January 22, 2017

DIU- The story of a small town with an opulent past

Diu is a quaint little town situated on the western coast of India at the southern tip of Gujarat. It has Gulf of Khambhat (historically known as Gulf of Cambay) on its east and the Arabian Sea on the west. This quiet town has an air of pristine tranquility about it and it seems that even being a part of the most populated country of the world with a population of 1.2 billions has also not been able to disturb it. However, a brief look at the history of the town suggests that it wasn’t always so quiet. The town has been through its prime and the remnants of its opulent past are visible even today.

Diu is surrounded by the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Cambay.

A brief history of the town

  • The earliest historical mentions of Diu are from Puranic period. It is mentioned in several ancient sacred Hindu texts known as Puranas.
  • However, the earliest documented history of Diu begins with the Mauryan rule in the third century BC. The jain tradition among the Hindus of Diu seems to have its origins in this period.
  • After that, it was under the rule of Indo-Greek rulers for a brief period of around 100 years.
  • Subsequently, for a period of more than 1000 years, it was under the rule of several Hindu dynasties that ruled over western India.
  • Thereafter, Diu came under the control of Muslim Sultans of Gujarat who ruled for almost a century and a half. Back then, Diu was considered an important port on the Arabian Sea because of its strategic location.

How did Diu come to fall under the rule of Portuguese?

  • In 1530 CE, Diu was under the rule of Bahadur Shah, the Muslim Sultan of Gujarat Sultanate. That was the time when Mughal Empire was trying to establish its stronghold over entire India. Around the same time, the Portuguese were also trying to fortify Diu in order to protect and strengthen their spice trade with India.
  • Bahadur Shah, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, decided to join hands with the Portuguese to prevent his empire from befalling into the hands of the Mughals. He formed a defensive alliance with them in 1535 CE and allowed them to construct the Diu Fort and maintain a military outpost on the island.
  • Slowly, the Portuguese started establishing their control over the entire island instead of just the fort. The Sultan, now repenting his mistake sought to recover Diu. But all his attempts to oust them from the island went in vain.
  • In 1537 CE, the Sultan decided to oust the Portuguese by taking some strategic measures. He approached the Portuguese army to persuade them to vacate Diu and return to Goa. The Viceroy of the Portuguese invited him to visit him on his ship. On the ship, he was attacked and killed by the army and his body was dumped in the Arabian Sea.
  • This resulted in the complete establishment of the Portuguese rule over Diu which continued till 1961.
  • Thus, the Portuguese came to rule over Diu for over 400 years which is the longest period of colonial rule in the history of the world.
  • They were forced to quit only in 1961 when the Indian Government launched Operation Vijay and made it a part of India’s territory. Diu is now a centrally administered U.T under Government of India.

Architecture

  • The Indo Saracenic architecture was prevalent in Diu before the advent of the Portuguese. But since they ruled for over 400 years, they destroyed most of the previous architecture.
  • The old architecture now visible in Diu is majorly Venetian- Gothic or Baroque. It can be witnessed in the Churches built during the Portuguese era and also in old mansions of affluent colonial Portuguese and Indian merchants.

St. Thomas Church constructed in Gothic architectural style in 1598 CE

St. Paul’s Church constructed in Baroque architectural style in 1610 CE

Hotel Marina, originally a Portuguese Mansion which has now been converted into a hotel

Diu, as it stands today

  • Diu of today is a sparsely populated quiet little town with a population of around 50,000 people, making it the 10th least populated district of India.
  • The current culture of Diu is a mix of Hindu and Muslim cultures. Their food, dressing, language and everything else is inspired by Kathiawadi cultural zone of Gujarat. However, since the Portuguese ruled this area for over 4 centuries, the colonial influence is clearly evident. So much so that some older people still communicate in Portuguese even after almost 6 decades of being liberated from the colonial rule!
  • The youngsters of most of the families have moved to the western countries in search of greener pastures. The only youngsters visible here are the travellers who visit Diu from other regions.

Nevertheless, Diu is a promising tourist destination for every type of traveller. For the food lover, it has a variety of eateries. For the party goer, it has many pubs. (Unlike Gujarat, alcohol is allowed here.) Many hotels have their private discotheques for their guests. For the lover of adventure sports, it has adventure sports haven at Nagoa Beach and Ghoghla Beach. For the nature lover, there are plenty of calm and serene beaches and Naida Caves.

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