Sunday, December 11, 2016

Another gate, another beyond

In case you missed it, the British were not the first European power to establish its presence in India. They were rather slow off the mark, with the Portuguese and the Dutch definitely getting in ahead of them and the French and Danes running them close in the early stages. The Dutch, for a while, were the masters of the west coast, and had a significant presence in Sri Lanka as well, before shifting their focus to the Dutch East Indies, later to become Indonesia.

Not that the Dutch did not know the Coromandel Coast. Their earliest settlement was at Masulipatnam, in 1605. Within a few years, they had expanded further along the coast to the south. By then, the Portuguese were already well established at Mylapore (San Thome) and also at another ancient seaport further north. That was Pulicat, or Pazhaverkadu, which had been trading with the Arab and the Mediterranean kingdoms for several centuries. In 1610, the Dutch dispossessed the Portuguese and established Fort Geldria in 1613. It was the only fortification of the Dutch in India, protecting not just the trade in cloth, but also the transportation of indentured labour to other colonies of the Dutch.

The Dutch established their cemetery, according to the inscription above its gate, in 1656. The gravestones show dates for at least about a century after that. It was in 1825 that the town was ceded to the British. Not only did the British not invest much in the town, they let the earlier buildings decline. The cemetery was also forgotten, overgrown with vegetation and hidden from passers-by. It was sometime in the 2000s that it was re-discovered, and has since then been rather well cared for!

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