The Paravars: Chapter 8 – Arrival of the Portuguese in India


Myself

 

 

 

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 7 – The Hazardous Occupation of Harvesting Pearl Oysters

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For decades, Europeans including the Portuguese were looking for a sea route to India from Europe while encountering attacks from the Islamic naval forces, losing thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks. The Red Sea trade route was monopolised by Islamic rulers from which they earned immense revenues. In the fifteenth century, the mantle of Christendom’s resistance to Islam fell on the Portuguese who had inherited the Genoese tradition of exploration.

Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) was obsessed with the idea of finding a sea route from one ocean to another. He was also keen to find a way to circumvent the Muslim domination of the eastern Mediterranean and all the routes that connected India to Europe.

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Pope Nicholas V by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

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In 1454, the stage was set for the Portuguese incursions into the waters surrounding India when Pope Nicholas V conferred a papal bull on Henry which gave him the right to navigate the “sea to the distant shores of the Orient”, more specifically “as far as India”, whose inhabitants were to be brought to help Christians “against the enemies of the faith”. And the pagans, wherever they might be who were “not yet afflicted with the plague of Islam” were to be given the “knowledge of the name of Christ.” By the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), all new territories were divided between Spain and Portugal.

In 1487, the Portuguese navigator, Bartholomew Dias, rounded the “Cape of Good Hope”, and so opened the sea route to India.

On July 8, 1497, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (c. 1460s – December 24, 1524), left Lisbon. with a fleet of four ships and a crew of 170 men. On May 20, 1498, his fleet arrived in Kappadu near Kozhikode (Calicut) on Malabar Coast. He was the first European mariner to reach India by sea.

The sovereign of Calicut, Manavikraman Raja, the Saamoothiri (or Zamorin) of Kozhikode (Calicut), greeted Vasco da Gama with traditional hospitality, that included a grand procession of at least 3,000 armed Nairs.

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) is received by Manavikraman Raja, the Saamoothiri (or Zamorin) of Kozhikode (Calicut)
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama  is received by Manavikraman Raja, the Saamoothiri (or Zamorin) of Kozhikode (Calicut). Illustration from “The History of China and India”, by Miss Corner, (Dean and Co, London, 1847). (Credit: Heritage Images)

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Vasco da Gama brought gifts from King Dom Manuel of Portugal to the Zamorin: four capotes or cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares (we do not know what those were; might have been a veils with fringes used to decorate altars), a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey. There was no gold or silver.

The Zamorin and his court roared with laughter at the trivial gifts offered by the Portuguese. The Muslim merchants in Calicut who considered the Portuguese as their rival suggested that Vasco da Gama was just an ordinary pirate and not a royal ambassador.

Despite the objections of the Arab merchants who were already trading in Calicut, Gama managed to secure a letter of concession for trading rights from the Zamorin. However, Vasco da Gama’s request to leave a factor behind him in charge of the merchandise he could not sell was turned down by the Zamorin who instead ordered that da Gama pay customs duty in gold like any other trader.

The Zamorin’s officials detained a few Portuguese agents of da Gama as security for payment which strained the relationship between the Zamorin and Vasco da Gama. Annoyed by this royal constraint, Vasco da Gama kidnapped a few Nairs and sixteen Mukkuva fishermen.

Somehow, probably by stealing,  da Gama filled the holds of his ships with loot, mostly spices, worth sixty times the cost of the expedition.

In spite of all these shortcomings, Vasco da Gama’s ships finally reached Lisbon on either August 29, September 8 or September 18, 1499 (sources differ).

On September 13, 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese nobleman, military commander, navigator and explorer often regarded as among the first Europeans to discover Brazil reached Calicut. He traded pepper and other spices. After negotiations, he established a feitoria (factory/trading post) in Calicut.

Instigated by the Arb merchants, the locals conducted a surprise attack on the Portuguese feitoria at Calicut resulting in the death of more than fifty Portuguese. Outraged by the attack on the feitoria, Cabral seized ten Arab merchant ships anchored in the harbour and killed about six hundred of their crew. After confiscating their cargo he burned the ships. He then ordered his ships to bombard Calicut for an entire day in retaliation for the violation of the agreement.

On October 30, 1502, Vasco da Gama arrived at Calicut for the second time with 15 ships and 800 men and signed a treaty with the willing ruler. This time, Gama made a request to expel all Muslims (Arabs) from Calicut but his call was vehemently turned down. So, Gama bombarded the city of Calicut and captured several rice vessels. He returned to Portugal in September 1503.

On March 25, 1505, Francisco de Almeida was appointed Viceroy of India. He left Portugal with a fleet of 22 vessels with 1,500 men.

On September 13, 1505, Francisco de Almeida reached Anjadip Island, where he immediately started the construction of Fort Anjediva. And then with the permission of the friendly ruler of Cannanore, he started building St. Angelo Fort at Cannanore, on October 23.

When Francisco de Almeida reached Cochin on October 31, 1505, he learned that the Portuguese traders at Quilon had been killed. He sent his son Lourenço de Almeida with 6 ships, who destroyed 27 Calicut vessels in the harbour of Quilon. Almeida took up residence in Cochin. He strengthened the Portuguese fortifications of Fort Manuel on Cochin.

The Zamorin of Calicut assembled a large fleet of 200 ships to oppose the Portuguese. However, in March 1506, Lourenço de Almeida was victorious in a sea battle at the entrance to the harbour of Cannanore which was an important setback for the fleet of the Zamorin.

In Cannanore, however, a new ruler, hostile to the Portuguese and friendly with the Zamorin, attacked the Portuguese garrison, leading to the Siege of Cannanore.

In 1507 the arrival of Tristão da Cunha’s squadron strengthened Almeida’s mission.

In March 1508, a Portuguese squadron under command of Lourenço de Almeida was attacked by a joint Mameluk Egyptian and Gujarat Sultanate fleet at Chaul and Dabul respectively, led by admirals Mirocem and Meliqueaz in the Battle of Chaul. Lourenço de Almeida lost his life after a fierce fight in this battle.

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Next: The Paravars: Chapter 9 – Seeking Help from the Portuguese

Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 7 – The Hazardous Occupation of Harvesting Pearl Oysters

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