Oblivious to the existence of a fort a few steps away from where he stands guard everyday, one of the three security personnel in Bandstand goes back to his seat under a tree, his only protection from the sweltering afternoon sun. A few steps ahead, Priyanka Lamkhade from New Panvel, who had come Bandra to shop, sits with her friends, enjoying away to glory. “We only came here to spend some quality time. We don’t know anything about a fort,” she said. Like them, for the scores of people visiting Bandstand almost every hour of the day, the nearby fort or its ruins holds little meaning.
An information plaque outside Fort Castella de Aguada (Fort of the Waterpoint), more popularly known as the Bandra Fort, gives a brief of this mighty fort which has been forgotten by many. Just down the lane from the homes of famous Bollywood stars like Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan, with a clear view of the sea link, this fort is struggling to find its relevance in the changing landscape of Mumbai.
“The commandment of the Mahim Fort fell in 1517 to the might of the Portuguese as they set foot in Bandora (Bandra) and 1640 saw the rise of the Castella or bastion. The Portuguese built this strategically located fort as an outpost, marking the southernmost tip of the mainland. Fresh water springs located close to the fort served as a potable water point when they sailed across. They exist to this day, but now serve an entirely different group of people ? the local fishhermen,” says the plaque, further adding that the Castella is almost entirely destroyed, but the ruins remain one of the few standing reminders of the “days of the Portuguese glory”.
Scores of people visit this area on a daily basis, but for most it’s just a space where they can meet discreetly.
The residents of this area, meanwhile, have fought hard and long to reclaim this area, which is now maintained by the Bandra Bandstand Residents Trust (BBRT). Benedict Soares from BBRT, says that they have taken up the maintenance of the fort as well as “they don’t want to close this chapter of history.”
“The young can only be interested in their history if we attempt to save it. For the last 15 years, we have been maintaining the Bandstand area as well as the fort. We tried putting up the information plaque so that people would be drawn to it,” said Soares.
This Fort has its moments of glory when film are shot in and around it or music concerts are held in the amphitheatre. Other than that, the area surrounding it is used for playing sports and a school is also run from near the promenade. For BBRT, the young couples who throng the fort every evening in search of privacy are no trouble. “They are always welcome there. We try to have regular patrolling in the area to ensure that no one is harassed,” Soares adds.
“BBRT came together to save this area from builders,” he said, further stating that they had put up benches and planted trees to make this area what it is today. The last tree census, carried out in the area in January 2014, gives a list of trees like coconut, toddy palm, neem, which have been planted for afforestation of Land’s End.
The MLAs and MPs in the area have shown interest in contributing towards their efforts with the latest project being restoration of the Bandra Bandstand promenade. “We are putting colourful stones there so that people can sit there,” explained Soares.
Land’s End or Byramjee Jeejebhoy Point is a peninsula comprising Bandra Fort and its adjoining area. From 1661, with the British in control of the islands of Mumbai, the fort assumed great strategic value situated between two foreign. powers, the British and Portuguese.
The early 18th century witnessed a decline in Portuguese power and their defeat by the Marathas in 1739. The Castella De Aguada was destroyed by the British in an effort to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Marathas. The fort was also used in World War-II.
According to Balachandra Kulkarni, deputy director of the archeology department, Bandra is hardly a fort. “It is the ruins of the fort which we have tried maintaining as it is, with its surrounding area being one of the most aesthetically beautiful areas,” he said.
“I don’t blame the people for not knowing about the fort. Governments and the local corporations are responsible for conservation, protection of the heritage precinct, particularly forts, which have been misused and abused. The Bandra Fort was reclaimed by the residents after court orders with an aim to develop it into a public space. Citizens, however, cannot substitute for the government responsibility. The fort area keeps getting barricaded by the Maharashtra Maritime Board to keep it from being encroached, but public spaces should be kept open,” said P K Das, an architect, who had come up with the designs for Land’s End and Bandstand.