of his taxes and had escaped into the then Portuguese domain of Bardez.

Shivaji, having arrived and camped in Bhatagram (today’s Bicholim) with a huge army, then attacked Bardez through the Tivim-Colvale fortifications and laid siege to Aguada and Reis Magos Forts. However, after almost two months, the siege was lifted and his forces retreated.

At that time, the hold of the Portuguese was only over three regions of Goa – Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete, which included Mormugao.

Shivaji then turned his attention towards the south. He captured Ponda Taluka or the Antruz Mahal and set his forces in the forts there. Realising the powerful strength of the Portuguese over sea, he turned his attention to restraining the foreign forces, over land.

In a book about Fortresses and Forts of Goa, P P Shirodkar writes that ‘in 1679, a year before his untimely demise, Shivaji ordered his Subhedar of Ponda, one Dharmaji Nagnath, to construct a fortification in the Canacona domains of the Saunda Kings. He selected a very strategic location, just outside the periphery of the Portuguese and across the River Sal, where it opened itself to the Arabian Sea.’

Many sea borne crafts and sail boats of tradesmen arriving from international destinations entered this river – which is the main line of South Goa, with its origin in the Verna Plateau, as it was a very safe natural harbor. The waters of the Arabian Sea entered inland here and then dramatically turned towards the north to proceed as the River Sal. It also led a way to the once famous trading port of Velliyapattan (present day Velim), in use since the reign of the Kadamb Kings.

When this fortification was completed, as a single bastion fort, it also became the smallest fortification in Goa, with an amazingly high strategic value. Placed just across Mobor Beach, at the south end of India’s second longest unbroken beach stretch, it commands an excellent view of the Arabian Sea, the beach stretch. and an expansive view of River Sal and the bay of Velim. These vital facts were minutely considered before taking up of the construction of this bastion fort.

The Portuguese sent emissaries to the Marathas to stop the fort construction. They were aware that the control of ship movement in River Sal would be totally hampered, if this fort came up. They invoked the Treaty of 1670

A D with the Portuguese by the Marathas and requested them to pull down this fort. But to no avail.

Driving to this fort, can be an amazing journey, as you have to pass through Margao, Chinchinim, Assolna, Velim to arrive here. There is an old custom house, which kept a vigil on the inland trade movement from this river; however, presently it is in a dilapidated condition.

The access road to this fortification is very narrow, passing between typical Goan houses and seems like a fishing hamlet. Till recent times this fortification, bordering a private property, was almost forgotten and in an extremely neglected state. However, the group, ‘History Lovers of Goa’, through its promoter Yogesh Nagvekar, along with a few local people, and politicians has taken the lead to clean this fortification, and hoist the National Flag on Shivaji Jayanti, Liberation Day of Goa, and other days of national importance.

The fortification which is next to a big cross can be accessed by a short flight of unkempt stairs that leads you to a short ramp. Possibly this ramp was used to roll up the canons to fire across any ships that passed through. Today, there exists a single canon, keeping a lone vigil on River Sal. It is placed in such a manner that no shipping vessel could slip past the mouth of River Sal, without coming in its cross-hairs.

As you climb up the ramp, to your right, you come across a granite carved slab, with writings on it. However, some anti-social element/s have scratched out the letterings. The total area of this bastion fort is about 4 metres wide with its corner pointing towards the river channel. There exists a central place which is used for flag hoisting.

Around this canon are masonry seats called as ‘sopes’, and it is nice to observe people, from as far as Margao, coming here on weekends to sit and enjoy the cool breeze and lay their eyes on fantastic scenery. If you are an angling enthusiast, get out your fishing rod and bait as the rocky coast, opposite the sands of Mobor, offers you a choice of fishing spots.

A visit to this fort will bring you face to face with the richness of Goan heritage.

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