Monday, 22 August 2016

How first Danish fort evolved in Tharangampadi, south India

Danish fort, Tharangampadi, Tamil Nadu.
Danish fort, Tharangampadi, Tamil
The Dansborg Fort,  also called Danish fort,  is a Danish monument built on the shore Tharangampadi in Nagapatnam district, Tamil Nadu. It is one of the important Danish settlements in India, the other being in Serampore, West Bengal and other places. Several years ago, this monument was not in good shape slowly crumbling due to vagaries of weather, monsoon rains and  sea erosion caused by tidal waves, etc. The Tamil Nadu Government took a serious steps in 2011 with limited funds to repair and restore this wonderful monument. Only recently the ASI and other government departments undertook a tough job  and almost restored this historical site back to what it was centuries ago - a majestic Danish colony. Hat off to their painstaking efforts. In the first place, let us see how the  Danish fort came in to being in this part of Tamil Nadu off the coast of the Bay of Bengal,

Danish India, the former colonies of Denmark–Norway (since 1813 Denmark ) in India, had held colonies for  a long time -  200 years. However, their presence was not significant unlike the British or Portuguese colonists. The Danes  were not imperialistic, hence they were neither a military nor a mercantile threat to other European powers. They didn't  have enough money power to monopolize trade  sea routes. Being smart, they made a mark on the international trade under a neutral flag and the wars among the European powers were of help to them. Hence, they had a hold on their Danish settlements in India -  the town of Tharangampadi in present-day Tamil Nadu state, Serampore in present-day West Bengal, and the Nicobar Islands, currently part of India's union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Once the French was off India, the Danes also made their exit after 1846, leaving a rich Danish heritage and architecture behind their former settlements.
Danish India. Credit:
India, Tamil Nadu state, Tranquebar (Tharangampadi), danish colony from 1620.
The Danish also established several commercial outposts and governed from Tranquebar  (Tharangampadi). They were Oddeway Torre 1696 - 1722  on the Malabar coast, Dannemarksnagore 1698 - 1714 at Gondalpara, southeast of Chandernagore, Calicut 1752 - 1791 and other places. 

It was in 1618 the first  Danish expedition (1618 -1620) set sail under Admiral Ove Gjedde to explore trade opportunities in other countries. By the time they reached Ceylon, taking two long years  they had lost  than half their crew on the way for various reasons. As the ruler of Ceylon was not cooperative  and helpful with respect to Dano-Norwegian-Ceylonese trade contract, they were dismayed  briefly occupied the Koneswaram temple before receiving word from their Trade Director, Robert Crappe.

The arrival of Danes led by
Trade Director Robert Crappe here on the coast of India was  ridden with a lot of problems. Sailing on the  scouting freighter the  Øresund  a month before his main fleet, they ran into trouble with the Portuguese vessels off the Karaikkal coast (now part of Pondicherry state). They sank the ship, killing many or taking  as prisoners. Further, the Portuguese made threats and discouraged the Danes from opening  trade posts  here. However, Crappe and 13 of the crew  gave a slip and reached the shore where they were caught by the Indians and taken before the ruler of Thanjavur Kingdom, Ragunatha Nayak (1600-1634), a devout, humane Hindu ruler of fine disposition. He evinced interest in having trade relationship with the Dano-Norwageon delegation and finally granting them a village and the rights to  construct a "stone house" (Fort Dansborg) and levy taxes. Crappe successfully negotiated the treaty with Ragunatha  Nayak and it was signed on
20 November 1620. A new chapter had begun for the Danes on the Indian subcontinent.
Map of  Denmark.
 In the early days, the Danes did not run the colony effectively due to poor administration and investment. The settlement  with the fort was  built on a site vulnerable to high tidal waves, on top of it, they lost almost all  trading vessels dispatched from Denmark on the way and the profit on the cargo movements fell short of the total expenditure on this venture. They ran  the vessels for the third parties and became a victim of The Thirty  Years War (1618-1648; worst European conflicts initially, involving Catholic and Protestant states). Since the situation was chaotic in Europe,  finally the Danes decided to run the ships for themselves. 

However, the Danish company failed on many fronts for several reasons and in  1627 the colony was in such a poor financial state with only three ships, the Danes were unable to pay the agreed-upon tribute to the Nayak  ruler. In 1650 The Danish East India Company  was dissolved and in 1655 the Nayak ruler recaptured the fort at Tharangampadi with help from the natives. One Eskild Andersen Kongsbakke, the last Dane in the colony in 1660  built a wall around the town of Tranquebar.

The legacy of the Dano-Norwegian colonial presence in the town of Tharangampadi  is of particular interest to us and it will benefit the posterity.  The  gateway inscribed with a Danish Royal Seal, a number of colonial bungalows, two churches and principally - the Dansborg Fort, constructed in 1620 bear testimony to the Danes' colonial period and their rich culture and building designs. The Fort was declared a protected monument by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1977 and now houses a museum dedicated to the Danes in India. Since 2001, Danes, on their own accord, have been active in mobilizing volunteers and government agencies to restore Danish colonial buildings in Tranquebar.