The Shade of Swords:
Inhuman Acts by Portugues Agressors in India
(Excerpts from M.J. Akbar's book 'The Shade of Swords')
On 8 January 1455, clearly at the urgings of the ascendant Portuguese […], Romanus Pontifex Nicholas V issued a Bull. […] Alfonso, the ‘true soldier of Christ’ was given a mission: ‘invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracen and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominations, possessions, and all moveable and immoveable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery …’ […]
A second Papal Bull issued in 1456, extended the jurisdiction of the Order of Christ ‘all the way to Indians’. […] Afonso raised an army of 12,000 fresh holy warriors, and minted a new, appropriately named, coin, the cruzado. […]
Spain also began to stir. The prospects of Portugal reaching the spice of India before Spain hurt. India was believed to contain one-third of the world’s population, and much more than that of world’s production of spice. Arab merchants based in the famous south Indian port city of Calicut , who often sent it on the same ships that brought pilgrims to Mecca , controlled the trade in spices. The merchants of Venice had virtual monopoly over the next stage, to Europe, by which time the price had multiplied astronomically. A ducat’s worth of spice in Calicut fetched between 60 and 100 ducats in Venice, and multiplied further by the time it was sold for gold in western Europe. Pepper was the king of this trade. It was both health food and preservative of this age. Apart from its reputed medicinal properties, it was rubbed along with salt, into meat stored for the long winter or long sea voyages. Spices became an all-purpose need, for cosmetics as well as an antidote to plague.
[…] In 1496 Manuel ascended the Lisbon throne. First things came first. About a hundred thousand Jews had taken shelter in Portugal from the Inquisition, and Muslims still lived there. He decreed that within ten months both would either have to leave Portugal or baptize. It was not so simple either. All children below 15 would be baptized in any case, so parents would have to choose between their children or their faith.
On 7 July 1497 Vasco da Gama prayed all night […]. The following morning an oath was taken: they would die rather than fail. Barefoot, in plain tunics, candles in hand, the man knelt to receive absolution. The Papal Bull was read out. For some unknown reason, Vasco da Gama […] vowed that he would not cut his beard, till he had returned from Calicut . The wind was favourable, and the crusade of three ships, San Gabriel , San Rafael and Berrio, flying the blood red crucifix of the Order of Christ, sailed from Lisbon . Such was their zeal that landfall came after more than 4000 miles.
On 18 May 1498 he [Vasco da Gama] reached Calicut after the longest sea voyage in history.
On the way to meet the raja, or zamorin, Vasco da Gama stopped at a temple under the mistaken impression that this was a church of a strange Christian sect. It is possible that he mistook the mother and child for a version of Jesus and Mary. In fact, he had knelt before Krishna and Devaki.
Raja Mana Vikrama was lying on a couch, his body bare, chewing betelnut and spitting into a golden bowl held by a page when Vasco da Gama called on him. He saw the presents – wash basins, coral, scarlet hoods, jars of honey – and turned away in contempt. Parsimony almost cost the Portuguese captain-general his life. The next day the Portuguese were detained, and only released when four Nairs pleaded for his life because they had given their word of honour guaranteeing da Gama’s safety. Calicut would rue this dent to Vasco da Gama’s pride.
On his return to Lisbon the hero was welcomed with a gift of 20,000 gold cruzados and Manuel declared that he was now ‘Lord of Guinea , and of the Conquest, the Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia , Persia and India ’. He wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella that India had ‘Christians’, although they were not strong of faith, but they would be useful in ‘destroying the moors’. The holy war should now be pursued with greater ardour, he advised.
On 8 March 1500 , 13 ships with 1200 men, including German and Flemish gunners, commanded by a young aristocrat, Pedro Alvares Cabral, left for the first exercise in gunboat diplomacy. Mana Vikrama was seated on a throne this time, wearing a lungi, the local form of sarong. He was offered a treaty of friendship, which he accepted; and an order to expel all Muslims, which he refused. In the harbour, Cabral seized an Arab ship. On land the Portuguese compound was attacked by the Arab merchants. European cannons blazed. Cabral seized ten merchant ships and their crew were burnt alive in full view of the citizens. (Three elephants found in the cargo were eaten.)
In 1502 Vasco da Gama sailed again, this time with 25 ships and ‘much beautiful artillery’. On the way he stopped a pilgrim ship and burnt every one of the 700 Muslims going to Mecca. Calicut was devastated with cannon power. Prisoners were paraded after their hands, ears and noses had been hacked. Their feet were tied together, their teeth broken, and they were thrown into a boat, which was set on fire. Mana Vikrama received a message that he could cook a curry of this human flesh. When a Brahmin was sent to negotiate with Portuguese his lips were cut off and his ears replaced with those of a dog. By 1503 the Portuguese felt strong enough to leave a permanent settlement with five ships at Cochin , a neighbouring principality that they had befriended, or cowed down into friendship.
Excerpted from: Akbar, M.J. (2002): ‘Jihad and the conflict between Islam & Christianity: The Shade of Swords’, New Delhi , pp. 163-168. Published by: The Lotus Collection, Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi , ISBN: 81-7436-208-8, Rs. 395.
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