This article explains in detail the rise and decline of Portuguese in India. Without further ado, let us directly discuss the reasons for the rise and decline of Portuguese in India.

The Rise of Portuguese in India

Portugal was the first European nation that came to India for trade and commerce. Her navigators Prince Henry spend his energy to discover a direct sea route from Portugal to India. Another navigator, Bartholomew Diaz discovered the Cape of Good Hope or the Stormy Cape in 1487. The third one, Vasco da Gama found out another sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. The discovery of this sea route reached the famous port of Calicut in May 1498.

After Vasco Da Gama reached India, Hindu king Zamorin of Calicut was very kind to him. He gave him friendly treatment. Thereafter in 1500, Portuguese Naval Commander, Pedro Alvarez Cabrez who had discovered Brazil came to India and also got the friendship support from the Rajas of Cochin and Cannanore. After a short while of his stay in India, he destroyed the shipping activities of Arab in India and built a fort at Cochin in 1502 with the help of the Calicut Raja.

Thereafter, the Portuguese Government appointed Dom Francisco Almeida in 1505 as the first Governor of the Portuguese affairs in India. He strengthened the fort of Cochin and made it the seat of the Portuguese port. Also, he built another fort at Cannanore. Afterwhich, he defeats Hindu Raja Zamorin of Calicut in 1506 and compelled the ruler Ceylon to pay him tributes.

In 1509, he again defeated the combined fleets of Raja Zamorin and the King of Diu and made the Portuguese masters of the Indian Ocean. Thus, they exercised a monopoly trade in India for nearly a century.

In 1509, Governor Alfonso de Albuquerque also captured the rich port of Goa from the Raja of Bijapur and made it the seat of their authority in India. In 1511, he captured Malacca and secured the dominion of the area. Thus, Alfonso laid the foundation of the Portuguese power in the East.

Subsequently, Alfonso de Albuquerque’s successors established more settlements near the sea at Diu, Daman, Salsette, Bassein, Chaul, Bombay, Saint ‘Thomas, near Madras and Hugli in Bengal. As a result of their settlements, the Portuguese gradually extended their authority to major parts of Ceylon. Their monopoly in trade and maritime activities remains unbroken till 1595 when it was lost to the Dutch and the English.

In fact, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to carry on commercial activities in India, but they declined with the coming of the Dutch and the English.

The Dutch snatched Amboyna in South East Asia from the Portuguese in 1604; the Persians seized Ormus in the Persian of Gulf in 1622. But Shah Jahan ended their power in Bengal in 1631. Though the Portuguese never attempt to establish an empire in India like the English and the French, yet they rule India for many years.

The decline of Portuguese power in India

The Portuguese starts declining due to the strong opposition by their rebel European nations and partly due to the following internal defects:

Religious Policy

The religious policy of the Portuguese governors contributes much to the alienation of the native people. The Portuguese were almost fanatic. They prosecuted all the non-Christians, Muslims and Hindus alike. In 1540 they destroyed many Hindu temples of Goa under the orders of the King of Portugal. Thus, the intolerance and indiscriminate treatment towards the religious in India such as the Hindus and the Muslims provoked the hostility of the Indian powers which became too strong for the Portuguese to overcome. As a result of their religious policy, their power in India declines.

Diversion of Attention to South America

The Portuguese Government discovered Brazil in South America and began to pay much attention to it than South India. The result was that the Government neglected their Indian possession and greatly weakened their position in India.

Rising of Powerful European Nations in India

The Portuguese had to face serious encounters with more powerful European nations like Denmark, England, and France because they became jealous of the material prosperity of Portugal due to her trade with India. Thus, they came to India as mere trading companies for trade but later start upon the territorial expansion. There began to follow the triangular contest and the Portuguese lost to the Dutch, the Dutch to the French and the French finally to the English East India Company. Thus, the sudden appearance of powerful European rivals was another cause of the failure of their power in India.

Clandestine Methods

Most of the Portuguese officials accepted secret methods of earning through clandestine practices of piracy in the sea. Despite expanding the territories in India, they looted the mercantile goods laden ships of other nations in the Arabian Sea. These pirating and clandestine methods of earning waken hostile attitude to their powers and ultimately weakened their position in India. Their trading method in India was rotten and risky to the highest extent. Their profits were derived as much of piratical raids upon the Arabian merchants as from the legitimate commerce. Also, their unlawful and thievish policy discredited them in the eyes of the Indians who developed distrust in them.

Weak Successors

Alfonso de Albuquerque was a very competent Governor but his successor governors were neither competent nor strong. When Portugal came under Spain in 1580, the Spanish interests predominated while those of Portugal side-lined. Worthless Spanish officers were sent to India who despite looking after Portuguese interest tried only to make wealth for themselves as they could. Fortresses were not-repaired; the army was not recruited and trades were left unarmed. Hence the Portuguese influence was lost to the rising powers of England and France.

Thus, the stability of power greatly depends on the ability of persons at the helm of affairs. Personality factor counts much more in empire-building and it went against the Portuguese. Except for Alfonso de Albuquerque, all the governors were third rate persons.

Why was Alfonso de Albuquerque famous as the founder of Portuguese power in India?

Alfonso de Albuquerque (1509-1515) was the second Portuguese Governor in India. He was the greatest conqueror and administrator of Portuguese ever came to India. He captured the rich port of Goa from Yushup Ali Khan, the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510. Also, he occupied the fort of Banasterim for the defense of the port of Goa. Later, he developed and made Goa a great commercial city and converted it to the Portuguese headquarters. Further, he conquered Malacca in the Far East in 1511. His last important conquest was the Persian island of Ormuruz from the Muslims in 1513 which commanded the entrance to the Persian Gulf. He tried his best to save the interest of his country. As a result, the Portuguese became the strongest naval power on the west coast of India when he died in 1515.

When judged all the remarkable contributions, made by him for Portugal in India, Albuquerque is generally regarded as the real founder of the Portuguese power in the East.

The Historical Importance of the Portuguese

The Portuguese left a deep impact on the future history of modern India in the following ways:

The Portuguese navigators for the first time discovered a new sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope to the whole world. It was through the sea route that Vasco da Gama and his successors established trade and mercantile activities in India. The English and the French followed in the Portuguese footsteps. They fought for a monopoly in trade and political supremacy later in India. Finally, the English had established their rule in India for about 200 years. The Portuguese secured and kept the Arabian Sea route to India around the Malabar Coast free of the sea pirates. They protect and help the needy trading vessels with their gunboats. Their lucrative trading activities help to develop many new markets in India and Europe.

Also, the Portuguese first highlight the demerits of the Hindu social system of the Sati system and the merits of the inter-caste marriage in a pluralistic society.

Source: B.Sm. Sarma & B.R. Sharma

History of Modern India, Book

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.

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