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History Of The Khoja Community in Daman

by Toral Pradhan

History Of Daman

Daman is a part of the South Gujarat coastal lands - bounded by the Kolai River on the North, the Kalu River on the South, the Sahyadri Hills and the Valsad District to the East and the Arabian Sea to the West.[1]

The port of Daman makes up approximately 12.5 km. of coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Khambhat (historical Cambay). Daman town is divided into two parts by the river Damanganga that flows into the Arabian Sea. On its banks, Nani Daman (also called New Daman, Damao Pequeno) is in the North and Moti Daman (Old Daman, Damao Grande) is in the South.[3]

Daman was a Portuguese enclave for 450 years and boasts a distinct, rich past through its Indo-Portuguese identity and colonial grandeur with huge fortresses, magnificent churches, divine beaches, unique cuisine, a typical ‘Susegaad’ lifestyle, music, and dance.[5]

Historic Buildings of Daman

As a colonial post, Daman has been a melting pot, where races and cultures met and mixed to bring forth a multicultural heritage, a fusion of tribal, urban, European and Indian culture. The population is a majority of Hindu fishermen tribes and Christians, Muslims, Khojas and Parsees in the towns. The chief languages are Gujarati and Portuguese, which have developed into a quaint dialect that is a mixture of both. Hindi and English remain the professional language.

Early Khoja Settlements

The 1500's marked the spread of the Khojas all over India.[6]

Then, separate from these, there were important Ismäili groups in Coastal Gujarat which, according to tradition, all originated in the reign of Siddharaja (1094—1143).191 The Ismä'ill communities of Bohras and Khoja became larger in Gujarat than anywhere else in India, largely through conversion. Thanks to their connections with non-Muslim mercantile groups, they were relatively successful in penetrating inland markets in Western India as well and they made their presence felt in many parts of the western Indian Ocean littoral


In Daman, not being an inherent community, they were part of the migrations from the neighboring states of Kutch, Kathiawar, and Gujarat. The Khojas came in search of business and livelihood towards the second half of the 17th century, after approximately 200-250 years of its establishment by the Portuguese.[8] (Ed. However, since the Khojas were already trading in the Western Indian Ocean since the 1300s to I500,(See Special Note Below) and also from recently found early Portuguese records, that some very successful Khoja merchants traded with the Portuguese in Daman from the mid-1500s.[[Khoja Shams-ud-din|See the story of Khoja Shams-ud-din Gillani])]

Unfortunately, the colonial government did not keep detailed legal registries for any it’s indigenious residents. All Shia and Sunni Muslims were categorized in the same group called ‘Musulmanos’. And many Khojas were not permanent residents as they traveled back and forth. And birth-death registrations were not compulsory and only began in 1914.[9] Thus, thier early settlement history remained unknown for a considerable period of time. The Khojas officially entered the records in the 1881 census, as living chiefly in the sea-coast towns and trading with places outside their provinces.[10]

As peaceful and loyal subjects of the Portuguese authorities, the colonial dignitaries unfailingly visited the Khoja community on each and every occasion and festivals. They would attend the functions to convey their good wishes and maintain good relations and were welcomed with bouquets and garlands by the jamat.

The Khoja Jamaat & Visiting Dignitaries

On the arrival of any dignitaries from Goa or Portugal, all communities in Daman were informed and leaders from all the communities would go to the airport to receive the officers.

In Daman, the Khojas did not continue with their Kathiawadi food habits and customs. They could not have their staple food, bajra millet, as it was not available. Also, they changed their way of dressing and adopted to wearing long maxi-frocks along with dupatta (pachhedi). They also partially adopted some aspects of Portuguese culture.

When the Aga Khan I visited Daman in Jan. 1846, on his way from Iran to Bombay, the Imam arrived by sea-route to the ports of Surat and Daman, as there were no railway facilities. His visit is mentioned in his autobiography in the Persian language, “Ibrat-afza”.[11] He describes his journey from Gujarat to Bombay, “thereafter traveled to Damman via the port of Surat. And, in the month of Muharram in 1262 A.H. (1846 A.D.), I fulfilled the ‘Lawajama’ (the obligatory duties) of “Taziyadari”(the ritual ceremony of the Ithnasheries Ed.) in Damman. From there, in the end, part of the month of Safar of the said year, I arrived in Bombay.”

He was accommodated at the Hall named by D. Luis (Salao D. Luis, escolas publicas).

It was run as used as a public school with the dual medium. The first floor was a Gujarati school and the ground floor was a Portuguese school. The building stands adamant till today as a symbolic monument at Daman Jetty Garden. (there were no Khoja schools in Daman at that time ed.)[12]


For the first 50-60 years of settlement, there were about 10 families of traders in Daman and they did not have a Jamatkhana(community center).

The first Jamatkhana was established sometime after 1860 as the exact date of establishment is not known. Only the community oral history confirms the possibility of the range period.[13]

For 150 years, the Nani Daman Jamatkhana has been at the same location and with the same capacity. The original one was built in the old Portuguese-style architecture, with large ground plus one floor, with huge arches and tiled roof as seen in the picture, which also features a neighboring Parsi (Zoroastrian) home. There was a well in the backyard and the roads were kuchcha unpaved at that time. At this time, there were about 150 members in the Jamat. Education was not given much importance. Early marriages, conservative lifestyle and settling down with small business was the general trend.

Few other Khojas families were scattered at the hinterland areas of Dadra, Nagar Havelli, Khanvel, etc. There were landowning farmers, dealing in grains, wood, etc. which were brought to Daman and sold to the local Khojas, usually their own family members. The community members from Silvassa, Khanvel, Vapi, came to Daman Jamatkhana in bullock-carts for the celebration of festivals up to 1937, when the Vapi Jamatkhana was first established. People from Varkund, Kunta nearby areas came to jamatkhana in tongas horse-carts once in a month only, for Chaandraat, as daily visits were difficult.

In 1920-25, the Moti Daman Jamatkhana was started, in a house that was gifted by Mrs. Maanbai Jaffar. Having no family, Maanbai lived on the premises and served the Jamat till the end of her life. People from surrounding areas of Kalai, Fansa, Maroli came to Moti Daman Jamatkhana.[14]

The Moti Daman Jamatkhana was closed on 14th Dec. 1996, due to the considerable decrease in jamati members.

Khushiali Festivals

Festivals were celebrated by the combined Jamats of Nani Daman and Moti Daman. Salgirah was celebrated with prior preparations. A grand procession ‘Maameru’ was carried out with Scout Band in full uniform, women in lovely traditional bordered sarees and dupattas, Jamati leaders in long coats and paghdi (turbans), and men in suits. They went from Nani Daman to Moti Daman around 2 to 2.30 pm, to the Jetty, crossed the river in boats and reached the other side. Nine pie toll was to be paid for each passenger at the toll center at Old Daman jetty at that time.[15]

They were welcomed by the Moti Daman Jamat with sweets and cold drinks, amidst the festivities. Together they returned to the Nani Daman Jamatkhana, crossing the river, playing the band and singing ginaans. After that, a grand dinner would be held comprising of churma laddoos (priorly prepared by the jamati ladies), ganthia, dal-gosht, and rice. After dinner dandiaraas-garba would be played which were organized for 5 to 6 days before and after the day of celebrations. Women would sing the garbas with great enthusiasm and fervour.

Daman Scouts Band

The Daman Scout Band was established in 1931 by the Portuguese Government Youth Association (Mucidade Portuguesa) and played at the inauguration of Daman bridge built on the Daman Ganga river in 1931, along with the Portuguese Government Band. After the conquest of Daman by the Indian authorities, the Band was registered in Daman as Daman Boy’s Scout, bearing registration no. 111.

At the Christmas festival celebration on 25th Dec.1944 at Silvassa, for which the Governor of Silvassa was highly impressed and awarded a ‘Badge of Honour’ and a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ to the Band.

By 1950, the jamat had increased to almost 200 members. They were generally businessmen dealing in grains, wood, etc.

End of Portuguese Rule

Portuguese India (India Portuguesa or Estado da India) was the name of Portugal’s colonial holdings in India. The territory comprised the enclaves of Goa, Daman, and Diu on the west coast, the territory of Dadra and Nagar Havelli and the Anjediva Islands. [16]When India became independent in 1947, Portugal kept its colony. In 1954, Indian revolutionaries gained control over Dadra and Nagar havelli and prevented the Portuguese troops from traveling to the area. Daman was considered a Portuguese territory and Dabhel onwards were considered the territories of India. The Indian government did not allow any Portuguese residents to cross the border and enter Gujarat because they were the supporters of the Portuguese government. They have restricted entry till they stopped supporting the Portuguese. Only those who did not buy or sell Portuguese or European goods were allowed to enter India under special permission. Daman was completely under Portuguese power. No imports were allowed from India. [17]

On 17th July 1954, the Portuguese government closed the border (Bandi) with other states of India. Since Dadra Nagar Haveli was part of India, travel to DNH was permitted but could not return to Daman. Relatives met at the border just by seeing each other until Aug 1954, when DNH was combined with Daman under Portuguese rule but was liberated on 2nd Aug. 1954 and became India after a war.

All the regular supplies were imported from abroad, from other European territories. The Portuguese government supplied the people with all domestic requirements so that they may not face any kind of shortage of anything. But they were not allowed to travel back and forth from Daman. Identity cards were given to every citizen ‘Bilhetede Identidade’. Special Transit permits (Documento para viagem) were required for crossing the border that would be officially stamped at every visit.

War-time Special Permits

According to community oral history, the jamaat had become totally detached from the rest of the country. They had grocery shops where agricultural products from Khanvel, Chizda, were brought and sold. Some were in the profession of public transport and taxi owners. A special health card (NOC) for running a business was given by the government. Only then could they start or run any business. Marriages were arranged mostly among the locals, between closely related families, among first cousins as no contact with Bombay or any other state was possible. It was difficult to travel to other places. A visa was required to go to Bombay and which could not be acquired easily. Travel to Egypt, Cairo, etc. did not require any passport as they were considered parts of the provinces of the same government.

According to the 1960 census, the percentage of Muslims in Daman was 9% (it included all sects of Muslims).[18]

In 1961, the Bandi came to an end. The last Portuguese Governor of Daman, Brigadier Manuel Antonio de Costa Pinto was wounded near Teen Batti, by the Indian Army, assisted by the Indian Navy and Airforce during ‘The Operation Vijaya’, which led to the surrender of the Portuguese garrison on 19th Dec. 1961, closing the chapter of European domination in India.[19]

Modern Era

By this time, the Nani Daman Jamatkhana was almost 100 years old and in a depleted condition. The procedure for re-building the Jamatkhana was started after the original plan was approved by the Daman Municipal Council on 22nd May 1969. The foundation stone was laid on 16th Oct. 1970, along with a Time Capsule (A glass jar containing a gold coin, a silver coin, documents and important dates).

After four years under construction, the new Jamatkhana was inaugurated on 10th Mar. 1974 amongst great celebrations and festivities. Invitation cards were printed and distributed among the local dignitaries and members of the community. The number of Jamat during the inauguration was about 200.

The plot of the Jamatkhana was registered as ‘Khoja Logika Jamatkhana’ by the Portuguese Government and taken over in the name of Aga Khan Foundation in 1996. [20]

In the following years, the Jamat went through considerable progress in business, education, the standard of living and economic status. The Progressive Multipurpose Co-op. Society Ltd. was established on 20th April. 1985, to provide capital and financial assistance to the jamat, who had by now ventured into different business fields.

As the community was scattered in different surrounding areas of Daman and its villages, The Highness Co-op. Housing Society was built at Khariwad, Nani Daman in 1991. It has three buildings with four floors each to accommodate the jamat at that time. The latest development was the establishment of the Development Credit Bank Ltd. (DCB) in 1998.

The present number of jamat is 550. Many Khoja Ismailis from Kutch, Kathiawar and Bombay have come to settle in Daman as it is a small, peaceful town with all urban facilities, schools and business prospects.

On 10th Mar. 2014, the Nani Daman New Jamatkhana completed 40 glorious years. It stands as an important symbol to witness the settlement of the Khojas in Daman for 350 years and to their continuous peaceful progress.

References & Notes

  1. Visitor’s Guide, Tourism Department. Daman.
  2. Daman Map and Pictures, Praca a Cidade Damao.
  3. Gazetteer of India U.T. Goa, Daman & Diu. Part II. Daman District Gazetteer.
  4. Bridge details, The Anglo- Lusitano newspaper, Sat. Aug. 6, 1949. Bridge picture- Pleitos, Edi. Emidio de Sousa. Tip. Sadananda, Nova Goa, 1939.
  5. Pictures of Forts and Churches—A India Portuguesa Memoreas Escritas a comite do Governo Geral Do Estado da India.
  6. Genealogy of Aga Khan. Mumtaz Ali Tajddin. Sadik Ali.
  7. Wink, Andre 'Indo Islamic Society 13th and 14th Century' 1977
  8. Oral tradition.
  9. Archives and Archeological Department. Goa. Sociedade de Geographia de Lisboa. A India Portugueza Breve Descripcao Dar Possesoes Portuguezas na Asia.—A Lopes Mendes.
  10. Gazetteer Bombay Presidency, Vol. VIII, Kathiawar.
  11. History of Aga Khani Ismailis (sec 3) Google. --Noorul Mubin, II Edition. Chunara A.J. 1950. 433
  12. Primary School Bldg. Pics & details--Governor- Noticias E Documentos, Historia de Damao, Segundo Edicai, Antonio Francisco Moniz, 1923, Pg 61.-- A India Portugueza. Memorais Escritas a comite do Governor Geral do Estado da India, 222.
  13. The Ismailis- An illustrated History. 193, by Farhad Daftary, Zulfikar Hirji. The Ismaili History and Doctrines, Second edition. Pg.472, by Farhad Daftary, Cambridge University Press.
  14. Oral community history.
  15. The Anglo-Lusitano, Sat. Aug.6, 1949.
  16. Escudo-Wikipedia.
  17. Portuguese India, Wikipedia.
  18. States of our Union. Goa, Daman & Diu. S.S. Desai.
  19. Visitor’s Guide, Daman, Diu, Dadra Nagar Havelli. Department of Tourism.
  20. City Survey records, Daman. 3/10/1993.
About the Author:

Toral Pradhan is a freelance writer, author, housewife and a part-time private tutor based in Daman, India.

Ms. Pradhan writes about several topics on her blog touchstones. She has worked for India’s national fortnightly magazine UTS’ Voice, and has written for the Times of India, Mumbai magazine, and the Theosophist. Her article as a ‘Woman Achiever’ was published in the July 2006 issue of ‘The Ismaili’, India. She is currently preparing an anthology of her articles as well as working on a fictional work “Where Do Failures End?” In addition, she has also been interviewed several times on ‘All India Radio’.

Teaching has come naturally to Ms. Pradhan, and after getting appropriate certifications and degrees, she provided English tutoring to local Ismaili ladies in Daman and also conducts private tuition for high school and university undergraduates. She continues to enrich her life by pursuing courses related to the humanities and languages as well as improving her knowledge in numerous areas of human endeavor.'

This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History