(Last Updated on : 18/08/2009)
The turn of the fifteenth century witnessed two invaders who approached India, namely, the Portuguese by sea and the Mughals by land. Both initiated great and lasting changes. But whereas the Mughal contribution, political, administrative, and cultural, has been justly appreciated, that of the Portuguese has been both undervalued. In popular mythology the Portuguese contribution to India has often seemed narrowed down to just two personages viz. Vasco da Gama, dauntless navigator and to Europeans discoverer of India, and Albuquerque, the creator by terror and the sword of a brief sea-borne Portuguese empire in Asia.
Within fifty years of Vasco da Gamas arrival the Portuguese had occupied some sixty miles of coast around Goa
, with territories stretching up to thirty miles inland. Northwards from Mumbai
to Damao, the key, with Diu
across the Gulf, to the approaches to rich Gujarat
, they occupied a still larger though narrower tract with four important ports and several hundred towns and villages. Southwards they held a long loosely linked chain of seaport fortresses and trading-posts like Onor, Barcelor, Mangalore
, Cannanor, Cranganor, Cochin, and Quilon. But though their power in Malabar was more fragmented, it was sufficient, when supplemented by judicious subsidies, to ensure influence or control over the local rulers who were masters of the pepper, ginger, and cinnamon lands. Even on the east coast at Negapatam and San Thome further military posts and settlements were created, while, as the sixteenth century drew to a close, a wealthy settlement grew up at Hoogli in West Bengal
and direct Portuguese rule was established over the lowlands of Ceylon.
The Estado da India (State of the Portuguese India) was thus a larger element in the Indian state system than is sometimes recalled. The Portuguese early abandoned that Western attitude which had denied membership of the community of states to non-Christian powers, recognizing that the Persians, Mughals, and Deccanis were most powerful nations, politic, well trained in war. Equally, Indian governors and rulers soon gave their recognition to the Estado as a settled and accepted presence. Envoys and resident ambassadors were exchanged between Goa and most of the major States of India
. Treaties with Goa concluded by Deccan Sultans in 1570 were regularly renewed as long as their kingdoms lasted. In the successive balances of power struck between Vijayanagara
and the Deccan sultans, between the Deccanis and the Mughals, between the Mughals and the Marathas, the Portuguese were always one element, thrown in upon the weaker side.
The Portuguese power in India was also notably long-lasting. The number of European troops garrisoning the string of forts and manning the fleets which annually cruised against pirates and smugglers was never more than a few thousand. But behind them was the much larger body of settlers, the casados or married men, who from Albuquerque's day had been encouraged to take local wives. In Goa and the Province of the North they established themselves as village landlords; often improving landlords, building new roads and irrigation works, introducing new crops like tobacco and cashew nut, or superior plantation varieties of coconut. In the larger cities, Goa and Cochin especially, they settled as artisans and master-craftsmen. And everywhere they were traders. Such men, holding villages for three lives or organized in guilds, felt, and were, established.
As said by Van Diemen, a Dutch governor, most of the Portuguese in India look upon this region as their fatherland, and think no more about Portugal. They drive little or no trade thither, but content themselves with the port-to-port trade of Asia, just as if they were natives thereof and had no other country. Their permanent presence was instrumental in establishing Portuguese cultural influence. But with their families, their often considerable bodies of household slaves, and the horsemen or musketeers which as landowners they were required to maintain. They defeated a most determined, lengthy, conjoint attack by the sultans of Bijapur
and the Zamorin of Calicut in 1569. It was with their aid that the loose-knit Province of the South survived for over 150 years, Malabar only falling finally to the Dutch in 1663 after a four-year siege of Cochin. And equally it was because they were fighting for their homes that the Portuguese in the Province of the North, the real settler country, held out still longer against Maratha attack, only surrendering after a most desperate defense of Bassein in May 1739. It was almost in the fitness of things that when Goa, Damso, and Diu
were overrun by the Indian army in 1961, they were the last foreign possessions in the continent.
The Portuguese were certainly ready to use force where it would pay. But their numbers were small, and their technical superiority much less considerable than was once supposed. In Malabar and Ceylon in the sixteenth century their use of body armour, of matchlock men, of guns landed from the ships, might be a military innovation. The Portuguese may have contributed by example to the Mughal use of field guns, the artillery of the stirrup. The one major military contribution made by the Portuguese ashore was the system of drilling bodies of infantry, grouped and disciplined upon the Spanish model, introduced in the 1630s as a counter to Dutch pressure. Taken up first by the French and English, then by the Marathas and Sikhs, such sepoy armies became new instruments of empire in India.
At sea the Portuguese were more clearly carriers of improved techniques. The heavier construction of their multi-decked ships, designed to ride out Atlantic gales rather than run before the regular monsoons, permitted a heavier armament. Their use of castled prow and stern, an admirable device for repelling or launching boarding parties, was also new. Indian builders adapted both to their own use. But some of the Portuguese lead was organizational as in the creation of royal arsenals and dockyards, the maintenance of a regular system of pilotage and cartography, or the pitting of organized state forces against private merchant shipping. Their legacy here was partly secured, it may be thought, by the Mughals and Marathas but the more certain heirs were other Europeans, the Dutch and English, in Asia.
The Portuguese used their real superiority at sea, limited though it always was by the very vastness of the ocean world which had opened up to them in Asia, to establish new patterns of trade. With their trade between Lisbon and Goa the Portuguese initiated that major commercial revolution which ended in the effective incorporation of India, indeed, of all Asia, into a single global system of exchange. By way of Lisbon, India was also linked with the Portuguese colony of Brazil and with their settlements in West Africa, totally new markets. Initially the use by the Portuguese of the Cape route to India was followed by some dislocation of existing routes from India to southern Europe via the Levant. In Malabar the cultivation of pepper, the old staple of trade with Europe, and of ginger and cinnamon, was extended almost to its natural limits. Also, to meet the enlarged demand for coir rigging and cordage, there was a systematic planting of coconut groves. Moreover, in the weaving areas of Gujarat
, and West Bengal
the first ripples were felt of what was to become in the late seventeenth century a wave of demand from Europe for cotton textiles, mainly for household use still, rather than dress, but with some re-export of cloth for the Negro slaves in the colonies. Due to the world market situations, the rise of price followed and this helped to stimulate Indian production and trade. The Portuguese not only linked India with Europe, Africa, and the Americas, they also tied India more closely and effectively to other Asian markets. At the same time individual Portuguese merchants and ship-masters, often in conjunction with Indian partners, penetrated to all corners of the Indian Ocean and China Sea on smaller trading ventures.
Some other benefits that India enjoyed were the floras and the languages of India. In the island of Goa and adjacent Bardes and Salsette the Portuguese language itself was ultimately entrenched. For a while the need to reach out to the Hindu population, and to instruct and confess converts to Christianity
, led the Provincial Councils to stress the importance of Konkani and Marathi in missionary and pastoral work. The Archbishop in 1812 followed this up by requiring that children in the parish schools should talk only Portuguese during school hours. In the other settler areas, too, in the Province of the North, at Mangalore
and Cochin south of Goa, and even around Negapatam on the east coast, Portuguese Natural language appeared.
During the rule of the Portuguese in India, the cultural heritage of India improved in the field of music, dance and some other forms of art. The missionaries and the Church were also teachers and patrons in India of the arts of the painter, carver, and sculptor. As in music, moreover, they were the interpreters, not narrowly of Portuguese, but of European art to India. Portugal itself after the establishment of the royal factory in Antwerp was strongly exposed to the influence of Flemish and thence of Italian art. Portuguese India was thus heir to many artistic traditions. Moreover, Goa was a centre of the silversmiths and goldsmiths art and thus the hub of elaborate filigree work, fretted foliage work and bejeweled work on metals. Despite their wealth of woodwork and sculpture, further enlivened perhaps by painted ceilings, church interiors in Portuguese India were generally simple in their architectural plan, with square apse and usually aisle less nave. Any architectural embellishment that there was, other than the attachment of chapels, lay in such surface designs as the shell-capped niche. The churches, with their European architecture, music, sculpture, and painting, are the aspect of Portuguese India most plainly visible today.
The Portuguese brought their religion with them and though they were not tolerant of the Muslim religion, they were quite liberal to the Hindu religion. But with the time, after the arrival of the Inquisition in Goa, this liberal mentality towards the Hindu religion faded. The demolition of several Hindu temples stands evidence of that fact. During the 17th century, as a result of numerous military losing to the Dutch and the British, the commercial port of Goa went worse. Later, the spice trade came under the control of Dutch and Goa was superseded by Brazil as the economic centre of overseas empire of Portugal. After two naval assaults, in 1683 Goa was invaded by the Maratha power.
Being threatened by and getting involved in various frontier wars, the need of the expansion of their control was felt and they extended their control over Bicholim, Ponda, Quepem, Pernem, Sanguem, Canacona, and Satari. Later, in these consequences, all the religious orders were banned but the Hindus were allowed to continue practicing their religion without any interruption from either side.