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How did the arrival of Portuguese traders in India affect our economy, politics, and culture?

Since ancient times, India has served as a melting pot for world cultures to mingle and interact. Throughout Indian history, various groups of people from different regions of the world have entered the Indian subcontinent and left their mark on the country's culture and heritage. Before the 15th century, most visitors to India came from Asia until the Portuguese trader Vasco Da Gama stepped on Indian soil in the summer of May 1498.

How did the Portuguese influence India?

Why did the Portuguese come to India, and how did they influence the country's political, economic, and cultural aspects? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

The Quest to Find the Sea Route to India

For centuries, Europe was a major importer of Indian goods such as spices, silk, calicoes, and precious stones. However, the fall of the Roman empire in the seventh century and the establishment of Arab empires in Egypt and Persia hampered the trade route to India. Since then, all Indian commodities had to be transported to European markets via Arab intermediaries who had a state monopoly on the Red Sea route. The Arabs also controlled the land trade routes to India. In such a scenario, Europeans were eager to find a direct sea route to India to break free from the Arab monopoly.

After several failed expeditions, the Portuguese finally succeeded in their endeavor when Vasco Da Gama set out for India in 1497 and arrived in Calicut (Kozhikode, Kerala) 11 months later, in 1498. The discovery of a direct sea route to India opened the way for European traders and altered the course of the country's history.

Portuguese Trade in India

For a long time, the trading parties in the Indian Ocean included numerous participants such as the Arabs, Indians, Africans, Chinese, and the Javanese. When the Portuguese traders arrived on the scene, they wished to dominate the profitable eastern trade by excluding all their competitors, especially the Arabs. They established several factories in India and received permission to fortify their centers under the guise of protecting their factories. The Portuguese traders in India led several naval battles to eliminate their competitors. The most notable is the one led by Francisco De Almeida in 1508 when he crushed the navies of Egyptians and Gujaratis to avenge the previous year's defeat.

However, it is Alfonso de Albuquerque who is considered to be the real founder of Portuguese power in the East. Some of the things he did during his time in India were:

- To establish Portuguese control over India, he built several bases overlooking all the major entrances to the Indian ocean.

- He introduced a permit system for other ships.

- He built several shipbuilding centers.

- He also acquired Goa from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510.

- He abolished Sati.

- To grow the Portuguese population in India, he encouraged his men to marry Indian women.

Religious Policy of the Portuguese State

When the Portuguese arrived in India, they had two goals in mind. The first objective was to monopolize Indian trade, and the second was to promote Christianity. They persecuted numerous Hindus and Muslims. Despite their intolerant behavior, the Jesuits held a favorable position in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar. The Jesuits made several attempts to convert Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahangir but failed to do so. However, two Mughal princes did briefly convert to Christianity. These were Jahangir’s nephews-Hushang Mirza (Don Henrique), Baisanghar (Don Carlos), and Tahmuras (Don Felipe). Akbar’s son, Murad, was also the first Mughal prince to have received education from Jesuit priests.

Due to their acts of piracy and slave trade, the Portuguese eventually lost favor in the Mughal court, particularly during the reign of Shah Jahan. The Portuguese were known to make money not only through trade but also through a cruel slave trade that involved buying Hindu and Muslim children and converting them to Christianity. For this purpose, they even kidnapped two slave girls from Shah Jahan's wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Finally, in the Siege of Hooghly, Shah Jahan's army defeated the Portuguese and took 400 prisoners who were given the choice of converting to Islam or becoming slaves.

Contributions of Portuguese Traders in India

The Portuguese had the greatest influence in Goa, which they ruled until 1961.

How did the Portuguese influence India?
Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Goa

Pork Vindaloo, a popular Gaon dish, is based on a Portuguese dish called 'Carne de Vinha d'Alhos,' which is made with meat, pork, wine, and garlic. The Vindaloo dish was revamped when it arrived in India, with the addition of various spices and chilies. Potatoes became an essential component of the dish as well.

Another pork dish known as 'sarapatel' is popular in both Portugal and Goa. The term 'sarapatel' literally means 'confusion,' which most likely refers to the dish's combination of ingredients. Kulkuls or kidyo is a Portuguese sweet eaten at Christmas by Goan and Mangalorean Catholics.

Bengali cuisine is also influenced by the Portuguese. Bandel cheese has been around since the late 16th century. It is believed that the art of cheese making was probably introduced by the Portuguese in the Bengal settlement of Bandel.

In terms of architecture, Indian territories such as Goa, Daman, and Diu continue to be heavily influenced by the Portuguese. Reports of the ruins of an ancient fort, thought to be the 500-year-old Fort Immanuel built by the Portuguese, have surfaced near the seashore in Kochi, Kerala. In 1599, the first Christian church in West Bengal was built on the banks of the Hooghly River. This is one of India's few basilicas, also known as the Basilica of the Holy Rosary and popularly known as the Bandel Church.

The Se Cathedral in Goa is Asia's largest church, built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. This church is a manifestation of the exquisite early Portuguese architecture in India, with 14 altars, eight chapels, and five bells. Another notable Portuguese gift is Goa's Basilica of Bom Jesus. It houses St. Francis Xavier's tomb and relics. The three-story building combines Doric, Corinthian, and Composite architectural styles. Every year on December 3, the church displays St. Francis Xavier's finger for public viewing.

Other important contributions of Portuguese include:

- Introduction of tobacco and cashew nut cultivation in India.

- In 1556, they established India's first printing press in Goa. The first scientific work published in Goa was 'The Indian Medicinal Plants' in 1563.

- Through the Cartaze System, they were the first to define 'How to Establish Maritime Trade and Supremacy over the Sea' (i.e. under this system, anyone who passes through the Portugal territories must buy permits, otherwise they are supposed to be captured.)

- They were the first Europeans to spread Christianity throughout India and Asia.

The Decline of Portuguese Power In India

The four major causes why the Portuguese control over India declined include:

- Intolerant religious policies and persecution and conversion of Hindus and Muslims.

- They engaged in dishonest trade practices and earned a reputation as sea pirates. This caused small states and the Mughals to go against them.

- International factors like the discovery of Brazil in the West diverted their attention.

- Rivalry with other European powers that had entered India after them.

Interestingly, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in India and the last to leave it (in 1961).

Akshita Rana is the chief editor at Pratha Cultural School


Akshita Rana

Pratha Editor-in-chief


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