Surat City

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1612: The first East India Company ‘factory’ in India

First English factory in India in ruins

Manimugdha S Sharma, TNN | Jun 17, 2013 |

The Times of India

The East India Company ‘factory’: in 1920 (left) and 2013 (right)

In 1612, a maverick English sea captain, Thomas Best, sank four Portuguese galleons off the Surat coast with his two ships, Red Dragon and Hosiander. Captain Best and his crew's exploits in the naval Battle of Swally (corruption of Suvali) on October 28, 1612, impressed the Mughal governor of the province so much that he got them a treaty ratified by Emperor Jahangir, which translated to trading rights. By January 1613, the first East India Company factory had come up at Surat.

Four centuries later, those early footprints of the British Empire have been obliterated. There is no sign of the factory — more of a warehouse — save fragments of a wall that once belonged to the sprawling establishment. The ruins are a testimony to our indifference to heritage structures.

Of course, nobody could have imagined that the English would expand that first factory into another factory, that factory into a province, and that province into an empire in about 150 years. But at Surat in 1613, there were five principal factors — Andrew Starkey, Canning, Aldworth, Withington and Kerridge — who struggled hard to stay afloat in the face of Portuguese hostility, intrigues of the Portuguese Jesuits, and unfriendly behaviour of Mughal crown prince Mirza Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan).

Khurram, who had the jagir of Surat, favoured the Portuguese over any other European power, and so did the Surat Mahajan Sabha, a representative body of Indian traders. However, it was Khurram who gave Sir Thomas Roe the firman to trade in 1618 in the name of his father, Emperor Jahangir, after the English once again defeated the Portuguese fleet at Surat and proved their mastery over the seas.

According to historian H G Rawlinson, the factory was one of the best buildings in Surat and was leased to the company for £60 per annum. "It was a solid, two-storied building, opening in Muhammadan fashion, inwards. The outside was plain stone and timber, with good carving 'without representations'. The flat roof and the upper story floors were of solid cement, half a yard thick. Inside was a quadrangle surrounded by cloisters or verandahs. The ground floor was used for the Company's trade; the rooms opening on to it, utilised as stores and godowns, presented a busy scene in the shipping season..." he wrote in his 1920 book British Beginnings in Western India: 1579-1657; an account of the early days of the British factory of Surat.

The Times of India traced the English factory and found its location not far from the Surat fort. This fort was commissioned by Sultan Mahmud III — who was fed up with Portuguese attacks on the city — and built by an Ottoman officer named Safi Agha at a time when Mughal Emperor Humayun was in exile and the Pathans held sway in Delhi. The fort became Mughal when Emperor Akbar annexed the subah of Gujarat to his empire. But in 1759, the English occupied it. Subsequently, the Raj used the structure to house the revenue and police departments, in whose occupation it has remained.

The Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), its offices located in a Mughal building called Mughal serai, is responsible for the fort but it's clearly in a complete mess right now. The corporation says on its website: "...such a great fortification built to provide the citizens of Surat with an adequate defence against the attacks of the invaders seems to have been forgotten from the minds of the present generation." SMC has also complicated matters by dumping all the silt and waste from the ongoing Hope Bridge expansion project inside the fort.

Historian Uday S Kulkarni visited the place last month and was struck by the lack of awareness about the importance of such heritage places there. "The rich history of the 500-year-old fort and the erstwhile English factory have been apparently forgotten; and what ought to be Grade A monuments are neglected by the Archaeological Survey of India and the civic administration. The Mughal serai is still a civic office and the British cemetery with tombs of historical personalities is poorly marked and attended," says Kulkarni.

Surat municipal commissioner M K Das squarely blames the degradation on encroachments. "Whatever anomalies you've seen have happened only in [May and June 2013] or so. We are trying to fix this. We've found out 150-year-old maps of the place and are trying to restore the fort scientifically," Das said.

A sliver of hope may be found in the three-part Chowk Bazaar Heritage Square project though, which is a plan to revamp the Tapi riverfront in Surat and all the heritage structures lying along it.

Surat City, as in 1908

This section has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Head-quarters of Surat District, Bombay, and the former seat of a Presidency under the East India Company, situated in 21° 12' N. and 72° 50' E., on the southern bank of the river Tapti ; distant from the sea 14 miles by water, 10 miles by land. It was once the chief commercial city of India, and is still an important mercantile place, though the greater portion of its export and import trade has long since been transferred to Bombay. Surat is a station on the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway, 167 miles from Bombay.


During the eighteenth century Surat probably ranked as the most populous city of India. As late as 1797 its inhabitants were estimated at 800,000 persons ; and though this calculation is doubtless excessive, the real numbers must have been very high. With the transfer of its trade to Bombay the num- bers rapidly fell off. In 1811 an official report returned the popula- tion at 250,000 persons, and in 1816 at 124,406. In 1847, when the fortunes of Surat reached their lowest ebb, the number of inhabi- tants amounted to only 80,000. Thenceforward the city began to retrieve its position. By 1851 the total had risen to 89,505; in 1872 it stood at 107,855; in 1881 at 109,844; in 1891 at 109,229; and in 1901 at 119,306. It is now the third largest city in the Presidency. The population in 1901 included 85,577 Hindus, 22,821 Muhammadans, 5,754 Parsis, and 4,671 Jains. The Parsis and high- caste Hindus form the wealthy classes; the Musalmans are in depressed circumstances, except the Bohras, many of whom are prosperous traders, and whose head, called ' the MuUa of the Bohras,' resides here. Fondness for pleasure and ostentation characterize all classes and creeds in Surat alike. Caste feasts and processions are more common and more costly than elsewhere. Fairs, held a few miles away in the country, attract large crowds of gaily dressed men and children in bright bullock-carts. The Parsis join largely in these entertainments, besides holding their own old-fashioned feasts in their public hall. The Bohras are famous for their hospitality and good living. The extravagant habits engendered by former commercial prosperity have survived the wealth on which they were founded.


Surat lies on a bend of the Tapti, where the river suddenly sweeps westward towards its mouth. In the centre of its river-front rises the castle, a mass of irregular fortifications, flanked at each corner by large round towers, and presenting a picturesque appear- ance when viewed from the water. Planned and built in 1540 by Khudawand Khan, a Turkish soldier in the service of the Gujarat kings, it remained a military fortress under both Mughal and British rule till 1862, when the troops were withdrawn and the buildings utilized as public offices. with the castle as its centre, the city stretches in the arc of a circle for about a mile and a quarter along the river bank. Southward, the public park with its tall trees hides the houses in its rear ; while on the opposite bank, about a mile up the river on the right shore, lies the ancient town of Rander, now almost a suburb of Surat. Two lines of fortification, the inner and the outer, once enclosed Surat ; and though the interior wall has nearly disappeared, the moat which marks its former course still preserves distinct the city and the suburbs. Within the city proper the space is on the whole thickly peopled ; and the narrow but clean and well- watered streets wind between rows of handsome houses, the residences of high-caste Hindus and wealthy Parsis. The suburbs, on the other hand, lie scattered among wide open spaces, once villa gardens, but now cultivated as fields. The unmetalled lanes, hollowed many feet deep, form watercourses in the rainy season, and stand thick in dust during the rest of the year. The dwellings consist of huts of low- caste Hindus or weavers' cottages. West of the city, the site of the old military cantonment is now occupied by the police, whose parade ground stretches along the river bank. Suburban villas, the property of wealthy residents of the city, are springing up along the Dumas and Varachha roads.


The annals of Surat city, under native rule, have been briefly given in the article on Surat District. During the seventeenth and eigh- teenth centuries Surat ranked as the chief export and import centre of India. After the assumption of the entire government by the British in 1800, prosperity, which had deserted the city towards the close of the eighteenth century, for a time reappeared. But the steady transfer of trade to Bombay, com- bined with the famine of 1813 in Northern Gujarat, continued to undermine its commercial importance; and by 1825 the trade had sunk to the export of a little raw cotton to the rising capital of the Presidency. In 1837 two calamities occurred in close succession, which destroyed the greater part of the city and reduced almost all its inhabitants to a state of poverty. For three days in the month of April a fire raged through the very heart of Surat, laying 9,373 houses in ruins, and extending over nearly 10 miles of thoroughfare, in both the city and the suburbs. No estimate can be given of the total loss to property, but the houses alone represented an approximate value of 45 lakhs. Towards the close of the rainy season in the same year, the Tapti rose to the greatest height ever known, flooded almost the whole city, and covered the surrounding country for miles like a sea, entailing a further loss of about 27 lakhs. This second calamity left the people almost helpless. Already, after the fire, many of the most intelligent merchants, both Hindu and ParsI, no longer bound to home by the ties of an establishment, had deserted Sural for Bombay. In 1838 it remained 'but the shadow of what it had been, two-thirds to three-fourths of the city having been annihilated.' P'rom 1840 onward, however, affairs began to change for the better. Trade improved and increased steadily, till in 1858 its position as the centre of railway operations in Gujarat brought a new influx of wealth and importance. The high prices which ruled during the American Civil War again made Surat a wealthy city. The financial disasters of 1865-6 in Bombay somewhat affected all Western India, but Surat nevertheless preserved the greater part of its wealth. In 1869 the municipality undertook a series of works to protect the city against floods. In 1883 Surat was again inundated, and damage caused to the extent of 20 lakhs. The loss of human life, however, was small. The city suffered from another extensive fire in 1889. At the present day, though the fall of prices has reduced the value of property, the well- kept streets, the public buildings, and large private expenditure, stamp the city, which has benefited by the construction of the Tapti Valley Railway, with an unmistakable air of steady order and prosperity.

Buildings and tombs

The English church, built in 1820 and consecrated by Bishop Heber on April 17, 1825, stands upon the river bank, between the castle and the custom-house, and has seats for about 100 persons. The Portuguese or Roman Catholic chapel occupies a site near the old Dutch factory. The Armenians once had a large church, now in ruins. The Musalmans have several mosques, of which four are handsome buildings. The Nav Saiyid Sahib's mosque stands on the bank of the Gopi lake, an old dry tank, once reckoned among the finest works in Gujarat. Beside the mosque rise nine tombs in honour of nine warriors, whose graves were miraculously discovered by a local Muhammadan saint. The Saiyid Edroos mosque, with a minaret, which forms one of the most conspicu- ous buildings in Surat, was built in 1639 by a rich merchant, in honour of an ancestor of Shaikh Saiyid Husain Edroos, C.S.I., who died in 1882. The Mirza Sami mosque and tomb, ornamented with carving and tracery, was built about 1540 by Khudawand Khan. The Parsis have two chief fire-temples for their two subdivisions. The principal Hindu shrines perished in the fire of 1837, but have since been rebuilt by pious inhabitants. Gosavi Maharaja's temple, built in 1695, was renewed after the fire at a cost of Rs. 1,50,000. Two shrines of Hanuman, the monkey-god, are much respected by the people. Speci- mens of excellent wood-carving are to be found on many of the older houses.

The tombs of early European residents, including those of the Dutch, and the more modern ones of the Mullas of the Bohras, form some of the most interesting objects in Surat. Among the first named are those of many of the English ' Chiefs of Surat.' On the right of the entrance to the English cemetery is the handsome mausoleum of Sir George Oxenden and his brother Christopher. It is a large two- storeyed square building with columns at each angle ; in the two eastern ones are staircases to the upper storey, over which is a skeleton dome of masonry in the form of a Maltese cross rendered convex. Christopher died on April 18, 1659; and Sir George, who in a long Latin epitaph is styled ' Anglorum in India, Persia, Arabia, Praeses, Insulae Bombayensis Gubemator,' died on July 14, 1669, aged 50. The earliest tomb is that of Francis Breton, President of Surat, who died on July 21, 1649. Among the many tombs with curious inscriptions is one to ' Mary, the wife of Will. Andrew Price, chief of the Affairs of Surat, &c.,' who, it is said, ' through the spotted veil of the small-pox, rendered a pure and unspotted soul to God,' April 13, 1 76 1, aetat. 23. The tombs have been carefully looked after of late years. In the Dutch cemetery, which adjoins the English, there are also some curious and handsome tombs. One in particular to Baron Van Reede, Commissary-General of the United Netherlands East India Company for India, who died on December 15, 1691, once cost the Company Rs. 9,000 for repairs. Other buildings of historic interest in Surat are the English and Portuguese factories, and the house occupied by the Sadr Adalat before its transfer to Bombay.


The sea-borne trade of Surat has declined from a total estimated value of 156 lakhs in 1801 to 30 lakhs in 1903-4 ; namely, imports 17I lakhs and exports 49/4. The export trade is markedly decreasing. The principal articles of export are agricultural produce and cotton. The land-borne trade, however, since the opening of railway communication with Bombay and the interior, has increased considerably. The port of Surat used to be at Suvali, 12 miles west the city ; but the sea-borne trade is now carried in small country craft which pass up the river to Surat. The station of the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway is outside the city, surrounded by a rising suburb.

The organization of trade-guilds is highly developed in Surat. The chief of these guilds, composed of the leading bankers and merchants, is called the Mahajan or banker-guild. Its funds, derived from fees on cotton and on bills of exchange, are spent partly on animal hospitals

and partly on the temples of the Vallabhacharya sect. The title and office of Nagarseth, or chief merchant of the city, hereditary in a Srawak or Jain family, has for long been little more than a name. Though including men of different castes and races, each class of craftsmen has its trade-guild or panchayat, with a headman or referee in petty trade disputes. They have also a common purse, spending their funds partly in charity and partly in entertainments. A favourite device for raising money is for the men of the craft or trade to agree to shut all their shops but one on a certain day. The right to keep open this one shop is then put up to auction, and the amount bid is credited to the guild fund. There is a considerable hand industry in the spinning and weaving of cotton cloth, some of the very finest textures in Gujarat being made here. Three mills have also been opened in the city, one of these having commenced work as early as 1866. The nominal capital of the mills in 1904 was nearly 20 lakhs, and there were 180 looms and 34,290 spindles at work, employing 1,288 persons daily.


The municipality was established in 1852. The receipts during the ten years ending 1901 averaged 5 lakhs. In 1903-4 the income was

Rs. 4,815,000, chiefly derived from octroi (5/4lakhs), tax on houses and land (nearly 1/2lakh), and other taxes (3/2 lakhs). The expenditure was 9/2 lakhs, including general administration and collection of taxes (Rs. 31,000), public safety (Rs. 23,000), water and public health and conservancy (2 lakhs), and public institutions (Rs, 25,000). The municipality has opened a number of excellent roads, well lighted, paved, and watered. It has constructed works for the protection of the city from floods, and for lessening the risk of fire. Systems of drainage, conservancy, and public markets have also been undertaken.

Two hospitals provide for the indigent poor ; and there is one such institution for sick or worn-out animals. The clock-tower on the Delhi road, 80 feet in height, was erected in 1871 at the expense of Khan Bahadur Barjorji Merwanji Frazer. The Andrews Library is well patronized. In 1903-4 there were 4 high schools with 1,315 boys, and a mission high school with 56 girls. Of these schools, one is a Government high school with accommodation for 500, established in 1842. There were also 4 middle schools and an industrial school, with 412 and 88 pupils, respectively; 25 vernacular schools for boys with 4,693 pupils, and 16 for girls with 1,659 pupils. There are 5 printing presses and 5 weekly newspapers. Besides the Collector's and Judge's courts, the town contains a Small Cause court, two Subor- dinate Judges' courts, a civil hospital, a hospital for women and children, and a dispensary. The hospital is a handsome building of two storeys with a clock-tower. In the municipal gardens stands the Winchester Museum, which contains specimens of Surat silks and embroidery, and a few samples of forest produce.

Diamond industry

‘Chitthi’ system

The Times of India, June 16, 2015

Surat diamantaires to discard ‘chitthi’ system

Melvyn Reggie Thomas

It's 5pm and Naresh Thummar, owner of a diamond polishing unit in Katargam, has struck a deal in the trading hub of Mahidharpura to sell his polished gems for Rs 3 crore. The trader hands him a small paper chit mentioning the size, carat, colour, purity, and, most importantly, the date by which Thummar will get his payment.

The paper chits, which are otherwise thrown into dustbins, have been an important trade instrument in the Rs 90,000 crore diamond industry for over six decades now. But, this 'chitthi system' that is based on mutual trust is set to be banished now.

Following an increase in defaults and cheating cases, the small and medium diamond unit owners are readying to embrace a more reliable system of 'jhangad', a kind of promissory note to arm fraud victims with stronger evidence for legal action. Since September 2014, defaults at least to the tune of Rs 500 crore have been reported in Surat.

Vallabh Borda, a diamantaire in Katargam, has stopped dealing through chithis after losing Rs 50 lakh to a trader. This trader duped 24 diamantaires of Rs 50 crore in January. "I prefer jhangad now. I face a lot of difficulties as many traders in the markets still follow the chit system. I don't want to lose money, especially when the market condition is not good these days," said Borda.

Dinesh Navadia, president of Surat Diamond Association (SDA), said, "We have already launched a campaign to persuade traders and manufacturers to adopt this fool-proof system. Some have switched over but many are expected to adopt in the next few months." Navadia said that all the units will adopt the new system over the next one year.

Arvind Pokia, a diamond unit owner in Varachha, said, "I have sought the help of SDA to guide me on using the jhangad system. My turnover is just Rs 150 crore and I can't afford to lose my diamonds and money to fly-by-night operators."

So precious are the paper chits that diamond unit owners keep them in 15 iron vaults in Varachha and Mahidharpura markets along with the gems. These markets witness diamond trade of nearly Rs 400 crore daily - all done through the chitthis.

"In the 1960s, the diamond industry evolved due to closely knit families of diamond polishers, traders and importers. As most of them knew each other, they traded only through chitthis. The tradition still continues," said Navadia.

None of the technological advances in the last six decades have replaced this system of payment that works on sheer faith.


2018: over 120 ‘model’ schools for migrants

Dipak Dash, Surat runs over 120 ‘model’ schools for migrants, November 14, 2018: The Times of India

Cities with large migrant population can take a leaf out of Surat model, where the municipal corporation has been running over 120 special schools to cater to the needs of the city’s workforce.

Officials said running these schools in languages other than the native Gujarati has encouraged the migrant workers to bring their families to settle in the city.

Over 66,000 students have been enrolled in these non-Gujarati medium schools and their numbers have been increasing in this city, which is known as a hub for textiles and diamonds. Large number of people have been migrating to the city from Hindi-speaking states, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Official data show that a maximum of 55 schools catering to the primary standards from Class-I to Class-VIII are in Marathi medium, followed by 28 Urdu medium schools. The SMC runs seven schools where the medium of instruction is Odia and there are three Telugu medium schools in the city.

“We have 25 Hindi and nine English medium schools. We have started the secondary classes in Marathi and Hindi mediums as well to ensure that children of migrants get adequate educational opportunity,” said an official.

Stent manufacturing

The Times of India, Jun 15 2015

Melvyn ReggieThomas

Diamond hub Surat is now a major player in the cardiac stent market. The city , famed for its Rs 90,000crore diamond industry , has emerged as the biggest manufacturer of cardiac stents in India. Nine of the 11 Indian companies manufacturing stents -tiny tubes that make blood flow through choked arteries -are based in Surat and neighbouring Vapi. There is a reason for it: the laser technology that revolutionized diamond cutting has been the lifeblood of the stent industry .

South Gujarat's companies have captured 30% market share in the Indian coronary stent mar ket, valued at over $400 million, roughly Rs 2,500 crore. Overall, Indian compa nies enjoy 40% share as foreign players are fast ceding ground due to pricing -domestic stents cost just half.

“We pioneered the use of laser in diamond cutting in 1992,“ said Ganesh Sabat, the chief executive officer of Sa hajanand Medical Technologies (SMT). The parent company , which still makes diamond cutting equipment, set up the arm for making stents in the year 2000. Its success, in a market which was entirely dependent on imports, brought in other players like Meril Life Sciences and Heart Beat Interventions who have made it big.

Cardiac stents are made of stainless steel or an alloy with co steel or an alloy with co balt and chromium. The process requires the sa me equipment and skill sets as diamonds. In fact, stent making requires mu-ch lesser intensity of laser fire than diamonds.

It requires a laser to drill a hole with a diameter of 2.25 to 4.5 mm and length of 8 to 48 mm. of 8 to 48 mm.

Ahmedabad-based cardiologist, Dr Sameer Dani, who has been using Surat-made stents for a decade, said: “Over the years, the quality of local stents has improved vastly .“

Dr Tejas Patel, a Padmashri awardee, said he only uses stents that are approved for use in the US and Europe.“But if low-cost stents made locally can assure long-term efficacy and quality , there is a huge market here,“ he said.

Swaminarayan temple

The Times of India, June 9, 2016

Authorities at a temple in Surat say they have been caught off-guard by the furore over an idol dressed up in the erstwhile R-S-S uniform of khaki shorts and a white shirt. The temple is dedicated to 19th-century spiritual leader Swaminarayan venerated by many as a divine incarnate. The issue came to light after a picture of Swaminarayan in the Sangh uniform — complete with a black cap and black shoes — went viral on social media. The idol is also seen holding the national flag in one hand.

Congress and BJP both expressed dismay at the move, even as a temple priest said it was part of a longstanding practice of dressing up the idol in different outfits. Priest Vishwaprakashji said the outfit was gifted by a local devotee a couple of days ago. "We do not have any other agenda. We did not know that it will create a controversy," he added.

Notwithstanding the temple's denial of having any intention to endorse the views of R-S-S, Congress member Shankersinh Vaghela said they must refrain from such activities. "What do you want to prove by dressing up god in khaki shorts? I pity those who have done that. This is very unfortunate," Vaghela added.

Gujarat BJP chief Vijay Rupani also said it should not have been done. "I am really surprised. I don't approve of such actions," he said.

Ved Road

Stepwell temple> idol of Moti Bahucharaji

Ashleshaa Khurana, In dry Gujarat, this deity favours whisky as prasad, September 1, 2019: The Times of India

Enter this stepwell on Ved Road and a strong smell of alcohol wafts through the air. Walk further down and you will be surprised to find bottles of whisky, some even high-end brands, placed before an idol of Moti Bahucharaji in the 500-yearold temple here.

Surprising as it may seem, but offering whisky as prasad to this goddess has been a tradition followed by Khatri, Gola and Ghanchi communities living in Surat for centuries now.

“She is our community goddess. Baby showers of all pregnant women from our faith are held here in the seventh month of first pregnancy. In the past seven years, three of my daughters have had their baby showers held here,” says Usha Vakharia (64).

Vakharia said that the father-to-be has to arrange a sealed bottle of whisky which is first offered to the goddess. The woman priest opens the bottle, sprinkles few drops on the deity and the alcohol is returned to the worshipper, including to the to-be mother, as prasad.

See also

Cities of India: issues

Surat Agency

Surat City

Surat District, 1908

Surat: Transport sector

Swami Narayan Sect

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