An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Conquest of Goa and our blind generation!

Tale of India’s conquest and its decline is so horrendous and so depressing that everytime you hear about a new element it leaves you will utter disbelief! How could someone do such a thing?? Read this story of Goa’s conquest. It would have been fine, if we had learned from it – but looking at the present and the recent past, I doubt we have! Look at how the entire neighborhood was slowly and steadily taken over by China and Islamic militancy (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Tibet, and now Nepal). Our government kept silent all this while. When will we ever learn?!!

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Albuquerque had not come to India looking for conquests. He was invited to conquer Goa. He had under his command 23 ships which were armed by 1200 fighting men, which was really not enough to launch a military operation on land. His squadron was lying in wait for its natural prey which were the Mecca-bound ships of the Sultans which always made rich prizes, when a man called Timoja, (or Thimmaya), who is described as a commander of Vijayanagar’s navy, approached him and told him that “if the Portuguese fleet were to enter the Mandovi, Goa would not be able to withstand an attack”.

He did not hesitate. The squadron sailed up the Mandovi in tight formation. Everything went off just as Timoja had predicted. On 3rd March 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque, Captain-General of the Indian Ocean, had become the master of a fine port and a flourishing town from which the commander of the Adilshahs and his principal subordinates had already fled, leaving their women and children behind.

It is given to few to become witnesses to such a truly historic spectacle, this spearhead of the western world’s invasion of the eastern. At this moment, an Era began. Albuquerque the man had met his hour. He entered the city with fanfare, to be welcomed by many of its citizens. “The palms of Goa offer their leaves to bind Albuquerque’s victorious forehead. Like a lion or a bull, he charges the Moors and puts them to flight”, gushed one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Luis de Camões, in his epic, Os Lusiadas.

But it was not to last. Barely two months later, when Albuquerque heard that several columns of the Adilshah’s forces were converging upon Goa, he prudently vacated the city and went back to live on his ships, taking his troops and whatever provisions and arms he could collect and also as many “of the more beautiful women” as he could accommodate. Throughout the ensuing monsoon, his ships were anchored in the Mandovi, just out of range of the artillery of the Muslims which kept firing at them from a nearby hill.

At the end of October, when he had already broken off from the action and escaped to the open sea, he was joined by fresh ships which had arrived from Portugal and could now muster 2000 men. He turned in his tracks and came charging in again.

This time the palms of Goa did not quite offer themselves to him. There was a bitterly fought action in which many of his soldiers died. He won the battle nevertheless, and after allowing his men to plunder the city at will, ordered “a general massacre of its Muslim citizens-men, women and children”. But it would seem that at least some of the women were spared. The number of people put to the sword is said to have been six thousand, and that the process took four days.

This time the Portuguese had come to stay. That victory of Albuquerque is commemorated by the building of at least two churches. One, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, is on the sloping ground between the river and the great square of Velha Goa, built on a spot from where, as a plaque states, “On 25th November, 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque watched the battle which led to the conquest of Goa”, and on which, no doubt,he had knelt down and thanked God aloud, when victory had been won. It is a particularly fine structure of dressed laterite which has weathered beautifully and acquired a rich patina, like fine-grained rosewood, and it has its own special importance because it contains the grave of the very first Portuguese woman ever to have come to India. She was Dona Catarina a Piro, wife of Garcia de Sa, who was Goa’s tenth Viceroy. The first nine did not bring their wives with them, but were happy to live with their Goan mistresses, and in the process qualifying themselves for extra holiness too, since these women were, by the special dispensation of the times, automatically gathered into the Christian fold.

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