The Portuguese Inquisition of India’s Goa Region : AD 1510 – AD 1812

Chapter of our History that is not taught and perhaps may never be taught, thanks to Secularism!

Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name,your kingdom come,your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.


In 17th century regions of the Indian Subcontinent were subjected to disastrous European rule.

Taking advantage of a crumbling Mughal Empire in Delhi that was drowned in its false-pride, narcissism and decadent ways to the absence of a strong central power in India and the weakening of Maratha, Vijaynagar, Rajput and Sikh empires,the European colonialists such as the Dutch, Danish, French, Portuguese and British gradually controlled large parts of India. Of this the longest rule with profound impact on India of today was that of the British from AD 1612 – AD 1947, most Indians are aware of the legacy of British Imperial rule on India like East India Company trade, Doctrine of Lapse 1848, Subsidiary Alliance 1798, Mutiny of 1857, Indigo Revolt 1859, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre 1919, Rowlatt Act 1919, Various Famines and Natural Calamities across the region that could have been avoided, Communal Partition of India 1947 etc, so I don’t really want to get into it since its already been over glorified by “Historians” and “Scholars”.

However what many are not aware to this day as we were never taught in History textbooks that we grew up reading of equally disastrous or perhaps much worse rule of the Portuguese from AD 1505– AD 1961 that mainly controlled parts of Western coast of India notably the state of Goa and territories like Daman-Diu and Dadra-Nagar Haveli.

The most important (and ignored/concealed) contribution of Portuguese rule on India was the growth of Catholicism through the process of Inquisition.

In 1510 the Portuguese conquered Indian Goa which became a major center of the spice trade.  During their 450 years occupation they established the Inquisition and ONLY ALLOWED CATHOLICISM.

Many Hindu temples were converted into churches with mass conversion to Christianity with over 300 churches for a population of 40,000!!!!. In 1961 India absorbed Goa.

Most Inquisition records were destroyed after its abolition in 1812 so the exact number of their victims is unknown. Based on surviving records between its start in 1561 and temporary abolition in 1774, 16,202 persons were brought to trial. Of these, we know 57 were sentenced to death and executed and 64 burned in effigy.

Others were subjected to lesser punishments or penanced, but the fate of many victims is unknown.

The article discusses the Portuguese Inquisition that has been ignored/concealed like many other chapters of our country’s history. Also the article is pretty elaborate and hence I request to patiently read it and feel free to discuss.

Flag of Portuguese India

Background: The Portuguese In India

The first Portuguese encounter with the Indian Subcontinent was on 20 May 1498 when Vasco da Gama reached Calicut on Malabar Coast. Anchored off the coast of Calicut, the Portuguese invited native fishermen on board and immediately brought some Indian items. One Portuguese accompanied the fishermen to the port and met with a Tunisian Muslim.

On the advice of this man, Gama sent a couple of his men to Ponnani to meet with ruler of Calicut, the Zamorin. Over the objections of Arab merchants, Gama managed to secure a letter of concession for trading rights from the Zamorin, Calicut’s Hindu ruler. But, the Portuguese were unable to pay the prescribed customs duties and price of his goods in gold.

Later Calicut officials temporarily detained Gama’s Portuguese agents as security for payment. This, however, annoyed Gama, who carried a few natives and sixteen fishermen with him by force.

Nevertheless, Gama’s expedition was successful beyond all reasonable expectation, bringing in cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition.

Vasco da Gama sailed to India for a second time with 15 ships and 800 men, arriving at Calicut on 30 October 1502, where the ruler was willing to sign a treaty. Gama this time made a call to expel all Muslims (Arabs) from Calicut which was vehemently turned down. He bombarded the city and captured several rice vessels.

On 25 March 1505, Francisco de Almeida was appointed Viceroy of India, on the condition that he would set up four forts on the southwestern Indian coast: at Anjediva Island, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon.

In the year 1509, Afonso de Albuquerque was appointed the second governor of the Portuguese possessions in the East.

In 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque defeated the Bijapur sultans with the help of Timayya, on behalf of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). The Southern Province, also known simply as Goa, was the headquarters of Portuguese India, and seat of the Portuguese viceroy who governed the Portuguese possessions in Asia.

Gradually, the Portuguese expanded and acquired several territories from the Sultans of Gujarat: Daman (occupied 1531, formally ceded 1539); Salsette, Bombay, and Baçaim (occupied 1534); and Diu (ceded 1535).

During the occupation of Bombay, the Portuguese shamelessly destroyed the Buddhist-Hindu shrine on Elephanta Island aka Elephanta Caves by vandalizing the monuments, stealing statues and using the statues as target practice! I have mentioned the destruction of Elephanta on a separate note below the article.

The Portuguese also shipped over many Órfãs d’El-Rei to Portuguese colonies in the Indian peninsula, Goa in particular. Órfãs d’El-Rei literally translates to “Orphans of the King”, and they were Portuguese girl orphans sent to overseas colonies to marry either Portuguese settlers or natives with high status.

Portuguese India

Richard Zimler On The Portuguese Inquisition Of Goa

In Portugal, where I live, people generally speak in glowing terms of the “Golden Age” of Goa. It was then, during the latter half of the sixteenth century, that a fabulously lucrative spice trade turned a sleepy, palm-shaded Indian port into a world-renowned, multi-cultural city of elegant palaces, churches, gar­dens, and markets. Yet on reading about this legendary colony, I soon discovered a far darker side to the story . . .

Shortly after Portuguese troops conquered Goa from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510, they began forcing the tens of thousands of Hindu residents to convert to Christianity. In 1540, during a wave of fanaticism, they destroyed 300 Hindu temples, many of them built in ancient times. Then, in 1545, a Spanish-Jesuit missionary, named Francis Xavier, petitioned the Portuguese Crown to establish the Inquisition.

Once the king’s approval had been secured, the former Hindu population of Goa, as well as the hundreds of secret Jews living there, found themselves at the complete mercy of the Church. Simply keeping a statue of Shiva in a family shrine, or whispering a Hebrew prayer over the grave of a loved one, became a serious criminal offence. Those discovered to be practicing their old beliefs in secret were summarily arrested and tortured in dungeons, kept in shackles by priests hoping to force them to divulge the names of friends and family members who had joined them in their “heretical” practices.

Prisoners who refused to identify others or give up their beliefs in Hindu or Jewish “sorcery” were strangled by executioners or burnt alive in public Acts of Faith – from 1560 all the way up to 1812, when the Inquisition was finally abolished.

As a writer, I’ve always been very interested in exposing instances of injustice that other people would prefer to forget, and as soon as I read about this neglected period of unrelenting persecution, I realized I wanted to make it the background for a new volume of my Sephardic Cycle, a series of independent historical novels about different branches and generations of a Portuguese-Jewish family named Zarco.

The first two novels in this cycle are The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and Hunting Midnight, both international bestsellers.

I felt particularly inspired (and angered!) upon learning Francis Xavier, the fanatical priest ultimately responsible for the torture of tens of thousands of Hindus and Jews, had been canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.   As far as I know* he remains the patron saint of all the missions of the Catholic Church.

Even though victims of persecution were only ever given their freedom on the condition that they never reveal what they had suffered while in prison, a few courageous men and women dared to write about their experiences – sometimes in excruciating detail – and I was soon able to obtain copies of their narratives.

These texts enabled me to accurately describe the workings of the Inquisition and helped me to give emotional depth to the characters in my book who suffer at the hands of the Church – Tiago and Berekiah Zarco, as well as Phanishwar Bakliwal. They also filled me with admiration for the authors and instilled in me an urgent desire to give greater voice to their bravery.

Grave Old

One other important facet to the book I should speak about…

A few years before reading about Goa, I had an idea for a novel that would be a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Othello, in the tradition of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (which reworked King Lear) and Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea (which explored some unresolved mysteries in Jane Eyre).

What I wanted to do was take Iago and Othello back to an earlier time when – inside my fictional narrative – they were childhood companions. I felt excited about this idea because it had always seemed to me that the reasons given by Shakespeare for Iago’s vicious hatred of Othello were flimsy at best.

What had truly caused the rupture between the two men?

I speculated that it was something traumatic that had hap­penned during their youth, long before the action of Shakespeare’s play. Maybe Iago came to seek his Moorish friend’s destruction because of a betrayal he could never forgive – something so terrible that it even justified murder.

As I considered the possibilities for this book, I saw that – more than anything else – I wanted to discover why Iago had em­braced evil.  Understanding the nature of evil – and its allure -has always seemed essential to me, maybe because my central reference point for modern history has always been the Holocaust.

Then came my discovery of the Goa Inquisition, and I realized that I had found the perfect setting for my reinterpretation of Shakespeare. Here was a time and place of wealth and glory, but also of suspicion, fear, cruelty, and vengeance. Here, I would be able to submerge my reinvented “Othello” inside a dramatic story that would interest readers whether or not they had ever seen or read the Shakespeare play. And here, placing my imagination inside a time of merciless religious persecution, I might be able to write something important about the nature of evil and its consequences.


The Portuguese Inquisition Of Goa (And Other Territories Under Their Occupation)

The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Portuguese Inquisition acting in Portuguese India, and in the rest of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774–1778, and finally abolished in 1812.

Based on the records that survive, H. P. Salomon and I. S. D. Sassoon state that between the Inquisition’s beginning in 1561 and its temporary abolition in 1774, some 16,202 persons were brought to trial (read murdered) by the Inquisition.

Of this number, it is known that 57 were sentenced to death and executed; another 64 were burned in effigy. Others were subjected to lesser punishments or penance, but the fate of many of those tried by the Inquisition is unknown.

The Inquisition was established to punish apostate New Christians—Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants—who were now suspected of practicing their ancestral religion in secret.

In Goa, the Inquisition also turned its attention to Indian converts from Hinduism or Islam who were thought to have returned to their original ways. In addition, the Inquisition prosecuted non-converts who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians to Catholicism.

While its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was used against Indian Catholics and Hindus and also against Portuguese settlers from Europe (mostly New Christians and Jews but also Old Christians) as an instrument of social control, as well as a method of confiscating property and enriching the Inquisitors.

Most of the Goa Inquisition’s records were destroyed after its abolition in 1812, and it is thus impossible to know the exact number of those put on trial and the punishments they were prescribed.

In 1567, the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished.

In 1583, Hindu temples at Assolna and Cuncolim were destroyed through army action. “The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion.

They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers.” wrote Filippo Sassetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588.

An order was issued in June 1684 for suppressing the Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak the Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing roughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the non-Christian cultural symbols and the books written in local languages were sought to be destroyed. Methods such as repressive laws, demolition of temples and mosques, destruction of holy books, fines and the forcible conversion of orphans were used.


Additional Information :

The Portuguese Imperialists and the Destruction of Elephanta

Every previous writer on Elephanta is full of praise for it as one of the noblest works of Hindu art. Its fame spread abroad as early as the third century A.D. It has the distinction of being referred to by the great Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. But what the early foreigners saw or what we see today is only a wreck of what was originally created.

Of the five foreign nations that came into contact with India from the sixteenth century ,the Danes were negligible, the Dutch commercially powerful for a short time but with no impact on Indian art, the French keenly interested in it, and the British considerably involved with it. None of these four did deliberate harm to Indian monuments as compared the Portuguese.

The result of Portuguese misdeed is visible even today on many sites on the western coast of India especially at both Goa and at Elephanta. Walter Hamilton, writing in the eighteenth century says in his “description of Hindustan” that the Portuguese “made war on the gods and temples as well as on the armies of India.”

In an evil hour for it Elephanta came under the Portuguese in 1534. Among the first things they did was to remove what seems to have been the foundation inscription and sent it to Portugal. Now there is no trace of it. According to Portuguese historians during the Portuguese occupation many of the sculptures were broken, “by the frolic of the soldiers of the fleet that visited the place.” The soldiers used the sculptures as target practice and also to hear the echo of the cannon shots that were fired at the caves.

Eventually, the Portuguese rule was disastrous for Elephanta. The population on island declined and the island became forested. After thousand years long worship the Shiva temples of the caves was abandoned . The only religious event which has survived to this day and is related to ancient cave temples is the festival of Shiva – Maha Shivaratri.

The Portuguese left in 1661 as per the marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal. This marriage shifted possession of the islands to the British Empire, as part of Catherine’s dowry to Charles.


Further Reading :

Richard Zimpler’s Webpage

Conversions and Citizenry: Goa Under Portugal, 1510-1610

Buddhist Past of Goa

Christianization of Goa

The Goa Inquisition By Dr.T.R.DSouza

Portuguese Inquisition In Goa Ordered By Francis Xavier – Capt Ajit Vadakayil

There were no Hindus in Goa before Portuguese landed: Church thinker

Francis Xavier : A Saint or Ruthless Father of Bloodiest Inquisition in Goa

Atrocities on Hindus by missionaries in Goa – Present and History of Goa

Is the March over?

Jewish Persecution and Resistance : Being on the crossfire of Islam and Christianity





4 thoughts on “The Portuguese Inquisition of India’s Goa Region : AD 1510 – AD 1812

  1. Hi Alex,

    Thank you so much for taking the time out and reading the article.

    The Portuguese Inquisition is a deliberately suppressed chapter of European Imperialism in India by the “Liberals” under the guise of Secularism, that is now mainly a joke on the Dharmic faiths of India.

    Do keep visiting the BLOG for more articles and feel free to share the articles and give your views on the same.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s