India and European Colonialism - Portuguese




India and European Colonialism - Portuguese:

Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese seafarer reached the port of Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1498. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient. This is widely considered a milestone in world history, as it marked the beginning of a sea-based phase of global multiculturalism.Da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India opened the way for an age of global imperialism and enabled the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. Traveling the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the highly disputed Mediterranean and traversing the dangerous Arabian Peninsula. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.

Once landed on the Indian coasts the Portuguese did not take long to establish themselves in India. By the beginning of 16th century Portuguese had brought a considerable portion of the Indian coasts under their control.

The Portuguese, took advantage of the strained relations among various rulers in South India. They established their colonies on the western coast and built forts for their protection and used them to protect their colonies from external attacks and to reinforce them continuously with supplies by using seaways. The Portuguese naval force was very strong. They used to launch sudden attacks on their enemy’s territory from the sea and wreck it completely. The Indian local rulers could not match the Portuguese in their war tactics. Later, when they established their firm control on the Indian Ocean, it became necessary for the Indian rulers to get a license (Cartaz) from them for sailing on the Indian Ocean. Cartaz (plural cartazes, in Portuguese) was a naval trade license or pass issued by the Portuguese in the Indian ocean during the sixteenth century (circa 1502-1750), under the rule of the Portuguese empire. The British navicert system of 1939-45 shared similarities with it. Its name derives from the Portuguese term cartas meaning letters.

If the locals rulers dared to set out on the sea without a Portuguese license, the ships were either seized or sunk by force. The Portuguese had become so powerful that even the mighty Mughals, and the Sultanates in the south had to buy a license from them. By 1608, the Portuguese had their colonies on the western coast of India at Diu, Daman, Chaul, Goa (including Sashti and Bardesh), Honnavar, Gangoli, Basrur, Mangalore, Kannur, Kodungallur, Cochi and Kollam. Similarly on the eastern coast they had trader colonies at Nagpattinam, Mylapore (Mayilappore or also Sao Tome/ San Thom), and Hugli in Bengal. This stretch of the Portuguese Empire had its capital at Goa.

The Portuguese colonies had spread from Cape of Good Hope to Macau in China. They all were considered to be part of the Indian Empire of the Portuguese (Estado da India). There were several office holders appointed by the Portuguese king : ‘Vice-rei’ Capitaon-i-jaral’  (Viceroy and General of the Army) for 3 years tenure. There used to be an advisory board to assist the Vice-rei, which included the Archbishop (Arcebispo) of Goa, Judge (Chancellor), In-charge of Company’s possessions (Vedore da Fazenda), Captain (Capitaon) and a few aristocrats from Portugal. Vice-rei used to be the presiding head of this administrative set up.

In the earlier half of the 17th century five ships used to arrive every year in the Indian ports. These ships were equipped with canons. The Portuguese had ship building facilities at Goa, Diu and Daman. Durable teakwood of best quality, essential for building ships was available in these regions. The Portuguese used to deploy seamen from Portugal to India. In those times, Indian rulers did not maintain a naval force, therefore, Indian rulers found it difficult to fight the strong naval forces of the Portuguese. Only one exception was that of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who had built his own navy. The Dutch and the British defeated the Portuguese naval forces in the 17th century in the sea-battles.

The Portuguese prohibited building of any religions monument except churches in the Indian provinces under their rule. They also prohibited celebrations of religious festivals or wedding functions. The Portuguese rulers also tried to suppress the local languages. People were offered employment, with the intention to attract them to Christianity. In the beginning of their rule they made Goa a free port. That resulted in attracting traders from various countries to Goa.


The St. Francis Church:

The St. Francis Church, well-known for its beautiful architecture and ambience, is believed to be one of the oldest churches built by the Europeans in India.

The church’s history dates back to 1503. It owes its origin to the Portuguese Franciscan Friars, who reached Kochi along with Pedro Alvarez Cabral. The church, made of wood and mud, was situated in the middle of the fort that had been constructed by the Portuguese with the permission of the erstwhile Cochin Raja and it was dedicated to St Bartholomew. The church was reconstructed and reopened in 1516 and dedicated to the patron saint of Portugal, Santo Antonio, hence named Santo Antonio Church.

The church witnessed various European invasions and during the Dutch invasion of Kochi in 1663, it came under their possession. They converted it into their church by placing their communion table and rostrum furniture. They also constructed a Dutch cemetery adjacent to the church. In 1804, the Dutch surrendered the church to the Anglican Church following the British invasion of Kochi in 1795.  The church was renamed and renovated in 1886. The Church of South India (CSI) took over the administration and management of the church in 1949.

The famous explorer Vasco da Gama, the first Portuguese sailor to reach the shores of Kerala, died in 1524 during his third visit to Kochi. He was buried in this Church. After 14 years, his body was taken back to Portugal. His burial spot inside the church is clearly marked out and has drawn visitors ever since.

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