Chapter 4, Part 1
For more than a millennium the area known today as Goa had been ruled by different clans, dynasties, kingdoms and sultanates before Vijayanagara took control of it in the 14th century. The once mighty southern Indian empire eventually relented control of the territory to its archrival: the Deccan sultanates. In the early 16th century, however, a new player from the other side of the world joined the perennial battle of control over Goa.
At the time when Krishna Deva Raya was the king of Vijayanagara, a privateer by the name of Timoji convinced the Portuguese conqueror, Afonso de Albuquerque, to fight the Bijapur sultanate in Goa. Against the order from King Manuel I of Portugal to only conquer Aden, Hormuz and Malacca, Albuquerque reached Goa and successfully repelled the Muslim forces in 1510. Upon their victory the Portuguese transferred their colonial capital in India from Cochin to Goa and built a more powerful Estado Português da Índia which would last until the 20th century.
Having been under the alternating influences of Hindu and Muslim rulers, Goa became the center of Catholic teaching in India following the Portuguese conquest. It was the Fransiscans who first settled in the new European colony in Asia. However in the mid-16th century King João (John) III of Portugal, concerned about the news that the majority of the Portuguese settlers in India were drifting away from Christianity, sent Francis Xavier – a Jesuit – to preach the gospels both to the Portuguese and the locals. He traveled further in the Orient to do missionary work in places as far as the Spice Islands and Japan.
Decades after Francis Xavier’s arrival in Goa, construction work on a new church began. Completed in the early 17th century the Basilica of Bom Jesus further cemented the Jesuits’ presence in India, and it is today where the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier reside, contained within an ornate casket. At the lavishly-decorated altar, a giant statue of St. Ignatius Loyola, who co-founded the Society of Jesus with six other men including Francis Xavier himself, looks up to Heaven.
In the centuries that followed, many more churches were built in Velha Goa (Old Goa), including Se Cathedral which was constructed to commemorate Portuguese victory over the Bijapur sultanate almost a century earlier. A fragment of the gate of the Adil Shahi palace was one of the few surviving remnants of Goa’s previous Muslim rulers and it currently lies unassumingly at the grounds of the Church of St. Catejan, a 17th-century church modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
In 1843 the capital of Portuguese Goa was transferred to Panjim, a little over 10 km to the west of Velha Goa, the old capital. It remained the seat of Portuguese colonial administration in the Indian subcontinent until 1961 when India annexed Goa, Daman and Diu, ending 450 years of Portuguese administration in South Asia and severing diplomatic ties between India and Portugal. Following the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which ended the fascist regime in Portugal and restored democracy in the country, relations with India were rectified.
Today centuries of Portuguese colonization of Goa is still very much evident in daily life. A hotel owner in Fontainhas – home to some of the most preserved colonial buildings in Panjim – recalls his childhood memories with a mood known in the Portuguese-speaking world as saudade. He recounts how Catholics made up 60% of the population back then, and how Goan business hour is very different from that of Indian. “Business starts at 10am until 1pm, then 4pm until 7pm,” he says. “But for the Indians it’s 24 hours.” His somber sentiment could be a real discontentment, or quite possibly only saudade.
After a short walk from our hotel, James and I ascend the steps in front of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception where the cacophony of modern Panjim unfolds before our eyes. The church was constructed in the mid-16th century to welcome sailors home, and it is today a peaceful sanctuary for those who seek divine guidance or merely to escape the scorching sun. Customarily footwear must be removed upon entering the church, shoulders and ankles must be covered, and silence must be observed. The churches across Goa not only are a reminder of one of the longest colonial administrations in Asia, but also a testament to a community who retain the faith introduced to them almost five centuries ago.
Click here for the full list of stories from the Spice Odyssey series.