Place-Making in Korlai: An Archaeological Study | Center for Archaeology, Heritage & Museum Studies

Place-Making in Korlai: An Archaeological Study

This project, by History Major student, Prapti Panda, examines the fort of Korlai, a Portuguese outpost in North-Western Maharashtra, which was built in 1594 and occupied till 1740. The Portuguese first arrived in India in 1498, and by the end of the 16th century, they had solidified their presence in the subcontinent by establishing a chain of fortresses near important coastal ports. Equipped with custom houses and heavy artillery, these forts continued to thrive into the 17th and 18th centuries, despite threats from native rulers and a steady decline in trade profits. But, what was their social composition? Most research into these outposts has been concerned with either exploring trade or studying defensive strategies. She argues, however, that these outposts should be seen as important cultural landscapes, with social as well as economic and political significance.

Towards this aim, she proposed an archaeological investigation of Korlai. Being one of the earliest European colonies in Western India, Korlai differs from all other Portuguese forts in its structure, location and perception. While all other outposts were considered city-forts, Korlai was historically described as just a garrison, considered to be inhabited only by soldiers. However, through a study of the material remains of structures and their layout within the fort, she argues that Korlai was occupied not just by soldiers but also by natives from diverse religious and economic backgrounds. As these people both constructed and experienced the material, cognitive and social spaces within Korlai, the ordering of spaces within the fort would have some correspondence to the ordering of social relationships among them.

This exploration of social spaces in Korlai was undertaken primarily through a systematic archaeological survey to record all surface cultural material and standing structures. Not only will the exploration produce a reliable record of still-standing structures for future researchers, but it will also enable comparative analyses of Portuguese forts in India, which has not been done so far. In this manner, this project will also contribute to the overarching themes of understanding relationships between the colonisers and the colonised, and how spaces were structured in Early Modern European colonies in India.