Indian pirates on the west coast of India and the port of Bombay in particular are sometimes overlooked in discussions of pirate activity and refuge. During the succession of the first six Great Moguls who ruled from the early 1500's to 1707, India enjoyed a tremendous period of national unity, cultural awakening and legendary prosperity. The last of these six leaders began to see internal disputes, military pressures, abuse and corruption eat away at his power and create the regional instability and lowered resistance that almost always create an opening for piracy. The possible targets for the Indian pirates were many.
The Mogul's trade fleets went into the Red Sea and Persian Gulf with fabrics, ivory, and spices; they returned with the abundant gold and silver of exchange. Pilgrim ships also carried people and treasure to Mecca. Topping the list were the abundant prizes of the various East Indian Company ventures, which carried off luxurious silks, ivory, jewels, and proceeds from import.
With deterioration of effective naval patrol or protection, the pickings were ripe from Cochin and Calcutta in the South, through the Portuguese trade port of Goa, to Bombay and Surat farther north.
Bombay became the focal point of a most successful family-run pirate enterprise as the Angria clan gained control of the surrounding area. They established their main fortress of Vijayadurg (Severndroog) as one of several island bases south of Bombay. From there they began to not only attack the English East India Company ships, but to harass Indian shippers and require protection money from those who used the port.
Vijayadurg was so impenetrable that it never fell during a several-year succession of fierce British attacks. After one of the first assaults, Kanhoji Angria even blockaded the port of Bombay in 1716 and held its control for ransom.
After his death in 1729, the control of most of the Indian pirates kingdom went to his son Sumbhaji, who for all his efforts, began to feel the effects of even stronger reprisals from the Royal Navy and the English East India Company escorts.
The end of a fifty-year rampage came in the mid-1750's after Sumbhaji's half-brother Toolaji began to strengthen his assaults on the British, and it brought a combined land-and-sea assault that began to dissect their chain of island bases. Vijayadurg held out until the last, and in 1756, Toolaji was caught and put in prison when it fell.
The Angria's are remembered in India with a certain affection for their efforts which at least temporarily frustrated the spread of British influence and control.
As the second most populous city in the world, today's Bombay brings in about 40 percent of the trade in a diverse nation that is poised to lead economic growth in the Asian Pacific region.