The Danes were actually one of the first traders to arrive in India after the Portuguese. The Danish colonies founded in India by the Danish East India Company, generally, had a tough time competing with the British, with whom they had a rivalry that originated before India. The capital of Danish India was Fort Dansborg, established in 1620 at Tranquebar on the Coromandel Cost. The Danes established several other commercial outposts governed from Dansborg, including Calicut (now Kozhikode) on the West Coast in Kerala; Frederiksnagore at Serampore, and Balasore (today known as Baleswar in Odisha).
It stands to reason that Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar was the most prized possession of the Danes. Today, it has been restored painstakingly to its original sandstone colour and naturally resembles Danish forts built on Africa’s west coast, along with slight Moorish influences. The top level of the fort has a museum which displays artefacts from that era as well as the various archaeological finds from the region. Opposite the fort stands the Governor’s Bungalow, which unlike the fort is in a state of disrepair, looking positively war-torn, even though the fort sits proud and majestic. In Tranquebar itself, the Danes built several houses for the traders as well as churches and schools. Some of these houses still survive and luckily the old styling has been retained. The Zion Church on king’s Street is the oldest Protestant church in India, while the New Jerusalem Church, built to accommodate German missionaries follows closely on the lines of European churches built during that era in the continent.
In West Bengal, The Danish East India Company failed in its venture to set up a long-lasting trading post. Frederiksnagore near Serampore, established 1699, was the hub of all business activity for Danes in West Bengal. They also established a bazaar (the present-day Tin Bazaar), encouraged the production of high-quality silk and cotton through incentives, and introduced the concept of a middleman. Gradually though trade and commerce went on a decline and less and less ships were loaded at the docks. Serampore was occupied twice and British during their war with Denmark and in 1777, after the Danish Company went bankrupt, Serampore became a Danish crown colony. Despite its commercial failure, Serampore became the hotbed for a mini Danish cultural revolution. It was a safe haven for missionaries, and in 1799, Baptist missionaries set up Asia’s first printing press here. In 1819, Reverend William Carey established the Serampore College, the first of its kind to impart western education in Asia and translated the Bible into local dialects. The college also gained recognition from the king of Denmark, who declared it at par with the institutions in the homeland. However, by the middle of the 19th century, trade and culture both got impacted severely by the growing British influence in India and in 1845, Serampore was ceded to Britain, thereby ending nearly 150 years of Danish presence in Bengal. A few years later, in 1869, Danish India ceased to exist.