The Portuguese inquisition of Goa is an often forgotten and unspoken event by the ‘secular’ circles of Indian historians, despite various historical records exposing the gross exodus of not just Hindus, but also Jews that had escaped Medieval Europe to take refuge in India.
The Portuguese inquisition of Goa started when Vasco Da Gama returned to Portugal after he discovered the route to India via Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Upon his return to Portugal in 1510, Gama told the Portuguese royals about the undiscovered route to India, which gave the Portuguese an opportunity to colonise the Western coast of India and particularly Goa.
Pope Nicholas V soon issued a diktat which gave the kingdom of Portugal a monopoly on forcing Christianity upon the locals of the newly discovered areas (and mainly India), along with the monopoly to trade on behalf of the Roman Catholic Empire in Asia. Soon after, the Portuguese sent its troops to capture a portion of Goa and set up a colony in the coastal city.
Aghast by the local traditions followed by Hindus, the Portuguese were angered by the locals following a religion other than Christianity and ordered all temples within the colony to be shut; this marked the beginning of the bloody Goan inquisition that comprised of gross human right violations and mass executions of the local Hindu, Jew and Muslim populations.
In 1541, idol worship was forbidden in the Portuguese colony of Goa and over 350 temples were destroyed by the Portuguese soldiers. It had been officially declared that being a believer of any religion other than Roman Catholicism was forbidden for residents of Goa.
The infamous Francis Xaviers and Martin Alfonso were sent to Goa by King John III of Portugal in 1542 to initiate the process of converting Goan residents to Roman Catholicism. On their arrival in Goa, they were enraged by the New Christians of Goa secretly practising their previous religions (either Judaism, Hinduism or Islam), while also upholding their Hindu values and traditions. A disturbed Francis Xavier wrote to King John III of Portugal on 16th May 1546 to impose inquisition on Goa in an attempt to ‘discipline’ the residents and make them follow Catholicism.
The inquisition banned apostasy of Roman Catholics to Hinduism, Judaism or Islam, and banned the sale of books in the Konkani, Marathi, Sanskrit and Arabic languages. The use of Konkani was forbidden in the colony of Goa.
The Inquisition particularly affected the New Christians of Europe from the Jewish community, who had fled to India during the Spanish Inquisition in an attempt to escape the imposition of Christianity and live amongst the Jewish community in India. They had come in search of a life of dignity where they could practise Judaism openly and not in hiding while pretending to be Christian. India was the only country in the world where Jews were given absolute freedom to practise their faith, especially under Hindu kingdoms.
Upon the imposition of the inquisition in Goa, life became comparable to hell for the local Hindu population, who were often on the receiving end of persecution and were targeted in particular by the sadistic Christian missionaries. The Christian missionaries called the Hindus ‘uncultured’ and ‘savages’, who worshipped black idols ‘resembling demons’; the Christians took it upon themselves to force Hindus into leaving their religion and succumbing to Christianity. An inquisition office was thereby set up which aimed to discriminate against Hindus on all matters possible.
Hindus were forbidden from holding any public office, inheriting their father’s property and testify as witnesses in courts. If a Hindu child was deemed to be an orphan by the colonialists, the child was ‘seized’ by the Society of Jesus (founded by the not-so-saintly Francis Xavier) and made to change his religion. Clear discrimination was seen in social life, where Hindus were forced to sign public documents only after Christians and couldn’t be clerks in village offices. In 1567, a law banning Christians from employing Hindus in the colony was introduced. (Ref: Teotonio R. De Souza, The Portuguese in Goa, pg 28-29).
The inquisition office even questioned natives who were suspected of following their previous religions in private. Over a span of 214 years (1560-1774), 16,172 natives were questioned and often tortured for following a religion other than Roman Catholicism. To be questioned by the inquisition office, a mere rumour of practising idol worship in private or chanting a Hebrew prayer would suffice for the missionaries to drag the native to the office.
Those convicted of following another religion were subjected to heinous punishments, including public flogging, being ‘put on the rack’, burnt on stakes and having one’s nails and eyes crushed by bloodthirsty missionaries. In some cases, entire villages were burnt with the women and children taken as slaves. Large wheels were used for torture, with those convicted of following Hinduism or Judaism being tied to the wheel and then spun, with almost every bone of the innocent Hindu or Jew being crushed.Hindus who were arrested for repeated violations of the laws were taken in by the inquisition to the “Palace of the Goa Inquisition” for “confessions”. The confessions were attained by various torture techniques. Techniques included Hindus being tied up and having their feet burned slowly with sulphur, water torture techniques and racks o which the victims were manacled and their joints slowly dislocated by stretching. This “strappado” method was a particular favorite among the inquisitors. Thumb-screws and leg-crushers called Spanish boots were also employed. Often, boiling oil was poured on their legs and sulphur dropped on their bodies with lighted candles held beneath their armpits. Another technique involved fixing the victims to revolving tables and whirling them round until they were nauseous. These techniques were applied to the victims until they were weakened to the point of being persuaded to “convert” to Christianity and “confess”.
Guardian of Dawn by Richard Zimler – which documents the horrors of Goan Inquisition, one of the most horrific events in history. It heaped terror on the simple goan people who had never known the concept of terror in the name of religion and God.
Richard Zimler called it a ‘machinery of death’ – the most merciless and cruel ever developed. Dismembering the children limb by limb in front of their parents whose eyes were taped open till they agreed to convert was particularly an effective method.
The Hindus of Goa were one of the most affected by the inquisition. The condemned Hindus were publicly burned at the stake in the square outside the Sé Cathedral in batches during ceremonies . Those who confessed to their accused heresy would be strangled prior to the burning. In this case, heresy was to practice a faith other than Christianity
On the faintest suspicion of heresy, thousand died during the 252 years of the Inquisition. If a small idol was kept at home or a non-Christian prayer whispered, anyone could be arrested and tortured in special Inquisition prisons. It is estimated that by the end of 17th century the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Muslims was complete as there was less than 20,000 that were non – Christian out of the total Goan population of 250,000.
Hindu children were sometimes taken away from their parents and burnt in front of them, with the parent being tied and forced to witness his child being burnt alive until he accepts to convert to Christianity. Over 4,000 non-Christians were inflicted with such punishments during the course of the inquisition. In inspiration of the Muslim invaders, the missionaries imposed the Xenddi tax on the Hindu population, similar to the Jaziya tax. (Ref: Sarasvati’s Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, pg. 121)
Amidst the Portuguese inquisition, a small group of Saraswat Brahmins managed to hide from the invading Portuguese colonialists and smuggled the famous Mangeshi shiv linga of Lord Shiva out of its original site in the Kushasthali Cortalim village and built the renown Mangeshi temple in Goa’s Priol village which belonged to the Hindu Kingdom of Sonde.
The Portuguese ravaged homes destroyed the local culture and imposed a foreign religion on the local population. Hindus were deliberately targeted by the European invaders in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Despite the barbarism used by the Europeans, Hinduism survived the attempts to erase it from Indian culture and continued to flourish after Goa was liberated by the Indian government in 1961.
The Goan Inquisition is a disturbing reminder to Goan Hindus about their history and signifies the struggles undertaken by our ancestors to preserve our cultural identity.