It was St. Francis Xavier, who for the first time, brought torture, violence, intimidation and terror to Goa to force native Indians to convert to Catholic Christians.
Unfortunately the challenges that India had to meet were not just the Muslim invaders. Others also came to India with less than respectful intentions. The Portuguese arrived as early as 1498 via the ocean route discovered by Vasco da Gama - via the Cape of Good Hope - after Constantinople had come under Arab control.
Goa came under the Delhi Sultanate in 1312. Then in 1370 they had to surrender it to Harihara I of Vijayanagara. The monarchs of Vijayanagara ruled over it until 1469. Then it passed on to the Bahmani sultans of Gulbarga. Then the rule went to the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, during which time the Muslim pilgrims embarked on their journey to Mecca from Goa. After that, the Portuguese arrived.
Europe had always been interested in India, especially for trade purposes, after it had become obvious to Europeans how much India had to offer; especially with regard to spices, textiles, and other oriental and commercial products. Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was graciously received by the Zamorin, the Hindu king of Calicut who granted him permission to build warehouses for the goods he was trading. However, this Hindu tolerance was exploited by the Portuguese who wanted increasing amount of facilities for their purposes, and also wanted that all trade with Muslims be abandoned. Their attempt at establishing a base in Bengal had been quickly stopped by the local Sultan, Jahangir, who killed 4,000 Portuguese at one time. Thus, the Portuguese had to go elsewhere and went to the western coasts of India.
In the first decade after the Portuguese came to India, they exhibited horrible atrocities, including burning Arab ships that carried not only cargo, but also men, women, and children to Haj; chopping off noses of unarmed fishermen, bombarding port cities on the Malabar coast, forcing conversion to Catholicism of women and daughters of defeated men, while also converting temples and mosques into Catholic churches. The harassed natives of the area went to the sultan of Gujarat who brought assistance from Egypt and Turkey for a naval attack on the Portuguese at Chaul in 1507-08. However, the Portuguese viceroy, d’Almeida, arranged a large fleet and brought a mighty victory in 1509 against the Muslim fleets at Diu.
In 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque captured the island of Goa and the surrounding territories on the west coast of India from the Sultan of Bijapur and made it the capital of the Portuguese eastern empire. Goa was a strategic location, and from there the Portuguese could supervise Malabar, control the pilgrim traffic to Mecca, as well as the general trade to Egypt, Iraq, and Persia, including the East Indian spices at their source. However, the Portuguese irked some of the Mughal rulers because of the toll they took on the trade from the port of Surat. They deeply felt that no faith need be kept with an infidel. It was from this period that the word feringi (lit. farangi, frank) acquired influence and popular usage.
Some of the Muslim rulers, such as Akbar, were a little fascinated by them and gave them freedom to preach their message, and the New Testament was translated into Persian. But it has been noted elsewhere that Akbar gave the Portuguese preacher, like Xavier, little opportunity for religious discussion when they came to talk with him. Nevertheless the power over the Indian seas was always in dispute between the Portuguese and the Muslims during the 16th century, as was the superiority of Christianity and Islam, which became more intense.
However, the Portuguese did not provide a favourable impression of their religion that was said to be brought by the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus Christ. They would go without bathing for months, and be under the influence of alcohol at any time, and would show violence towards unarmed people, women, and children for any reason. They were the epitome of barbarism.
An interesting, but totally self-serving policy was one that Albuquerque encouraged, which was that of mixed race marriages. His idea was to develop a population that was Portuguese in blood and Catholic in religion, but one that would be committed by taste to Portuguese settlements, and, thus, form a self-perpetuating garrison. This formed the race that has become known as Luso-Indians and later as Goans.
The Portuguese were soon followed by European rivals like the French, Dutch, and British. The rivalry that appeared between the Dutch and English resulted in the start of the Dutch East India Company that worked primarily in Southeast Asia and Indonesia (known to Europeans as the East Indies), and the British East India Company, which had to settle for “second-best”, which was India.
It was in 1538 that General Ignatius de Loyola in Rome, upon the request of the King of Portugal, sent missionaries to the orient. To answer the call, Francis Xavier, later known as Saint Xavier, went to Goa in 1542. Though he started his preaching projects on his own, later he also laid the foundations for the Inquisition in Goa, similar to that of Spain and Portugal, where he had experience in persecuting thousands of Jews and Muslims.
Saint Francis Xavier worked feverishly to convert as many Hindus to Christianity as possible, and baptized as many natives as he could, and exploited the impressionability of children as much as possible. He once wrote in a letter to the Society of Jesus, “Following the baptisms, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in turn also prepared for baptism. After all have been baptized, I order that everywhere the temples of the false gods be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols by the very people who formerly worshipped them.” He went on to say that even children “... show an ardent love for the Divine law, and an extraordinary zeal for learning our holy religion and imparting it to others. Their hatred for idolatry is marvellous. They get into feuds with the heathens about it, and whenever their own parents practice it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once. Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honour and worship from their parents, relations, and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about, and in short heap on them every possible outrage.”
This is how Xavier taught children to behave towards their own heritage. He did this in Quilon, and this was after the Hindu King of Quilon had respectfully received him and benevolently given him a large grant of land and other resources so he could build churches for his religion. What a way to pay back the respect and liberality the King had shown him!
Once when some Hindus had been baptized as Christians, Xavier heard that they still were worshiping deities in their homes. He went there and ordered the hut to be burnt to the ground as a warning of what would happen to others if they did not follow the Christian tenets and resorted to their old ways. This was but an example of Saint Francis Xavier’s violent form of evangelism. All this proselytizing by Xavier was but to further the Portuguese imperialistic designs, since he was under the protection of the Portuguese King who wanted to expand in power and influence in the region. What better way to do that than to first expand the religion and Western values through the area, which would make it easier then to expand the kingdom. It is a method that is still used today.
Though Saint Francis Xavier has been given much respect in India, with many schools named after him, his real intention of coming to India was to uproot “paganism” or Hinduism, and put an end to the ancient Vedic traditions. And he did whatever he could to do that. Francis Xavier was especially vicious towards the Brahmanas, and once said that "if there were no Brahmanas in the area, all Hindus would accept conversion to our faith." (From Atrocities on Hindus by Missionaries in Goa, by V. Sundaram)
Xavier, who was made a saint by the Church for his activities, boasted of having destroyed “hundreds of Hindu temples” by himself, and “miraculously” converted people by the thousands. But how miraculous this was can be seen in the following descriptions:
M. D. David, author of Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, writes: “...A particularly grave abuse was practiced in Goa in the form of ‘mass baptism’ and what went before it. The practice was begun by the Jesuits and was initiated by the Franciscans also. The Jesuits staged an annual mass baptism on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), and in order to secure as many neophytes as possible, a few days before the ceremony the Jesuits would go through the streets of the Hindu quarter in pairs, accompanied by their African “Negro” slaves, whom they would urge to seize the Hindus. When the blacks caught up a fugitive, they would smear his lips with a piece of beef, making him an ‘untouchable’ among his people. Conversion to Christianity was then his only option.”
Others found conversion politically useful, like the fishermen of Tamil Nadu who sold their souls to Christian priests in exchange for the protection of the Portuguese army against their Muslim neighbours. However, the deal was not completely voluntary. Those fishermen who refused to convert were attacked on the Malabar Coast by the Portuguese navy. Entire fishing boats were set ablaze, as their women and children helplessly watched from the shores. Those fishermen, who jumped into the water to save their lives, were either bayoneted or shot dead.
To fuel hatred of the newly converted Christians against Hindus, the Portuguese would spread many false stories. One referred to Thomas the apostle, who was said to have landed in India in 52 CE at Cranganore on the Malabar coast and established the first church, later known as the Syrian Church. In 68 CE, St. Thomas was allegedly martyred near modern day Chennai (Madras) and a large cathedral there now is said to house a basement crypt containing the relics of St. Thomas. However, there is controversy with evidence that St. Thomas never went there. Also, in the cathedral of St. Thomas at Chennai (San Thome Cathedral Basilica) there is also a painting that shows St. Thomas praying while he is being stabbed to death with a lance by a Ramanuja Vaishnava Brahmana wearing Vishnu tilak (forehead mark). It is interesting to remember that the Shree Vaishnavas and their tilak did not come into history until the 11th century, almost 1000 years later. Therefore, this shows the deceitfulness in their stories and conversion tactics. There was little if any conversions based on the purity of their teachings, but they instead had to rely on spreading lies and treachery, and even savagery to make converts to their religion, as we will soon see.
At least from 1540 onwards the Portuguese destroyed all the Hindu temples in the area, over 300 of them, and stopped all Hindu worship and even popular traditions that were not directly connected with the religion. From studies by Dr. K. V. Paliwal, President of the Hindu Writers’ Forum in New Delhi, as presented in his book, Atrocities on Hindus by Christian Missionaries in Goa, many of the churches that were built in Goa were constructed on top of the remains of Hindu temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese.
It was in 1560 that the King of Portugal sent the first “Inquisitors” to India after the request of the preacher and Hindu hater Francis Xavier. This was the start of the compassionate and merciful Goan Inquisition that tortured and killed many thousands of Indians who merely followed the traditions of their culture. This was the real change in the presence of the Portuguese when, being intolerant in religion, they introduced the Inquisition with all its horrors.
“Inquisition” was the Court established by the Catholic government for search of, and for punishing heretics. This justification for cruelty, mercilessness, and corruption was called the “Holy Office”. It had been established in Spain in 1481 and in Portugal in 1541. Thus, it was set up in Goa in 1560 through 1774, and 1778 to 1812. This was regarded as barbaric and totally cruel and unjust from the Indian standpoint. And it was not only directed at Hindus, but also in their rough handling of Syrian Christians of Malabar to secure their submission to the Catholic faith.
The laws enforced by the Inquisition in 1560 were many and demanded such things as the prohibition of the use of Indian musical instruments and Indian songs during marriage ceremonies, the use of betel and pan, and the distribution of food to poor people in honour of some deceased person. Other prohibitions concerned the harvest festivals, cooking rice without salt, fasting on the holy days, on Wednesdays, full moon and new moon, or bathing before entering the kitchen for preparing meals. They also ordered all the coconut trees and tulasi plants to be uprooted from all gardens. All those who disobeyed the orders of the Inquisition were subject to horrible punishments. More than 2,000 people were burned alive, and many more tortured.
Over time they established many more laws to stifle the Hindu population of the area in different ways. For example, in June of 1557, the King D. Joao ordered that no Government Official should utilize the services of the Brahmanas or other infidels. If contravened, the Official would lose his job and the Brahmana will become captive and lose all property. All jobs must be given to Christians and not to Hindus. This was to make the Hindus completely helpless and, more or less, slaves.
On April 2, 1560, the Viceroy ordered that the Brahmanas should be thrown out of the island of Goa and the lands and fortresses of the King of Portugal. On November 27, 1563, a law was passed to the effect that all Hindu physicians, carpenters, blacksmiths, and shop keepers were asked to sell their property and leave the Portuguese territory. On April 3, 1582, a Royal Decree was re-issued that no Hindu, regardless of his status or condition, should hold any public office. All Christian officials were forbidden from utilizing the services of any Brahmanas or Hindus. Later, on March 13, 1613, and again on January 31, 1620, laws were enacted to impose a ban on the performance of all Hindu rites and ceremonies, including marriages.
Additional demands included that all Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in churches to be lectured by the priests about the inferiority of their religion. The poor could not be fed nor ceremonial meals distributed for the peace of the souls of the dead. No rituals could be performed on the 12th day after a person’s death, or on moonless or full moon days. There could be no fasting on the Ekadashi days. Hindu men could not wear dhotis, even in their own homes. And women could not wear cholis. However, Hindus embracing Christianity would be exempt from land taxes for up to 15 years. But no one should bear any Hindu names. A most blatant abuse of power by the clergy was the order that all orphans could be baptized as Christians, which led to the kidnapping of numerous orphans, and the establishment of many Christian orphanages.
Various repressive measures were also adopted to suppress the knowledge of Vedic Dharma and the culture of Hindus, and to exterminate the indigenous literature in Marathi, Konkani, or any local dialect. Special officers known as Qualificadores were appointed to examine the books published by the Hindus before they were printed, and care was taken to see that they contained nothing against the Catholic Faith. A list of prohibited Hindu books was maintained. According to the Holy Inquisition Manual, it was a crime to possess and read prohibited books. All Sanskrit and Marathi books, whatever may be their subject matter, were seized and burnt on the suspicion that they might deal with what they called idolatry.
Such harassment was felt by the Hindus that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to stay in a place where they had no freedom, and were liable to be imprisoned, tortured, or put to death for worshiping according to their ancient tradition.
The Hindus of Goa were shocked to see that the God of Christianity was crueller than the God of Islam, or the dictates of Prophet Mohammad. Thus, deserting Goa for the lands of the Muslims seemed a brighter future, though they had received nothing but trouble from the Muslims.
After all this, an order was issued in June of 1684 that eliminated the Konkani language, and for dealing toughly with anyone who still spoke the local language. It was compulsory to speak Portuguese only. All symbols of non-Christian sects were destroyed and all books in the local languages were burnt. The Archbishop living on the banks of the Ethora said in a lecture that, “The post of Inquiry Commission in Goa is regarded as holy.” Thus, the Indian ladies who opposed or resisted the sexual advances of the assistants of the commission were put behind bars and then forcibly used by them to satisfy their carnal desires. Then they were burnt alive as opponents or heretics of the established tenets of the Catholic Church. So harsh and notorious was the Inquisition in Goa that word of its brutality and horrors reached Lisbon, but nothing was done to stop its increasing barbarity. Those who were fortunate got away with being banished from Portuguese territory. The less fortunate had their property seized and auctioned, the money used for furthering the conversion processes of the Church. And the least fortunate were brutalized and killed, or forced into slave labour in the galleys of the ships that transported loot from India to the Portuguese coffers.
The Goan Inquisition is regarded as the most violent ever executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It was basically a holocaust inflicted on the Indian people. The Inquisition consisted of a tribunal, headed by a judge sent from Portugal, along with two assistants or henchmen. The judge was answerable to no one but Lisbon, and handed down judgments in whatever way he saw fit. The Inquisition was conducted in a palace called the “Big House.” This had been the residence of the Portuguese Governors of Goa until 1554. This had been refitted to accommodate 200 cells for prisoners, and instruments of torture to inflict all kinds of pain on the “heathens and pagans,” Hindus, and force “the true and merciful religion” of Christianity on those who resisted it. All interrogations were conducted behind closed doors, but the screams of agony of the men, women, and children could be heard from the streets, even in the middle of the night, as they would be brutally flogged, beaten, burned, or even slowly dismembered in front of their relatives.
Since the prisoners of the “Big House” were separated from one another, it took only four guards to oversee them. Those who died in the jail were buried there, only to be exhumed later and taken with the prisoners condemned to death to be burnt during the next auto da fe, which was a ritual fire held by the priests to burn all things considered sacrilegious. The prisoners were kept in silence, and anyone who complained, or even prayed to God loudly, ran the risk of being whipped by the guards.
Prisoners were brought in after witnesses had reported on them of crimes they had purportedly committed, often times with the witness implicating innocent people while under the threat of torture, or to save their own lives. These so-called crimes were often some kind of blasphemy against Christianity, or impiety, idolatry, necromancy and witchcraft, or anything against Christianity. For these “crimes” they would often be burnt alive at the stake, but only after much torture. If they confessed to their crimes, they were shown Christian mercy by being killed, first by strangulation and then being burnt after death. These torture sessions were also efficiently watched by Christian priests.
What verify this history are the recorded orders issued by a succession of Portuguese Viceroys and Governors, as well as the prosecutors of that time, which give details of the horrors committed in the name of Jesus Christ.
Some of the tortures included having your arms tied behind your back and being strung up by your wrists. You would hang there for hours, only to be suddenly dropped down near the floor, which would quickly pull your arms back to dislocate them out of the joints. There was also the water torture in which you are forced to lay across an iron bar and ingest water without stopping, causing the iron bar to break one’s vertebrae and cause vomiting and asphyxia. Sometimes in that condition the stomach would be beaten with sticks so badly when filled with water, the stomach itself would burst. Torture by fire was being hung over a fire to be roasted alive with your feet coated with animal fat which would ignite and burn the feet. All these were done until the victim confessed. Then they would be taken to their cell to suffer until it was time for their execution.
Other instruments included a metallic glove in which the hand would be roasted over a fire, and other tools for breaking one’s legs and shins, disembowelling a person on the rack, sharp knives for cutting the ears off of one’s head, or instruments that would tear a woman’s breast from her body, and so on. All such being the ways to taste the mercy of Christianity and feel remorse for not having converted. (From Atrocities on Hindus by Missionaries in Goa, by V. Sundaram)
Also, the famous writer of the 19th century, Alexandre Herculano, wrote in his book, Fragment about the Inquisition, how no one was excused from the tortures of the Inquisition: “… the terrors inflicted on pregnant women made them abort… Neither the beauty nor decorousness of the flower of youth, nor the old age, so worthy of compassion in a woman, exempted the weaker sex from the brutal ferocity of the supposed defenders of the religion… There were days when seven or eight were submitted torture.”
Paul William Roberts, in Empire of the Soul, Some Journeys in India, writes about the methods of the Portuguese Inquisition: “Children were flogged and slowly dismembered in front of their parents whose eyelids had been sliced off to make sure they missed nothing. Extremities were amputated carefully, so that a person could remain conscious even when all that remained was a torso and a head... Those subjected to other diabolical tortures could also be counted in the thousands and the abominations continued until a brief respite in 1774... The evil resumed, continuing, almost incredibly, until June 16, 1812. At that point, British pressure put an end to terror (with) the presence of British troops stationed in Goa.”
Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha, a Catholic citizen of Goa, had written: “In spite of all the mutilations and concealment of history, it remains an undoubted fact that religious conversion of Goans is due to methods of force by the Portuguese to establish their rule. As a result of this violence the character of our people was destroyed. The propagation of Christian sect in Goa came about not by religious preaching but through methods of violence and pressure. If any evidence is needed for this fact, we can obtain it through law books, orders and reports of the local rulers of that time and also from the most dependable documents of the Christian sect.”
From all this we can plainly see that the Goan Inquisition by the Portuguese Catholic Church was nothing less than a sustained war against Hindus and the Vedic culture itself. Nonetheless, they could not see the demise of Vedic Dharma. Presently, there may be few references in modern or school history books to the violent and treacherous ways that the Catholics used in their attempt to destroy and triumph over the Vedic tradition of India, and though this silence is maintained by secular historians, the history of it still exists for us all to remember, and to honour the lives of all those men, women, and children who, under the threat of torture and death, refused to give up their culture. Just as the Jews say in regard to their own holocaust, this chapter of Indian history should not be forgotten in order to make sure that it never happens again, and so we do not forget the value of the Vedic traditions and Dharmic culture that adds to the profound history of India and the high calibre of character of its people.
Looking back at the history of the church, the Vatican has apologized for the agony inflicted on Galileo, who was right all along. Thus, we can access that it is time that the Vatican also convey its apology for the Goan Inquisition. In fact, should they not give some reparation for all of the damage they did and the horrors they inflicted on so many people? Nobody knows exactly how many citizens were killed or tortured by the Portuguese in the name of Christ, but it would be likely to run into hundreds of thousands.
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After reviewing the amount of cruelty Christians have used to establish their religion, or even force it on others in all parts of the world, is there much wonder why some people like Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) observed, “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards humanity. What has been the effect of coercion?” Or why the Irish author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) commented, “When I think of all the harm the Bible has done, I despair of ever writing anything to equal it.” Even Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth: “I had started disliking Christianity. This was not without any reason. Those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the High School in Rajkot and used disgraceful words against the Hindus and their Gods/Goddesses. I could not bear this.”
In fact, not only Gandhi, but no self-respecting or decent human being can bear to hear about the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity. For anyone to allow, encourage, implement, or condone such cruel and brutal treatment of others is surely a sign of insanity. What kind of religion could this ever be when such violence and cruelty could be allowed or endorsed for its cause as we find in the Goan Inquisition? And still, the techniques used by Christians as observed by Mahatma Gandhi remain an important method of their preaching and conversion work to this day.
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"Most Indians believe that Goa was settled by Portuguese. This is what the history text books have taught them. But the facts are quite different. Goa (Gomantak) was a bustling place, settled by Indians continuously from at least 1200 B.C. It was a famous pilgrimage, often known as Kashi of West.
Till the Portuguese missionaries came. They launched an aggressive program of converting native Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. Hundreds of Hindu temples were destroyed, and Brahmins were chased out.
Many converted as a result of this. The new converts were ordered to give up their 'heathen' practices. However, when friendly methods failed to keep the newly converted within the flock, Inquisition was called in. The Goan Inquisition has often been called the worst in the history of Christianity. It continued for about 250 years from 1570's till 1812, when the British mercifully put an end to it.
Incidentally, the Goans did not take this lying down. According to the World Book encyclopaedia, Goa witnessed 400 revolts in the 400 years of Portuguese occupation."
- Stephen Knapp: Crimes Against India, Voice of India 1998
- Stephen Knapp: Crimes Against India, Voice of India 1998.
- The Goa Inquisition: Being a Quarter Centenary Commemoration Study of the Inquisition of India Hardcover - April 1, 1992, Anant Kakba Priolkar.
- Goa Inquisition was most merciless and cruel. Rediff. 14 September 2005. Retrieved 14 April 2009.
- Lauren Benton (2002). Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900. Cambridge University Press. pp. 114–126. ISBN 978-0-521-00926-3.
- The Marrano Factory. The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 1536–1765 (Brill Academic, 2001), pp. 345–353.
- Group Identity in the Renaissance World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 215–216 with footnotes 98–100. ISBN 978-1-107-00360-6.