It’s the only thing I remember, maybe there was more but I can’t seem to recollect; the only mention of Portuguese in India in the school history textbooks I remember was about Vasco da Gama, credited with discovering the sea route to the Indian subcontinent. There is very scant mention about the Portuguese rule in India and the pages were understandably devoted to the subsequent British rule. However, the curriculum has changed in the subsequent years; but I remained quite ignorant of the Portuguese influences in Indian traditions. The Portuguese are credited for introducing to India the pineapple, chillies, leavened bread, cheese, potato, tomato, tapioca, cashew, papaya and so on.
And when I thought the Portuguese influence was limited to Goa and along the western coast of India, here’s another interesting find.
14th November is celebrated in India as Children’s Day, commemorating the birthday of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India; this day now is also celebrated as Rossogolla Day in West Bengal, to commemorate the state receiving the GI (Geographical Indicator) tag for the iconic white spongy cheese spheres called the Rossogollas in sugar syrup, they claim was their invention. West Bengal was in a fight with the neighbouring state of Odisha, who claim the rossogollas were first made in Odisha, as an offering to goddess Lakshmi at their famous Jagannath Temple in Puri.
The states of West Bengal and Odisha lie on the east coast of India and it is interesting to read that cheese made by curdling milk was not a practice in India. Indian milk sweets were made from khoya – made by simmering the milk in an open kadai and letting the water content evaporate leaving behind only the milk solids. And thus there is a third claim to the much-loved rossogolla, saying it’s the Portuguese who brought the practice of curdling milk and making cheese, thus leading to the sweet rossogolla, though the people in Bengal and Odisha may disagree. This however points to the Portuguese rule along the east coast of India. Besides this contentious claim, there are several other more tangible evidences of Portuguese rule, esp the churches, but this story credits cheese in India to the Portuguese.
Back to Goa and visiting more tangible evidences of the Portuguese rule; we visit the forts built by the Portuguese. We had the time to visit only two forts in Goa – Fort Aguada and Reis Magos Fort. The forts are made of laterite stones, reddish-brown colour with speckles of white due to the iron oxide and aluminium deposits.
Reis Magos fort is located along the banks of the Mandovi river and opposite lies the capital Panjim. Reis Magos is a Portuguese word for the Biblical Magi – the Magi Kings.
The fort is well maintained and inside there are two exhibits – one depicting the Goan history from Portuguese era to the independence in 1961. The second is a display of the works of the celebrated Goan artist – Mario de Miranda.
The late Mario de Miranda was a well-known cartoonist for the Times of India newspaper and one of the most loved Goans. His unique drawing style is recognisable anywhere and are often satirical. The drawings beautifully depict the life in Goa and the bygone India. Love them !!
The exhibit on the history of Goa is a display focussing on the struggle for independence from Portuguese. After India gained independence in 1947 from the British, military action was used to liberate Goa. The military operation was called “Operation Vijay”, and Goa became part of India on 19 Dec 1961, will little resistance.
Fort Aguada is again made of the laterite stones; Aguada meaning watering place.
This fort is divided in two parts: the upper part acted as fort and watering station, while the lower part served as a safe berth for the Portuguese ships.
The upper part has a moat, underground water storage chamber, gunpowder room, light house and bastions. The lighthouse was for guiding the ships esp. during the monsoon months of April to September.
To complete the story…..Prior to the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama, the Ottoman empire captured the land around Mediterranean sea and hence controlled the land route to India and the Europeans could not get a direct access to India. The merchants of Venice entered into an agreement with the Ottoman empire. Their ships would leave Venice twice a year and reach Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was then the chief entrepôt between East and West and a gateway to riches. Here the Arabs who then had the monopoly of trade with India, would sell them exotic goods such as silks, perfumes, gems, spices amongst which pepper was the most sought after. The Venetian merchants would in turn sell them in Europe, making huge profits. The desire to secure the spice trade for themselves, led the Portuguese to explore sea route to the east and Vasco da Gama pioneered in discovering the sea route to India and soon the other European nations followed. Though the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope was longer, it helped break the monopoly of the Arabs.
In the 16th century, Goa was the jewel in the Portuguese crown. But soon after Brazil became more profitable, the constant war with the Dutch over the colonies and Portugal itself under Spain between 1580 to 1640, all led to the gradual decline of Goa’s glory.
After the Portuguese left, the hippies arrived in Goa. The beaches were the main attraction, to relax and soak up the sun. To quote David Tomory ” Hippies were romantics yearning for a golden future or the golden past or both. Here in Goa they found freedom, free to live and free to die. ” Tourism still remains Goa’s major revenue driver.