Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Goa, Portugal and the brutal past

From ‘India in Slow Motion’ by Mark Tully

Goans enthusiasm for their church is perhaps surprising because it was fear not faith which originally converted them. Father Alexander Valignano, a 16th century Jesuit who served as Visitor of the Province of the East Indies admitted, ‘Conversions were not commonly done by preaching and doctrine but by right methods as for example preventing idolatry or punishing by merciful rigour those who practiced it, denying them such favours as could rightly be denied and conferring such favours on the new converts, honouring, helping and protecting them so that the others might be converted with this.’

It was only when threatened by the independence movement across the border in India that the Portugese government sought allies among the Hindu community by giving them opportunities which had been almost entirely restricted to Christians.

……….Basilica of Bom Jesus, the shrine of St. Francis Xavier, revered by the Roman Catholic Church as the Apostle of the Indies and Japan and the Patron of Foreign Missions…….He regarded the Portugese government as the secular arm of the church, invited the king to establish the inquisition in Goa, and was renowned for having no interest in Indian religions or indeed any religion except his own. But attendance at the mass confirmed that he is still Goa’s most popular saint.

The Portugese did their best to dig up those Indian roots. An edict of the Inquisition published in 1736 more than 200 years after the Portugese established Christianity in Goa, prohibited specific Hindu practices creeping into Catholicism. Anointing brides and bridegrooms with a mixture of milk and coconut oil, or touching their foreheads with grains of raw rice were banned from marriage rites. After a death the walls of a house were not to be plastered with cow dung and the clothes of the dead person were not to be thrown into the river or the sea which are sacred to the Hindus……..The living were strictly prohibited from wearing ‘Hindu clothes’.

Even when the Portugese left it took the Vatican a long time to accept that the Goan church must be Indian.

……………..In Portugese Goa the church lived with caste. The higher castes were members of the confrarias, or committees which controlled the village churches. They sat in the front pews at mass and they organized and played the prominent roles in annual festivals. Upper caste families had a tradition of sending one son into the church so that they dominated the diocesan clergy too.

From ‘Empire of the Soul. Some Journeys in India’ by Paul William Roberts

In a small island near this, called Divari, the Portugese, in order to build the city, have destroyed an ancient temple…which was built with marvelous art and with ancient figures wrought to the greatest perfection, in a certain black stone, some of which remain standing, ruined and shattered, because these Portugese care nothing about them. If I can come by one of these shattered images, I will send it to your Lordship, that you may perceive how much in old times sculpture was esteemed in every part of the world.

- Andre Corsalli to Giuliano de Medici. January 6, 1516

Just like the mullahs who had marched into Goa two hundred years before with the Bahamani sultans, these Catholic clergy were prepared to go to any lengths to spread their faith. Initially they pestered the Portugese king for special powers, and then they pestered the pope to pester the king on their behalf

The first of these special powers arrived in 1540 when the viceroy received authority to “destroy all Hindu temples, not leaving a single one in any of the islands, and to confiscate the estates of these temples for the maintenance of the churches which are to be erected in their places”. Five years later, the Italian cleric Father Nicolau Lancilotto reported that “there was not a single temple to be seen on the island.” The island in question was Teeswadi………

………This Olympiad of Christianization scared the hell out of the locals, and thousands of families – particularly high-caste Hindus – fled across the river………a saying still exists in Konkani, the language of Goa: Hanv polthandi vaitam (I’m leaving for the other bank), one half of its double meaning implying to this day that a person is rejecting Christianity.

The Hindus who remained………….they continued to practice their religion in secret. More extreme methods were therefore instituted………Hindu festivities were forbidden; Hindu priests were prevented from entering Goa; makers of idols were severely punished; public jobs were given only to Christians.

…it was announced that it had become a crime for Hindus to practice their religion at all, even in the privacy of their own homes. The penalty was decreed to be the confiscation of all property. Those who informed on such crimes were to receive half the property confiscated………..Finally, in 1560, all the Brahmins who were left were simply kicked out.

………..there had been once more than two hundred temples on the islands, and although every single one had been demolished, some of the idols had been saved. These were hauled out to the dense jungles of Bicholim and Ponda, beyond the borders of Goa, and installed in new temples.

……….Since houses were frequently searched without warning, Hindus started making paper cutouts of their gods, which could be speedily destroyed if the need arose. To this day, during the great Ganesh festival…..instead of the terra-cotta idols……..the Manai Kamats of Panjim use paper silhouttes

Even those Goans who had converted still clung to aspects of their old religion. According to Richard Lannoy, Goa’s cultural historian, the chapels that can be found in most Goanese Christian homes “are direct derivations from the culture of family shrines in Hindu homes.” And the old Hindu caste system continued on, Christians who had once been from high-caste families rarely socializing with those who had belonged to lower castes. To this day, members of low and high castes almost never intermarry. Many descendants of those lofty Brahmin families who had converted even continued the traditional practice of giving annual donations to those temples that necessity had forced the Hindus to establish beyond Portugese territory…..the Miranda family of Loutulim dispatching a sack of rice and a heap of coconuts each year to the Kavalem Shanta-Durga temple. The Gomes Pereiras, pillars of Panjim society, do much the same for the Fatorpa Mahamayi temple.

………the Dominicans, who were keener about the Inquisition than the other orders were – and the other orders were hardly apathetic – took a special interest in the revertidos, the backsliders with their cutout idols and the furtive cremations. The culprits would be tracked down and burned alive. Auto-da-fe – act of faith – was the lofty title given to this inhuman practice. Far from disapproving of the burnings, the viceroy, the man who had outlawed sati, attended them in pomp and ceremony with his entire retinue

……..Far from being interested in learning the Konkani spoken by their subjects, the conquistadores swiftly set about burning everything written in the language on the off chance it might contain “precepts and doctrines of idolatry.”

……to start a reign of terror to frighten the savages into submission……..the Inquisition was headed by a judge dispatched from Portugal……..he interpreted rules he himself made up………………..Children were flogged and slowly dismembered in front of their parents, whose eyelids had been sliced off to make sure they missed nothing. Extremities were amputated carefully, so that a person could remain conscious even when all that remained was a torso and head. Male genitals were removed and burned in front of wives, breasts hacked off and vaginas penetrated by swords while husbands were forced to watch.

So notorious was the Inquisition in Portugese India that word of its horrors even reached home.

………the abominations continued until a brief respite in 1774…….the marquis of pombal…..ordered the Inquisition abolished. Four years later, he….was driven out from his office and the evil immediately resumed, continuing, almost incredibly, until June 16, 1812. At that point, British pressure put an end to the terror……

India has always been a bighearted, forgiving land……………With the death of Salazar……..and the reinstatement of parliamentary democracy in Portugal, the two nations soon became friends and equals.

Perhaps it is its brutal past that has made Goa a far more lenient and understanding place than anywhere else in India.

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