I. Historical Background 


In order to view the history of the Portuguese in India in its true perspective, it is necessary to make a few preliminary observations about the maritime trade of India. Economic factors have often profoundly influenced the course of history and sometimes even revolutionized it. The foreign trade and maritime activities of India, during the thirteenth century A.D., suddenly changed the course of history, not only of India but of the whole world. The rise of the Arabs as a great maritime power in the ninth century A.D. was the first direct challenge to the supremacy of the Indians in the Arabian Sea. An authentic account of the rivalry between the two maritime powers is not available but the position in the fifteenth century A D. may be summed up as follows:

  1. Indian ships from Gujarat, Malabar and various ports on the eastern coast, brought spices and other costly goods from Malacca, then practically the sole entrepot for China and the Spice Islands. On the west, Indian ships carried on trade with Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and various ports on the coast of East Africa and pilgrim traffic to the Red Sea. The main centre of this trade was Gujarat, but Malabar and Konkan had also a large share in it in the fourteenth century A.D. as is proved by the detailed account given by Moroccan traveller Ibn Batutah.

  2. The Arabs exercised a strict monopoly in the trade from Malabar to the Red Sea. The eastern goods brought by Indian ships to Malabar ports, together with the Indian pepper and cinnamon from Ceylon, were carried in Arab ships to Jidda and Ormuz. They also shared with Indian ships the carrying trade between Gujarat on the one hand and Red Sea, Persian Gulf and East Africa on the other. From Ormuz Indian wares found their way in smaller boats, more suited to the navigation, to Basra, where the trade routes divided; some caravans started for Trebizond (The Empire of Trebizond or the Trapezuntine Empire was a monarchy that flourished during the 13th through 15th centuries, consisting of the far northeastern corner of Anatolia and the southern Crimea.) and others for Aleppo and Damascus. On the shores of the Mediterranean the goods were purchased by Venetians (Referring to Italy.) and Genoese (Genoa is the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and the sixth-largest city in Italy.) for distribution over Europe. Jidda played the same role in the Red Sea as Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. To the north of Jidda navigation was hampered by reefs and shoals and, therefore, goods were transferred to smaller boats that went to Suez. From Suez the merchandize crossed the desert to Cairo on camels, and thence went down the Nile to Alexandria.

The most important consequence of this state of things was that the Arabs were almost the sole purveyors of the eastern spices which were much prized in Europe. They controlled the entire trade between India and Europe except the small volume that passed over land route, either from the north-west of India or from the head of the Persian Gulf. But the Arabs also severed as mere intermediaries. The goods carried by them to the Mediterranean ports were taken over by the Italian merchants, mainly from Genoa and Venice, who distributed them throughout Europe. The cost of transmitting wares from India to Europe was very heavy, due to the large number of transshipments and high duties imposed by the various authorities through whose jurisdictions they had to pass. It has been calculated that when the wares from Calicut (in Malabar) reached Cairo, the ruler of the place, by various devices, exacted nearly one-third of their price as his own dues. In spite of heavy expenses the mercantile houses of Genoa and Venice reaped enormous profits, as the Indian goods fetched a very high price in European markets.

It could hardly be expected that the monopoly of Venice and Genoa in the profitable eastern trade would be looked upon with equanimity by the adventurous maritime nations like the Spanish and the Portuguese. The geographical discoveries by these two nations in course of the fifteenth century A.D. induced the Pope, Alexander VI, to regulate the enterprise into the unknown world by dividing it between them. He issued no less than four voyages for this purpose in A.D. 1493-94, by which the countries to the east of Europe were assigned to Portugal. By this time the Portuguese had not only explored the entire western coast of Africa but even proceeded beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The lure of capturing the eastern trade naturally turned their attention towards an all-sea-route to India. For this would enable them to import goods from that country at a much cheaper cost and, by one stroke, transfer to them the huge wealth hitherto flowing to Genoa and Venice. Thus, it was for this purpose that Vasco da Gama was commissioned to find out a direct sea-route to India from Portugal via Cape of Good Hope. On 8th July, A.D. 1497, Vasco da Gama left Lisbon with three vessels, of a tonnage varying from 60 to 150, on this perilous undertaking.

On 17th May, A.D. 1498, the inhabitants of the small village of Capucad, eight miles to the north of Calicut, saw the strange spectacle of three sailing vessels manned by white-skinned peoples unknown to them. The rural folk were amused, perhaps a little bewildered, but little did they dream that these were the harbingers of untold sufferings to them and to their country. These were the vessels which, under the leadership of Vasco da Gama, by mere accident, touched the land at a point lying within the Kingdom of the Zamorin (King) of Calicut.

The Zamorin, as usual, welcomed the strangers and provided all facilities to them in Calicut which was then an important centre of spice-trade. This alarmed the powerful Muslim traders of Calicut who, not unreasonably, concluded that once the Portuguese got a footing in Calicut, they would extend their activities to all other ports and thus bring irretrievable ruin upon the Muslim traders. They therefore sought by every means in their power to prejudice the mind of the Zamorin against the new-comers. One objection which they urged before the Zamorin’s officers proved to be prophetic. The Portuguese, they argued, had not certainly undertaken this long and tedious journey from their distant home for mere purposes of trade, of which, being a wealthy nation, they had no need, but only to spy out the country with the view of returning and conquering it by force of arms and plundering it. When Vasco da Gama left India on 29th August, A.D. 1498, he had collected valuable information regarding trade and the route, and established friendly relations with the ruler and the Hindu population of Calicut.

The successful venture of Vasco da Gama induced the King of Portugal to send a larger fleet of 13 vessels under Pedro Alvarez Cabral on 9th March, A.D. 1500. Cabral had a series of adventures on the way and reached Calicut with only six vessels on 13th September, A.D.  1500. The Zamorin cordially welcomed him and a treaty of peace and friendship was concluded between the two. On the basis of a report submitted by Cabral, the Portuguese King now entertained the ambitious project, not only to divert all Indian trade to Portugal by curbing the Arab ventures, but also to plant the Christian religion in India. With these ends in view he dispatched in A.D. 1502 a fleet of twenty ships under Vasco da Gama. As the first discoverer of the direct sea-route between Europe and India, Vasco da Gama occupies a unique place in the history of the modern world. But in his treatment of the Indians he may be described almost as a monster in the disguise of human form, a worthy competitor of Sultan Mahmud and Tamerlane, though on a much smaller scale. When his fleet reached Anjidiv, south of Goa, he committed a horrible cruelty described as follows by a European historian: “A rich Muslim pilgrim vessel on its way to India from the Red Sea was intercepted by da Gama’s fleet which was plundered and sunk. There were many women and children on board but to these no mercy was shown and da Gama watched the horrors of the scene through a porthole, merciless and unmoved.”

After halting at Cannanore (Kannur, Kerela) for a few days and renewing friendship with its King, da Gama proceeded to Calicut. The reputation of the Portuguese as a fighting power had reached so high that all the Indian and Arab ships had left the harbour. While still off Calicut, da Gama seized a fleet of two large ships and twenty-two smaller vessels which, laden with rice and had sailed from the Coromandel. After having plundered the ships, da Gama ordered his men to cut off the hands and ears and noses of all the crews. This done, their feet were tied together, and in order to prevent them from untying the cords with their teeth, he ordered his men to strike them on their mouths with staves and knock their teeth down their throats. They were then put on board, to the number of about 800, heaped one on the top of the other, and covered with mats and dry leaves; the sails were then set for the shore and the vessel set on fire.

It has been truly observed that Vasco da Gama had no bowels of compassion and his lieutenants also followed on the footsteps of their Captain. For example, the friendly Raja of Cannanore complained to Vasco da Gama against some Muslim ships leaving his harbour without paying the harbour duties and the price of goods and one Portuguese Vincente Sodre was sent to help him. Sodre at once decided to sink all the ships but the Raja prevented this cruel deed. The Muslim owner of the ships, an inhabitant of Cairo, settled all pecuniary claims to the satisfaction of the Raja but as he was reported to have uttered some insulting words, Vincente Sodre had him tied to the mast and flogged with a rope’s-end until he fainted. Having filled his mouth with dirt, and tied over it a piece of bacon, he sent him back to his ship with his hands tied behind him. Thus, the Indians had a foretaste of the barbarous and inhuman cruelties which characterized the Portuguese almost throughout the period of their dominance in India. Vasco da Gama established a factory at Cochin and erected a defensive wall at Cannanore. He then returned to Portugal, leaving Vincente Sodre with six vessels and a caravel to patrol the coast. In A.D. 1503 three Portuguese squadrons arrived in Cochin, one of them commanded by the famous Alfonso d’ Albuquerque. It was on this occasion that the Portuguese built at Cochin their first fortress in India.

In A.D. 1505, the Portuguese King adopted a new policy. Instead of sending annual expedition and leaving a small garrison to protect the factories, he decided to appoint a Viceroy who would reside in India for three years. The intention of the Portuguese to settle in India permanently, so clearly revealed by the establishment of a residential Viceroy and a standing fleet, as well as the construction of forts, alarmed the Muslim rulers of Bijapur, Gujarat and other smaller States. For this purpose the Portuguese King appointed Alfonso d’ Albuquerque as the new Governor of Portuguese territories in India.

Affonso d’ Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor of India, from 4th November A.D. 1509 to September A.D. 1515 built up a great territorial power in India. He was convinced that it was beneath the dignity of Portugal to have factories which existed only under the power of the native rulers. His struggle was against the combined forces of the Muslim world. His efforts were directed towards the conquest of Goa, Malacca, Aden, and Ormuz (The Kingdom of Ormuz was a 10th to 17th century A.D. kingdom located within the Persian Gulf and extending as far as the Strait of Hormuz. The Kingdom was established by Arab princes in the 10th century who in 1262 came under the suzerainty of Persia, before becoming a client state of the Portuguese Empire.) which he considered essential for his purpose. The plan of Albuquerque formed strategically a complete whole and consisted of three series of operations: (a) the control of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea; (b) the establishment of the headquarters of the Portuguese power at a central port on the west coast of India and (c) the destruction of Malay trade in the Malay Peninsula and the Far East.

The first achievement of Albuquerque was the conquest of Goa which belonged, to the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur. On 4th March, A.D. 1510, he occupied the defenseless city which offered little resistance, though he was forced to abandon it in the face of an attack by Sultan Yusuf Adil Khan but Albuquerque again stormed the city in November, A.D. 1510, strengthened its fortifications and thence till A.D. 1961 Goa remained the Portuguese headquarters in India. As Goa stood midway between the ports of Malabar and those of Gujarat and dominated the entire coast from the Gulf of Cambay to Cape Comorin, the conquest of Goa put the seal on the Portuguese naval supremacy along the south-west coast and involved territorial rule in India.

The conquest of Malacca in A.D. 1511 was the next great achievement of Albuquerque. It was situated favorably on the Malaya shore, in the middle point of the Straits between Sumatra and the mainland and its inhabitants included Muslim Malayas and large bodies of foreign merchants – Chinese, Javanese, Gujaratis, Bengalis, Burmese from Pegu and Chittagong, Ceylonese cinnamon-dealers and even Japanese. Albuquerque captured the place after several days of bombardment and street fighting. He then opened direct relations with the kingdom of Siam (Present day Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar) and dispatched ships to explore the Moluccas (Indonesia) and other Spice Islands.

The Portuguese monopoly of the Indian Ocean remained unbroken till A.D. 1595, fifteen years after the fatal union of Portugal and Spain. Philip II of Spain neglected Portuguese dominions in India and involved Portugal in his costly and disastrous European wars. Ceylon first rebelled against the Portuguese in A.D. 1580. In A.D. 1595 the first Dutch fleet rounded the Cape of Good Hope in defiance of the Portuguese. By A.D. 1602 the Dutch had deprived Portugal of the hold over the Straits of Sunda (The Sunda Strait is the strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra) and of the route to the Moluccas (Indonesia) and of the Spice Islands. In A.D. 1603 they blockaded Goa itself and soon after they made themselves masters of Java. The Dutch expelled the Portuguese altogether from Ceylon in the years A.D. 1638 to A.D. 1658. In A.D. 1641 they captured the great port of Malacca and in A.D. 1652 got possession of the Cape of Good Hope as well.

The English were also not far behind. In A.D. 1611 an English squadron under Admiral Middleton defeated the Portuguese fleet off Bombay. Four years later came their great victory over the Portuguese in Surat. In A.D. 1616 they entered into direct commercial relations with the Zamorin (King) of Calicut and two years later they began to trade in the Persian Gulf. In A.D. 1622 they had captured Ormuz and established a factory at Gombroon (Iran). Bombay was given to Britain in A.D. 1661 as part of the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza’s dowry to Charles II of England. Most of the western coastal areas were lost to the Marathas by A.D. 1700 and later these areas were taken over by the British government. Thus, there were Portuguese footprints all over the western coasts of the Indian peninsula, though Goa became the capital of Portuguese from A.D. 1530 onward until the annexation of Goa and its merger with the Indian Union in 1961.

II. The Famous Goa Inquisition – A.D. 1560 – A.D. 1812

The manpower of Portugal was too small to maintain a far-flung Empire and was further thinned by disease, ravages and the demoralization brought about by the inter-marriage of the Portuguese settlers with Africans and Indians. But their religious fanaticism knew no bounds. Even before the time of Governor Albuquerque (A.D. 1509-1515), priests and monks had flocked in large number to Portuguese India. In A.D. 1538, Goa was made the seat of a Bishop, in A.D. 1557 it was raised to the dignity of an Archbishop and other Bishop seats were created at Cochin and Malacca. The priests displayed great devotion to their duty and did much to spread education. They established at Goa, in A.D. 1560, the hated inquisition which burnt or punished in other cruel way, unbelievers, relapsed converts and all who were dangerous to the faith in the eyes of the priests. They did not give freedom even to the ancient Syrian Christians of the Malabar Coast. The Portuguese zeal for conversion was redoubled after their union with Spain in A.D. 1580. The Synod of Diamper (Udayampura) [The Synod of Diamper, held at Udayamperoor (Kerela) was a council that laid down rules and regulations for the ancient Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast formally uniting them with the Catholic Church. This led to the creation of the Eastern Catholic Syro-Malabar Church.] in A.D. 1599 tried to suppress completely the Syrian Christianity of Malabar. The chief results of this intolerant policy were a practical denial of justice to all non-Christians and the total annihilation of non-Christian population from Goa and other Portuguese towns.

The Portuguese Indian Church was organized under the guidance of St. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the Indies, who came to Goa with the Jesuits in A.D. 1542. To St. Xavier is due the conversion of the Paravars, the fishermen tribe who lived on the Coromandel Coast between Cape Comorin and Adam’s Bridge, as well as the Mukkuvas, the fishermen of the Malabar coast. St. Xavier also travelled to Malacca and Japan for this purpose. Before his death in A.D. 1552, he is said to have converted hundreds of thousands of men, who belonged mainly to the lowest classes of the population.

A. Background

In A.D. 1469, Ferdinand and Isabella were married thereby uniting the Iberian kingdoms (Spain and Portugal) of Aragon and Castile into Spain. In A.D. 1492, they expelled the Jews, many of whom then moved to other parts of Europe. Within five years, the anti-Judaism and the inquisition ideas were adopted in Portugal. Instead of another expulsion, the King of Portugal ordered the forced conversion of the Jews in A.D. 1497 and these were called New Christians or Crypto Jews. He stipulated that the validity of their conversions would not be investigated for two decades. In A.D. 1506 in Lisbon, there was a massacre of several hundred newly converted Jews or New Christians, instigated by the preaching of two Spanish Dominicans. (The Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order, is a Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish priest Dominic of Caleruega in France on 22nd December A.D. 1216.) Some persecuted Jews fled Portugal for the New World in the Americas while others went to Asia as traders, settling in India.