The Greater Portugal…

portuguese forts…
Right from early days, Portugal featured itself in diverse forms, in the names of many of my then friends and class mates, in architecture of houses, old buildings, churches and ruins of ancient forts around the school in Tangasseri, where I studied, extending through the history classes dwelling, inter alia, on expeditions of Bartholomew Diaz, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco-da-Gama, in the gradual realisation of cultural impact of the country in my native language of Malayalam, enriching its vocabulary with words such as pena for pen, kasera for chair, mesha for table, janaala for window, capitaan for captain, chaavi for key, chaaku for sack, veepa for barrel, isthiri for iron (….ing clothes), koppa for cup or dish, kalasam for trouser, thuvaala for towel, toppi for hat, kurishu for cross, althaara for altar, alamaara for cupboard, kappela for chapel, paathiri for priest, vikaari for vicar, kasuvandi for cashew, chai for tea, savaala for onion, kushini for kitchen, mesthiri for foreman, lelam for auction, paara for crowbar, raanthal for lantern, raathal for pound (measure of sixteen ounces), theeruva for customs duty, varaantha for corridor (list is only indicative and not exhaustive), in addition to flora and cuisine, introducing variety of as many as three hundred plants including chillies, pepper (thanks to the Portuguese, India is now the largest producer of cayenne pepper; USA comes second) beets, carrots, cashew, cherries, sapodilla, cocoa, corn, peanuts, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, custard apple, strawberries, sunflower, yeast, vinegar, pumpkin, potato, tomato, tobacco (India today is the world’s second largest producer of tobacco) etc and contributing items like puttu (popular breakfast fare made from rice flour and grated coconut steamed in a mould), fish molly or moi-lee and stew, to cite a few. While Magellan was the first explorer to successfully circumnavigate the earth, famously commenting, “The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow of the earth on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church”, Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India by sea, linking Europe and Asia for the first time by ocean route, as well as the Atlantic and Indian oceans entirely and definitively, and thereby, the west and the orient. Gama’s first expedition to India, landing at Kappad in Calicut (now Kozhikode) in 1498, is widely considered a milestone in world history, pioneering the wave of global multiculturalism.

Taking a gallop across peripheries of Indian history, it can be seen that the saga of Portuguese in India is by the far the longest, stretching over 450 years from beginning of 16th century all the way to 1961, when the Indian army wrested control of territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, still remaining with Portugal even after India’s independence, and the then Portuguese governor was reluctantly obliged to sign the Instrument of Surrender on 19th December 1961. The real situation, however, was that Portugal recognised Indian sovereignty only in 1975 after the Carnation Revolution and fall of Estado Novo regime. The State of India, formally, Estado da Índia Portuguesa, and commonly Portuguese India, was a colonial state of the Portuguese Empire, six years after discovery of the sea route between Portugal and India, to serve as plenipotentiary governing body of a string of Portuguese fortresses and colonies overseas. The first viceroy was Francisco de Almeida who established his headquarters in Cochin (Cochim). After 1510, the capital of Portuguese viceroyalty was transferred to Goa. Until the 18th century, the Portuguese governor in Goa had authority over all Portuguese possessions in the Indian Ocean, from southern Africa to south-east Asia. In 1752 Mozambique secured its own separate government and in 1844 the Portuguese Government of India stopped administering the territory of Macau, Solor and Timor, and its authority was confined to colonial holdings on the Malabar coast of India.

Moving farther afield in later years, the cultural heritage and footprint of Portugal, in keeping with aforementioned history, is visible all along the south-east and west coast of India, prominently in places such as Quilon (now Kollam), Cochin, Calicut (now Kozhikode), Cannanore (now Kannur) Mangalore, Goa and Mumbai (then Bombay). Portuguese were the first to establish bases in India starting from 16th century, followed by Dutch, Danes, French and British. True to their naval supremacy and maritime prowess, the Portuguese constructed forts at strategic locations alongside the west coast not only to safeguard their bases but also to monitor ocean going vessels and to serve as fresh water replenishment facilities for ships. The biggest such structure is the Fort Aguada in Goa, which I visited a few years ago. Built in the 17th century and also equipped with a lighthouse, Fort Aguada stands well preserved on Sinquerim beach overlooking the Arabian sea in north Goa. It was once the grandstand of 79 cannons. A freshwater spring within the fort provided water supply to the passing vessels, facilitated by a huge capacity to store nearly 2.4 million gallons of water, one of the biggest freshwater storages of the time in entire Asia, which is how the fort derived its name, as Aguada means water. The most prized and crucial fort of Portuguese, Aguada is so large that it envelopes the whole peninsula at the south western tip of Bardez, and served as the chief defense of Portuguese against the Dutch and Marathas.

There is a slice of Portugal in Ghodbundar, Thane where I presently live, which is 25 kms away from my place of work in Andheri, Mumbai. Called the Ghodbunder Fort, it is located in erstwhile Salcette island on a hill just south of the Ulhas river. Built by the Portuguese around the period of their arrival to Thane in 1530, it later became the seat of East India Company’s district headquarters. The place began to be called Ghodbunder as the Portuguese primarily used the area for trading horses (ghode) with the Arabs, hence ghode and bunder (port) conjoined became Ghodbunder. The Portuguese name for the fort was Cacabe de Tanna. They built a church close by which has since been converted to a hotel. The Portuguese were able to retain control of the fort till 1737, in spite of several attempts to capture the territory by Maratha forces of Shivaji. The Marathas, however, eventually succeeded when their army led by Chimnaji Appa besieged the fort and took it over from the Portuguese. In 1818, the British occupied the fort and made it headquarters of district administration for the East India Company, with a district collector stationed in Thane.

Situated nearly 39 kms away, stands the Forte de Bandora or Bandra Fort or Castella de Aguada (Portuguese for fort of the water-point). Castella is a corruption of Portuguese Castelo, meaning castle. Precisely located at Land’s End in Bandra, it was built by the Portuguese in 1640 as a watchtower overlooking Mahim Bay, Arabian Sea and southern island of Mahim. The strategic value of the fort stood enhanced in 1661, after the Portuguese ceded the seven islands of Bombay, (comprising Isle of Bombay, Colaba, Old Woman’s Island, Mahim, Mazagon, Parel and Worli; these islands were subsequently interconnected vide reclamations from sea to form the original city of then Bombay, or Bombaim in Portuguese), that lay to the south of Bandra to the British, as part of Catherine de Braganza’s dowry, when she married Charles II in 1661. As signified by the name Aguada, a freshwater spring within the Bandra Fort facilitated its serving as a watering point for ships; constructed in several layers, the fort ranges from sea level to an altitude of 24 metres. It guarded the northern sea route into Mumbai harbour and was armed with seven cannons and several smaller guns. The fort underwent a makeover in recent years facilitating preservation of the natural rock formations, provision of pathways and creation of an amphitheatre, and now serves as a venue for cultural celebrations.

The 29th November 2014 presented me with the opportunity to visit yet another unexplored region of Mumbai. Known as Vasai, it is a distant suburb of Mumbai, located around 75 kms away from city center and 40 kms from where I live. The compelling need was to catch up with one of my friends who had recently returned for good from Singapore. Thus there we were in Vasai, connecting with them after 15 years in what turned out to be another interesting slice of Portugal.

Vasai or Bassein Fort is a large fort in Vasai (see pics below) in Palghar district of Maharashtra. The name Bassein is the English version of Portuguese Bacaim (with ‘c’ pronounced as ‘s’ and ‘m’ remaining silent), itself presumably derived from Vasai, the original name of the place. The full name and style in Portuguese was Fortaleza de Sao Sebastiao de Bacaim or the Fort of Saint Sebastian of Vasai.

Exploring the north-west of India, Portuguese mariners discovered the Arab Sultanate of Khambat or Cambay (in the present day Gujarat coast) constructing the fort in early 1400s and attacked it with intent to seize it; though initial efforts were unsuccessful, they finally succeeded and the fort was ceded to Portugal by the Treaty of Saint Matthew signed on the Portuguese brig Sao Matteus, anchored at the Vasai harbour. Under Portugal, the fort was the Northern Court or “Corte da Norte“, second only to the city of Goa, functioning as headquarters of Captain of the North. For 150 odd years, the presence of the Portuguese made the surrounding area a vibrant and opulent city. As such it was the capital of Portuguese possessions on the coast north of Goa, over places such as Chaul-Revdanda, Karanja Island, the Bombay Archipelago, islands of Bandra, Juhu and Salsette including the city of Thane, Dharavi Island, the Vasai archipelago itself, Daman, Diu, and other Portuguese holdings extending up the coasts to Pakistan, Oman, the UAE, Iran, and other parts of Persian Gulf. The ethnic community locally known in Bombay region as the “East Indians” (sic) were called “Norteiro” (Northernmen) after the Court of the North functioning out of the fort.

In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by the Maratha army under the able command of Peshwa Baji Rao’’s brother Chimaji Appa (see attached pic), after a three-year-long campaign, known as the Battle of Vasai of 1739. The British shortly attacked and took over the territory from Marathas as the price for supporting one faction of Marathas against the other. The ramparts overlook what is alternatively called the Vasai Creek and the Bhayander Creek Several watch-towers still stand, with safe stairways leading up. The Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins, although there are enough standing walls to enable figuring out the floor plans of these structures. Some have well-preserved facades; many of the arches have remarkably withstood the ravages of time. They are usually decorated with carved stones, some weathered beyond recognition, others still displaying sharp chisel marks. Three chapels inside the fort are still recognisable. They have facades typical of 17th-century Portuguese churches. The southernmost of these has a well preserved barrel-vaulted ceiling. Besides the structures, the flora and fauna around the fort provide a really scenic setting. It is a great place to observe a variety of plants and trees, butterflies and birds.

The imprint of Portuguese is not merely confined to forts, the languages and culture of south-east and western regions of India. Its sphere of influence extended to religion and education, to the spread of Roman Catholicism through construction of churches and by diffusion through social intermingling and commercial interactions with local communities. The number of Portuguese troops garrisoning the string of forts and manning the fleets which annually cruised against pirates and invaders was never more than a few thousand. But behind them was the much larger body of settlers, the casados or married men, who from Afonso de 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 supporting local 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.

Spurred by vastness of Asian seascape, the Portuguese used their superior skills at sea to establish and promote new patterns of trade. With their trade between Lisbon and Goa, the Portuguese initiated the major commercial revolution that culminated in 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, all totally new markets. Initially the use of the Cape route to India by the Portuguese 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 in rigging and cordage, there was systematic planting of coconut groves. Moreover, in the weaving areas of Gujarat, Coromandel 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 and some re-export of cloth for the Negro slaves in the colonies. The burgeoning demand situations in world market and consequent rise in prices stimulated 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.

Other beneficiary areas were the flora and languages of India. In the island of Goa and adjacent Bardes and Salcette, 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 local Konkani and Marathi languages in missionary and pastoral work. The Archbishop in 1812 followed this up by making it mandatory for children in the parish schools to talk only in Portuguese during school hours. In the other settler areas, too, in the Province of the North, at Mangalore and Cochin, located south of Goa, and even around Nagapatanam on the east coast, Portuguese influence seeped into local languages.

The cultural heritage of India was enriched in the field of music, dance and other forms of art as the Portuguese missionaries and the Church were also teachers and patrons of painting, carving, and sculpting. They were the interpreters, not narrowly of Portuguese, but of European art to India. Post the establishment of their royal factory in Antwerp, Portugal itself was strongly exposed to the influence of Flemish and Italian art. Portuguese India was thus heir to many artistic traditions. Additionally, Goa was a centre of the silversmith’s and goldsmith’s art and thus the hub of elaborate filigree work, fretted foliage work and bejewelled work on metals. Despite their wealth of woodwork and sculpture, further enlivened perhaps by painted ceilings, the interiors of churches in Portuguese India were generally simple in their architectural plans, with square apse and usually aisle-less nave. Any architectural embellishment, 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 today the most visible facets of Portuguese India.

The Madh Fort was another prominent fortification in Salsette. Built in 1575 by the Portuguese Jesuits, the St. Andrews Church and the Mount Mary’s Basilica in Bandra, the 1632 built Gloria Church in Mazagaon and the remnants of a church in Santa Cruz mostly constitute places of worship that have survived till today. The natural advantages of Bombay aroused the cupidity of the British, who recognized its value as a naval base. In November 1612, the British fought the Battle of Swally (anglicised form of Suvaly, a village near Surat in present-day Gujarat) with the Portuguese for the possession of Bombay. The British emerged victorious in the battle, and the defeat of Portuguese was a significant event marking the decline of their commercial monopoly over western India. It was armed with seven cannons and other smaller guns as defence. This relatively small naval battle is historically important as it also initiated the steadily increasing presence of the East India Company in India. This battle also convinced the British East India Company to establish a modest navy to safeguard their commercial interests from other European powers and also from pirates. It is generally inferred that the roots of modern Indian Navy trace its beginnings to this event.

Transitioning from ports and forts in Bombay to the southern most region of India, we can see St Francis Xavier’s Church in Cochin. It is a landmark edifice constructed by the Portuguese in the year 1503, where the body of legendary Vasco da Gama was originally buried (see attached pics).

Yet another revered legacy of Portugal down south of India is the Velankanni church, located in Nagapattinam district in the state of Tamil Nadu. Built in Gothic style, it lies on the Coromandel coast of the Bay of Bengal, 350 kms south of Madras (now Chennai). Velankanni or Virgin of Velai, the site at which mother Mary is said to have appeared in front of a shepherd boy in the 16th century, is popularly known as the ‘Lourdes of the East’. The founding of the church is attributed to three miracles, the aforementioned incident being the first. The other two miracles are indicated to be the divine mother’s appearance at same site for curing a lame vendor and survival of Portuguese sailors caught in a violent storm at the nearby sea. The church was elevated to the status of basilica by Pope John XXIII in 1962. My visit to Velankanni was way back in 1986 with a Christian friend of mine. The spiritual vibration I experienced, upon sighting the sublimely serene image of mother Mary holding infant Jesus, is beyond words.

Shifting direction back to south-west coast, the Milagres Church in Mangalore, located north of Cochin, is another cherished memory. I used to travel regularly from Bombay to Mangalore during early part of my career and I used to be in Mangalore on slightly longer schedules to handle vessels calling at the sea port in Mangalore. And there I was, attending the midnight mass on 24th December 1978 at Milagres with a few of my friends, with my young spirits buoyed up by imbibing it at a late night dinner at nearby Lawnsway. Igreja Nossa Senhora do Milagres or Church of Our Lady of Miracles (see pic below), Milagres is a historic Roman Catholic Church in the city center of Mangalore. The church was built in 1680 by Bishop Thomas de Castro, a Theatine from Goa, on land gifted by Queen Chennamma of the then Keladi kingdom. In 1763, the region came under Hyder Ali and thereafter, in 1782, was under the suzerainty of his son Tipu Sultan. Believing that local Christians had conspired with the British to plot his defeat during the second Anglo-Mysore War, Tipu captured around 60,000 Mangalorean Catholics on 24th February 1784 and mercilessly herded them to his capital at Seringapatam and, in the same year, destroyed 27 churches including the Milagres. Hence the structure that stands today is the one restored subsequently after Tipu was killed by British during the fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799.
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In Goa there is the Basilica of Bom Jesus ( Portuguese: Basílica do Bom Jesus); designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jesuit church is India’s first minor basilica and is considered to be one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India. It is a landmark in the history of Christianity as it contains the over 400 years old non-decomposed body of St. Francis Xavier, a very close associate of St.Ignatius Loyola, with whom he founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), a missionary group that contributed significantly to the field of education by setting up schools and colleges across India.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, commonly known as Mount Mary Church (see pics below), is a Roman Catholic Basilica situated in Bandra, Mumbai. It stands on a hillock, about 80 metres above sea level overlooking the Arabian Sea. Although the current church edifice is just 100 years old, the history surrounding statue of Our Lady goes back to the 16th century when Jesuit

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photo (29) photo (31) photo (30) photo (35) (at Amigo restaurant, Vasai with the Pereiras)
priests from Portugal brought the statue to the current location and constructed a chapel. In the early eighteenth century, Arab pirates ransacked the area and disfigured the statue. In 1760, the church was rebuilt and the statue was substituted with a icon of Our Lady of Navigators from nearby St. Andrew’s church. The earlier statue has since been restored, appropriately installed in the sanctified apse of the basilica. The place has a syncretised aura as people of all faiths can be seen here. My spiritual urges during last several years, to spend time in tranquil contemplation, have, on numerous occasions, taken me to the Lady of the Mount(see attached pics).

As hinted at the beginning, this account is nothing more than vignettes of a few of the colourful episodes adorning the glorious saga of Estado da Índia Portuguesa. The Portugal of today is just a small country of less than eleven million people, and Portugalicia as a concept may be limited to Galicia, Olivenza, Extremadura, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe. But starting from 15th century, with the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the handover of Macau in 1999 or grant of sovereignty to East Timor in 2002, the empire stretched vastly across territories that are now 53 different sovereign states retaining a legacy of over 250 million people speaking the language in its entirety and numerous others in creoles. Filling in all of six centuries, it is the first and the longest lasting global empire in history.


27 thoughts on “The Greater Portugal…

    • Agree with you Maria; Portugal is bound to be beautiful given the global impact of their contributions. In India, only the British influence and contributions are normally acknowledged probably because they were the last to leave India. While the British contribution is significant, the fact is they built on Portuguese groundwork..

  1. Thank you for sharing so much information and lovely pictures. I’d love to see Portugal someday because I’ve read a lot of the history but didn’t realize how far their reach was in the early days.

  2. I enjoyed learning about the Portuguese history and your own related experiences, Raj. I opened up the attachment you’ve linked at the start of the post too and those photos are wonderful. I became close to a Portuguese family many years ago and enjoyed hearing their descriptions of their homeland. I find your post educational and a wonderful tribute to the empire! Wishing you a lovely weekend ahead, my friend.

  3. What an interesting journey you have taken your reader on.. Portugal is a place I have not visited or India Although I have been to Sri Lanka in the 90’s on Business.
    Many thanks for sharing the photo’s too.. I always find the Cathedrals and Church’s beautiful as their artwork is exquisite..

    Thank you for sharing your journey and background into the History
    Blessings for a Peaceful weekend

    • Thanks sue….pity u returned without seeing at least a part of India after having come up to Sri Lanka. Let us wish it happens at some point in future. Wishing a great weekend to u too…best wishes…Raj .

      • Wish that I could have done that.. But the schedule was one made by my company and the London Chamber of Commerce which I was part of at that time. But from what I saw it is a beautiful place and I have several WP friends from India who have shared some of it with me..
        Thank you again Raj for taking me upon a visual journey and learning about a new place for me..
        Blessings for your weekend

  4. Very interesting, Raj. I didn’t know about Portugal’s influence in India. I only knew they had colonies in Africa, South America, and Asia. It’s amazing for such a small country to have been so powerful at one time. Times sure have changed. I visited Portugal in 2011, and people there told me that many people are going to the former colonies for work (Angola especially), because the economic situation in Portugal is so bad.

  5. Agree with you Julie , times change . The power and riches that were with europe once upon a time , shifted to americas , which is now shifting to asia ; the next shift , even though slow in coming , may be to africa . I hope to pass through portugal some day , as I am told it is a beautiful country…

  6. How fascinating Portugal is with centuries of history still alive within! Thank you for educating me, Raj, as I hardly know anything of this most beautiful land far, far away from me. Your descriptive words together with the most beautiful photographs help me feel as though I can almost reach out to touch small pieces of it, feeling textures of crumbling brick or stone. Someday, perhaps I will in real life. For now, my imagination will have to do…helped greatly by you! Happy Holidays to you and your family, Raj. Many blessings too.

  7. Compliments Raj on a brilliant well researched article and the images. Goa and Mumbai being familiar places I never gave much thought to the powerful impact of Portugal. In Goa many of the names of places and the Cathedrals are unmistakably Portuguese but now the historical significance of Mumbai names such as Ghodbunder, Bandra, Santacruz and so on become more fascinating.

    Many thanks and regards!

  8. Hi Raj
    What an interesting and fascinating historical link! I didn’t realise the empirical rule of Portugal lasted that long in India. What this wonderful piece of history you’ve written demonstrates how empires rise and fall, yet they leave legacies behind, be in it in buildings, produce or cultural influences.
    Thank you for the amazing insight into India’s and Portugal’s history.
    Luciana 😀
    Happy season’s greetings to you and your family and a peaceful 2015.

    • Thanks Sue…while you have already been there and done that, as far as Lisbon goes, my feel of greater Portugal would be complete when I get to see the place. I hope to make it happen soonest…

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