The earliest reference of Surat can be traced back to the classic epic of Mahabharata. A few other Sanskrit manuscripts refer to the dominance of Western Chalukya dynasty in this area. According to the historians, Surat has been the home to several Hindu kings. However, it was with the Mughal invasion that the city witnessed economic prosperity. Situated close to the Arabian Sea, Surat serves as the gateway to Mecca, a religious pilgrimage destination in the country. By the end of the 16th century, the city became an important trading hub on the west coast. After the decline of the mighty Mughal Dynasty, the Portuguese invaded the Arabian port. With the Portuguese rule, the port city grew manifolds and since then the city has remained a flourishing trading port in the city. The Portuguese remained the undoubted masters of this seaport until the officials of the East Indian Company invaded the Coromandel Coast. From the 16th to the 18th century, the city was in the midst of the power struggle between the Portuguese, British and the Marathas. Read the next sections to find out more interesting facts of the city's past. For more on history of Surat, read on.
According to Mahabharata, Lord Krishna first visited the city while he was journeying from Mathura to Dwarka. The local here believe that the place was founded by a Brahman named 'Gopi,' who named this place as 'Suryapur,' meaning 'city of sun'. Even today, the city is identified as Suryapur. It was only in the year 1520 that the city came to be known as Surat. The only historical evidence of the existence of Surat is the carvings at Sopara near Mumbai and Girnar in Saurashtra.
Mughal And Maratha Rule
Apart from the dominance of the Hindu rulers, Surat was influenced largely by Sultan Qutub-ud-din Aibak and the Parsee community. The Delhi Sultan was the first Muslim ruler to capture the region. During the 12th century, a large population of the Parsee community settled down in this region and contributed to the growth of increasing wealth in Surat. In this period, the city progressed and came to be known as a commercial centre in this province. The advent of the 17th century saw the rise of Maratha Empire. Since the place was famous as a flourishing trading port, it attracted several powerful rulers. Shivaji, being one of the most significant leaders of the Maratha Kingdom, pillaged the area for almost three weeks when the city was under the Mughal leadership. During this period, Surat was at its peak of affluence and was referred as 'Kubera,' the God of Wealth, by the Maratha people.
From 1512 to 1530, the Portuguese officials dominated the region. Despite attacks from the local rulers and the British East Indian Company, the Portuguese ruled the place with iron hands. Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese traveler, who visited the city in 1513, portrayed Surat as a major trading harbor. In 1608, the port was used as a convenient harbor for British ships and served as a preferable transit spot. By 1615, with the help of Captain Best and Captain Downton, the British army overcame the Portuguese rule in the Battle of Swally. The district fell under the presidency of the British company and continued to thrive as a business port in the west coast. It was in the year 1662 that the good fortunes of the port began to decline. In the year 1662, Surat was offered as a part of Catherine of Braganza's dowry when she married Charles II after which the British relocated the factory from Surat to Bombay and focused on improving the Bombay seaport, which again lead to the downfall of the city's economy. In the year 1759, the English officials regained Surat and took over all governable powers until Indian Independence.