The Flight of Gods 2. The Portugese Episode

The Flight of Gods


“Almas e especiaria” (We come to seek Christians and Spices) said Vasco da Gama, who landed at Kappad beach near Calicut in 1498 after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the first to negotiate the sea route from Europe to India. Following his epic voyage, the Portugese built bases at Anjediva Island near Goa and at Cannanore.
Portugal was the first European country to establish its colonial presence in India and the last to leave its shores. They were ruthless conquerors and proselytism was their main aim. They came “Cujus regio, illius religio” – Sword in one hand and the Cross in the other – a policy of fanatical evangelisation especially after the introduction of the “rigour of mercy” (rigor de misericordia) in 1541.
Memorial to Vasco da Gama at Kappad Beach, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai
Afonso Albuquerque succeeded in capturing the island of Ilhas (Tiswadi) with 20 ships and 1200 men after two attempts a bitter fight with the forces of Adil Shah. His main collaborators were Timaji, the Vijayanagar Admiral and Mhall Pai Vernekar, the Sardesai of Verna. It was at the invitation of Goan Hindus that Afonso Albuquerque decided to attack Goa. The Hindus were considerably disturbed by the activities of the Navayats who were brought by Adil Shah to Goa from Honavar and Bhatkal and who indulged in frequent acts of harrassment against the local Hindus. The militarygovernors under the Mohamedans, themselves local men, called the Desais were hated for their autocratic behaviour, which wen as far as forcing their formal equals to work as menials in the household, and treating the communal land as feudal if not private property. Afonso Albuquerque, during this attack put to death over 6,000 Muslims without showing any mercy..By 1543, the Portugese had annexed from the Bijapuris the adjoining lands of Bardez in the north and Salcete in the south. These three territories of the Ilhas (Tiswadi), Bardez and Salcete were designated as the “Old Conquests”.
Blue-tiled murals which line the entrance hall of the Menezes BraganzaInstitute. It’s a uniquely Portugese art form ‘azulezos’ which depictscenes from the great poem by Luis de Camos, ‘The Lusiads’ whichtells the story of the adventure of the Portugese Empire in the east.
It was not until 1764 that the ruler of Sonda threatened by the invasion of Hyder Ali, sought an asylum with the Portugese and placed his territories of Ponda, Sanguem, Ouepem and Canacona in the custody of the Portugese. Between 1781 and 1788 the Portugese succeededin negotiating and acquiring the northern areas of Pernem, Bicholim and Sattari from Bhonsales of Sawantwadi. Thus by 1788 the present boundaries of Goa were in place under the Portugese.
The proselytising of the local Hindus began in real earnest with the appointment of Miguel Vaz Coutinho as the Vicar-General of Goa in1941 who is credited withthe launching of concentrated and oppressive attacks on the local Hindus. Their temples destroyed, lands confiscated and their revenues and the material of the destroyed temples made available for the construction of churches and other ‘pious’ works. Again the decree of 1559 sanctioned the emolition of Hindu temples and idols, prohibited making of such images, banned the celebration of Hindu feasts, prohibited cremation of the Hindu dead and exiled Hindu priests.In 1560, ‘celebrating’ fifty years of Portugese occupation, the horrors of the Inquisition were inflicted on Goa. Described as “the Terrible Tribunal for the East”, the inquisition brought in its wake a fresh wave of religious persecution for the Hindus who were forced to convert or be damned to a life of harassment or emigration and as a result rapid and extensive conversions were achieved. Many were converted by fear of physical force, others from moral cowardice and quite a few to avoid loss of their property. This caused a general emigration of higher caste Hindus, and the tradition was that one brother of an extensive joint family would stay behind to be converted with his wife and children, for the sake of the land, while the rest fled.
This led to a breakup of what would have been the final type of patriarchal family. But the subsidiary effect was curious, in that henceforth Goa had “Brahmin Christians” and Christians of lower castes, the caste mechanism having been transferred in its essence to a casteless religion. Between 1541 and 1568 all the existing Hindu temples in the Ilhas, Bardez and Salcete were completely destroyed by the Portugese and according to the record there were 116 temples in the Ilhas, 176 in Bardez and 264 in Salcete. The Arch of the Viceroys, which once was the main gateway to the city was built by Vasco da Gama’s great-grandson. On taking office, all Viceroys made their processional entrance with great ceremony through this archway where they were presented with the keys of the city.

The Arch of the Viceroys , Old Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

By the end of the sixteenth century all the villages in the “old Conquest” had become Catholic. The Hindus remained only in the townships. There was an exodus of the Hindus. Thousands of families fled from the horrors to the areas outside the Portugese control to the northern Konkan and to the southern coast and settled down all along the coast in the towns of Karwar, Gokarna, Kumta, Honavar, Bhatkal, Kasargod, Calicut and Cochin.
At the end of the seventeenth century it is estimated that out of a total population of two hundred fifty thousand in the Old Conquests, only twenty thousand were non-Christians. These included a large number of traders and visitors who were in Goa for temporary stays.
The Portugese would have continued this fanatical evangelism movement relentlessly till the total extermination of the non-Christians was achieved but for the rapid collapse of Portugal’s eastern commercial empire with its inevitable effect on Goa which faced moral and economic decadence and the initial religious zealotory of the missionaries considerably abated especially when Marquis de Pombal, the liberal Prime Minister came to power there was definite change in the policy towards the Hindus and he even banished the Jesuits. A number of Hindu families who had fled the old conquests returned during this period. But, by the 19th century, both the ruling country and the colony had become archaic survivors.
Buddhism came to Goa in 2nd century BC and the reference to Goa in the Buddhist documents is made as ‘Suvarnabhumi’ and ‘Sunaparanta’ meaning the ‘Land of Gold. The Portugese did not create the “Golden Goa”. On the contrary it was the prosperity, opulence and fabulous wealth of an already legendary “Golden Goa” that drew them to possess it. Goa was already a fabled realm around which “ Tales from the Arabian Nights” were woven. When the Portugese came, the city and port had shifted to the north, to the banks of the Mandovi. But by all accounts, it was by then even more important and splendidly prosperous. Goa had remained a major entrepot for centuries – under the Kadambas, under Vijayanagar and under the Bahamanis. Ships still sailed from Sumatra (even China), Aden and Hormuz. Overland caravans brought the fabled riches of the central and south India from Devgiri (Daulatabad) and Vijayanagar(Hampi) to be traded for horses and muskets.
With the Portugese came mal-administration, rampant corruption, religious bigotry and brutal persecution. The public treasury was depleted and consuming public epidemics and perhaps more than anything else, the forced conversions and the black practices of the Goa Inquisition hastened the end of prosperity and the “Golden Goa”.
During the seventeenth century the religious fervour was at its peak showing no signs of flagging, in the face of degeneration in other aspects of Goan life. It was a ‘museum’ of 16th century imperialism, more plentifully supplied with churches than trade and with monks than soldiers. With progressive deterioration in civil administration, the ‘monks’ assumed considerable importance and influence, and the conversion process continued with frentic vigour. A great surge of ecclesiastical building had followed the arrival of the religious orders after 1540 and religious fervor backed by the accumulated wealth of Goa’s commercial heyday, now carried this architectural exuberance throughout the period of economic and political disarray on even a grander scale than before. This was the time when the great churches of Goa were completed and the city itself continued to present a brave social front, flaunting ostentation and luxury in defiance of economic circumstances.

Se Cathedral, Old Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Se Cathedral is one of the largest in Asia and took nearly 90 years for completion after the church was ordered to be built by the King of Portugal in 1562. This was the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in Asia inthe 16th and 17th centuries. It was built in the Renaissance style with some traces of Portugese Gothic. The famous “Golden Bell”, the largest bell in Goa is housed here.
The ‘gold’ of Goa Dourada refers not only to the sixteenth century glitter of churches and the prosperity of city of Goa but to its being European – the ‘Rome of the East’ possessing distinctly Lusitanian flavour. But the real Goa was ‘Goa Indica’, an essentially the eastern looking mode of cultural expression that sought religious, cultural and economic affiliation to the mainstream India.
Goa continued to languish under the Portugese colonial rule as a decadent province with a ruined economy and they did little besides maintaining order. Economic development was minimal, educational opportunities were lacking for the majority of people and political liberties lagged far behind those in the British territories across the border. These conditions turned Goa into a land from which its people migrated and went into exile and sought work and higher education in Bangalore, Belgaum, Calcutta, Karachi and above all, Bombay. Many Goans moved out of India to British colonies in East Africa and onto passenger ships as stewards, cooks and crew.
Portugal became a Republic in 1910 which liberated the Hindus of Goa from centuries of discrimination and repression. Immediately they flooded into schools, formed associations, started journals and libraries and took active role in public life as teachers, members of government councils and administrative officials. But by the year 1926 Salazar regime was established and this imposed fresh restrictions.
After World War II, Portugal tried to hold on to the fragments of her Indian empire By belatedly encouraging industries like mining and by turning Goa into a duty-free port.
The Portugese colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu were finally liberated from the decadent colonialism by Indian armed forces on December 19, 1961. The Portugese had clung to these pockets for 451 years.
In the year 1851 the Christian population of Goa amounted to 64.5%, mostlyThe converted masses from the Old Conquests. By the year 1910 the Christian and the Hindu population were almost equal (50% each). In 2003 Hindus areIn majority (66%) followed by the Christians (26%) and Muslims (7%).
The major Hindu groups are represented by the Brahmin communities (Gaud Saraswats, Karhade, Padhye, Battaprabhu, etc.), Shets (Goldsmiths), Vaishyas(Vanis), Ksahtriyas, Guravs and a large population of the original Pre-Dravidian and Dravidian settlers represented by Gauddes, Kulawadis, Kharvis, Kulambis(Kunbis), Velips, Dhangars, Gavlis. Mhars, etc. who were absorbed into Hinduism.
These tribes made Goa a place of rich and Vibrant culture as represented by ‘Gaunkaris’, their folk dances and songs like the Gaudde Jagor, Kunbi Naach, Dhalo, Gudulyan geet, Perni Jagor and their folk deities – Vetal and Santer cults which are the original cults of Gauddes and Kunbis.
by Mohan Pai

0 Responses to “The Flight of Gods 2. The Portugese Episode”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog Stats

  • 79,186 hits

%d bloggers like this: