The Portuguese Inquisition of Goa is a deeply harrowing and often overlooked historical event, which has been largely disregarded by certain "secular" circles of Indian historians. Despite this, various historical records have exposed the appalling exodus of not only Hindus but also Jews who sought refuge in India, escaping the persecution of Medieval Europe.
The origins of the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa can be traced back to Vasco da Gama's return to Portugal in 1510 after discovering the sea route to India through Africa's Cape of Good Hope. His revelation to the Portuguese royals about the newfound route presented an opportunity for Portugal to colonize the Western coast of India, with Goa becoming a focal point of their colonial ambitions.
In 1514, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree granting Portugal a monopoly on proselytizing Christianity to the locals of the newly discovered territories, including India, and bestowed them with exclusive trading rights on behalf of the Roman Catholic Empire in Asia. Subsequently, Portuguese forces invaded Goa and established a colonial settlement in the coastal city.
The Portuguese were deeply disturbed by the local Hindu traditions and outraged that the natives followed a religion other than Christianity. As a result, they ordered the closure of all temples within the colony, marking the beginning of the brutal Goan Inquisition, characterized by gross human rights violations and mass executions of the local Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim populations.
In 1541, the Portuguese banned idol worship in Goa, leading to the destruction of over 350 temples by their soldiers. It was officially declared that being a follower of any religion other than Roman Catholicism was forbidden for the residents of Goa.
Two notorious figures, Francis Xavier and Martin Alfonso, were sent by King John III of Portugal to Goa in 1542 to initiate the process of converting the Goan residents to Roman Catholicism. Upon their arrival, they were incensed to find that the New Christians of Goa secretly practiced their original religions, including Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam, while also upholding their Hindu values and traditions. In response, a disturbed Francis Xavier wrote to King John III on 16th May 1546, proposing the imposition of the inquisition in an attempt to "discipline" the residents and coerce them into adopting Catholicism.
The Inquisition not only banned the apostasy of Roman Catholics to Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam but also prohibited the sale of books in Konkani, Marathi, Sanskrit, and Arabic languages. The use of Konkani was forbidden within the colony of Goa.
The New Christians from the Jewish community, who had fled to India during the Spanish Inquisition seeking freedom to practice their faith, were particularly affected by the Inquisition in Goa. India was one of the few places in the world where Jews were granted absolute freedom to observe their faith, especially under Hindu kingdoms.
Upon the implementation of the inquisition in Goa, life became a living nightmare for the local Hindu population, enduring persecution at the hands of sadistic Christian missionaries. The Hindus were derogatorily labeled as "uncultured" and "savages" by the missionaries, who forcefully tried to convert them to Christianity. An inquisition office was established to systematically discriminate against Hindus on various matters.
Hindus were barred from holding public office, inheriting their fathers' property, and acting as witnesses in courts. If a Hindu child was deemed an orphan by the colonialists, they were forcibly taken and made to convert to Christianity under the Society of Jesus, founded by Francis Xavier. Discrimination extended to social life as well, where Hindus were compelled to sign public documents only after Christians and were not allowed to be clerks in village offices. In 1567, a law was introduced banning Christians from employing Hindus in the colony (Ref: Teotonio R. De Souza, The Portuguese in Goa, pg 28-29).
The inquisition office conducted inquiries into the private religious practices of natives, leading to the questioning and torture of 16,172 individuals over a period of 214 years (1560-1774) for following a religion other than Roman Catholicism. Merely a rumor of practicing idol worship in private or chanting a Hebrew prayer was enough for the missionaries to drag a native to the office for interrogation.
Those found guilty of following another religion faced horrendous punishments, including public flogging, being "put on the rack," burnt at stakes, and having their nails and eyes crushed by bloodthirsty missionaries. In some cases, entire villages were set ablaze, and women and children were taken as slaves. Large wheels were employed for torture, with Hindus and Jews tied to the wheel and spun until almost every bone in their bodies was crushed.
Hindu children were cruelly taken away from their parents and burnt alive in front of them, while the parents were tied and forced to witness the unspeakable horror until they accepted conversion to Christianity. During the course of the inquisition, over 4,000 non-Christians endured such brutal punishments. In an attempt reminiscent of the Muslim invaders, the missionaries imposed the Xenddi tax on the Hindu population, akin 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 horrors of the Portuguese inquisition, a courageous group of Saraswat Brahmins managed to elude the invading colonialists and secretly smuggled the renowned Mangeshi Shiv Linga of Lord Shiva from its original site in Kushasthali Cortalim village. They built the Mangeshi temple in Goa's Priol village, which belonged to the Hindu Kingdom of Sonde.
The Portuguese ravaged homes, destroyed local culture, and imposed a foreign religion on the local population. The Hindus were deliberately targeted in an attempt to convert them to Christianity, despite the barbarism used by the Europeans. Despite the Portuguese efforts to erase Hinduism from Indian culture, the faith survived and continued to flourish after Goa was liberated by the Indian government in 1961.
The Goan Inquisition serves as a chilling reminder to Goan Hindus of their history, symbolizing the immense struggles undertaken by our ancestors to preserve our cultural identity. It is imperative to remember and acknowledge this dark history to ensure that such heinous atrocities are never repeated.
Teotonio R. De Souza, "The Portuguese in Goa"
Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999