Goa Inquisition: Lest We Forget — A Talk by Shefali Vaidya
First of all I am deeply indebted to Rahul and Srijan Foundation for inviting me to give this talk on Goan inquisition. Because it is a very personal topic for me because I come from Goa and, almost every Goan being it a Hindu or Christians have had to bear the brunt of inquisition in some way or the other. You will come to know it as I talk more about it. But it’s a very personal story and it’s a personal story for me on many, many, many levels. a) because my family had to bear the brunt of it, b) because my family has been personally involved in Goan liberation struggle for the past three generations, actually right from my grandfather’s generation and c) because A K Priolkar, whose book is the most scholarly work on the topic. “Goa Inquisition” happens to be my aunt’s father. So this is a story, this is a book that he had gifted to my grandfather, and this is the story that I have been familiar with since my childhood. You could say it’s been a part of my consciousness while growing up.
But having said that, when I started preparing for this talk, it still was the most emotionally exhausting process of my professional life because it is different when you hear the stories and it is different when you actually go through a book, page by page and actually figure out and relive those memories and it’s is not fun. They say that who you are today, is a result of past decisions, and those decisions are not necessarily made by you. They are made by people sometimes years ago, but you are what you are because of those decisions. I am what I am, Shefali Vaidya, a Hindu woman from Goa, and because of a choice made by my ancestor sometime in 16 century. When the Portuguese came to Goa and Salcete which is known as Sahashasti, which means 66 villages where Hindus had settled. Myth says that Parasurama had settled Hindus from Kashmir into those 66 villages. So that is why that region was called Salcete. So Salcete, Bardez, today what is known as, today’s old Goa and a couple of islands were what formed the Portuguese territory for the first 200 years almost. Later on the Portuguese slowly, slowly started going further and they annexed the whole of Goa. But, in those days what the Portuguese called Goa are primarily 2 districts, one of Bardez and one of Salcete and 3 islands of Chorao, Divar and old Goa.
So my family used to live in a village called Nagoa. That Nagoa village bordered with a village called Verna, where the original Mahalasa temple was, who happens to be my kula devata. But the Portuguese sometimes in 1566 or one or two years after that, they embarked on a major temple destruction drive, where there were edicts from the King of Portugal saying that every single temple in that district should be destroyed. So, in one year, there are records, that they destroyed some 280 temples; destroyed as in razed it to the ground. Wherever possible, people smuggled, because they knew that this is going to happen, they smuggled the main vigraha out, Meenakshi ji would know more about this and they established the vigraha, they crossed the river, and because Portuguese were on one side of the river and on the other side of the river it was either Adil Shah’s kingdom or the kingdom was administered by Saundekar Desai’s Hindu rulers on behalf of Adil Shah.
So those territories were still safer. The mainland was till safer. So they established the Gods and Goddesses in that particular district. It is called Ponda mal. Which is why, today if you go to Goa, you will see that most of the big Hindu temples, Mardol, Mangeshi, Kavale, every major Goan temple is within 5 kms of each other. That is because, they were not there to begin with. They were in different villages, but they were rebuilt in those areas, sometimes in the late 16 or 17 century, and that is how you see those temples there. So today if you go to see in Goa, there is only one temple that still exists, which belongs to the pre-Portuguese era. That is the stone temple. That survived because that is at the base of the Western ghats, and it is too difficult to go there. It was hidden in a forest. That is why, that temple survived. That is known as Tambdi surla Mahadev temple. You will see a slide later on.
All the other temples that you see today are all built in the 16 or 17 century or later. Which is why you will see a distinct Indo-Portuguese architecture. You will see a dome on those temples. You will see the church, almost church-like interiors like huge halls and you walk inside and the garbhagriha is more open than you find in say traditional Indian temples, where you are supposed to walk inside and the garbhagriha is supposed to be this narrow small place, because that is supposed to represent the inner light. So that is why it is supposed to be lit by just one lamp. So if you see the Goan temples garbhagrihas, you will see that the big garbhagrihas kind of like church altars. That came because these were hybrid architectures. So everything changed.
Now you will ask me, so my family which lived in this village of Nagoa, when the temple of Mahalasa was destroyed and the goddess was shifted to Mardol, they were practicing Ayurvedic vaidyas. Their original name was Pai nagwekar, But they were practicing Ayurvedic vaidyas. And the Portuguese came down the hardest on practicing Brahmins, purohits and the doctors, because they were the ones who had a lot of clout in the community. The doctors would go from home to home and they would treat the patients. So they would have a certain social standing. So would the purohits, because traditionally Hindu families needed purohits for all their religious functions, all their sanskaras. So because of that, those were the people, the Portuguese came the hardest on. So they basically gave them a choice, that if you have to stay in your village, you have to convert or you have to be exiled and you have to leave in one month and that’s about it.
So my ancestor, they say his name was Rangaji, he moved from Nagoa to a place called kunkolin, which is now my ancestral village and he started his practice there. At that time kunkolin was still part of the Adil Shahi emperor. Then later on, it became a part of Portuguese empire, but by that time these guys had settled down.
So if he had not made that choice, if he had stayed back in Nagoa, he would have become a Christian and then I wouldn’t be here. So I owe my whole existence to that decision. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. This affected the life of practically every person in Goa. This is the story of every person in Goa, every Saraswat who has moved to Kerala, who has moved to Karnataka. It is the same story.. thoda bahut farak hain.. but essentially the script is the same.
So you will ask me, how did the Portugese first come to Goa? Goa was first ruled by the Kadambas. Then by the Vijayanagara empire for sometime, then by Ibrahim Adil Shah. And when it was ruled by the Muslims, obviously there were a lot of Hindus in Goa at that point of time. But they were being discriminated against. So they wrote to the king of Honnavar, and they said, who was Hindu king, they said, ‘do something, we are being oppressed by this Muslim ruler Ibrahim Adil Shah, so come and save us’. Now that king of Honnavar, he had a general called Timmoja, and that Timmoja was given this task of going to Goa and waging a war with Ibrahim Adil Shah. But he realized that, he was not strong enough, and he had heard about Afonso de Albuquerque, who had by that time come to Kochi and he had his flotilla. So he met Afonso de Albuquerque, and he said, you know what? I will make sure, that I will pass on the message to all the Hindus of Goa, the island of Goa, if you attack then I will make sure that they will support you from inside. So it will be easy for you to win over the city.
So Afonso de Albuquerque came to Goa and as expected all the Hindu population supported the Portuguese and the Portuguese defeated the forces of Ibrahim Adil Shah. And Afonso de Albuquerque became the ruler of Goa. Now this Timmoja had thought in his mind that ‘after Afonso de Albuquerque wins over Goa, he will give him a handsome tribute, monetary tribute and ask him to go back and he will go back to Portugal. Why would he want to stay in Goa‘, is what he thought. But Afonso de Albuquerque realized Goa is a golden goose, proverbially. So why would he go? So what he did was, he exiled Timmoja and sent him outside Goa and he appointed another guy called Melraj as his administrator and he became the de facto ruler of Goa, the island of Goa, which today we know as Old Goa, the city of Old Goa.
And then slowly, slowly they conquered Chorao which was another island and then another island called Divar. This happened in 1510. Somewhere around 1510, and as long as Afonso de Albuquerque was the ruler of Goa, conversions did happen. But they didn’t happen on a mass scale, because he had good relationship with the Brahmin traders or the Hindu traders of the area and he would do it very subtly. But not, there was not an official policy of getting it done, But, the…, and meanwhile this was happening when there was a king called Dom Joao III, ruling in Portugal, who was a decent king.
Now this is the time Francis Xavier had come. Now we have moved to about 1530-1540. So this is the time Francis Xavier had come to Goa and he had done Goa, Cochin. He had started a lot of proselytization work and he realized that the few Christians that he had managed to convert, they keep going back to their ways, their old ways, because they are very ingrained in them. So he wrote a letter. Xavier wrote a letter to King Dom Joao III, saying that, by that time court of Inquisition was already established in Portugal and it was basically being used against the neo-Christians which is Jews converted to Christianity. So it already existed. Spanish Inquisition existed, Portuguese Inquisition existed in Lisbon. So he told the King of Portugal King Joao III, 1540-2 if I remember, let me recheck the dates, saying that these people relapse back to their heathen ways and they are really people of a very bad character. So please establish the Court of Inquisition to punish the natives of, native Christians of Goa who relapse back to their heathen ways.
But, the King didn’t listen to him and Francis Xavier died before the Court of Inquisition was established and the king also died, Joao III and when Joao III died – his son was already dead before him – So he had a grandson called Dom Sebastian who was only 3 years old, when the grandfather died. So, he was the new King and the Dowager Queen Catherine was the person in charge. And she was very much under the influence of a Cardinal called Henrik, who was a fanatical Catholic. So he persuaded her to establish the Court of Inquisition in Goa. This happened in 1560.
Meanwhile, before that there were two guys, one was called Diogo da Borba and the other was Miguel Vaz. They were the ones who embarked on a really big mass proselytization drive in Goa and they actually got an edict from the King. Let me read from that edict, “In 1541, the Portuguese King on the advice of the Church decided to follow the policy of rigor de miserichordia, which is the rigor of mercy in Goa”. All the temples on the island of Divar and Goapuri, which is Old Goa today, the island of Goa, were destroyed. In 1548, Bishop Alberqueque, wrote to the king that he hoped “within one year, at the latest two, we shall make this whole island Christian”.
So this was the time they established a college called St. Paul’s college which was supposed to impart training to the new Christians and make them better Christians, indoctrinate them, baptize them, whatever. And all the temples they had destroyed. They had lands, which were given as grants to them by rulers, earlier rulers. So all those lands, their money was used to fund this college, so that it would take care of the neo-Christians and it would teach them. And this is also the time Miguel Vaz actually went to Portugal, because he realized, even the proselytization was happening in Goa, it was not happening fast enough for his comfort. So he actually went to Portugal. He convinced the King and he got a diktat, saying that, “the regime should take stringent measures against the Hindus” and that is when the persecution of Hindus started in real earnest.
Alberqueque had conquered the island of Goa and the areas of Divar, Churao and Zua and all the Hindu temples on this 4 islands were destroyed in 1540 itself. In 1543, Adil Shah gave them the gift of Bardez and Salcete, those 2 districts that I talked about, and in 1546 the King issued the first major directive, saying that all vestiges of idolatry be abolished from Bardez and Salcete. In 1566, there was an order that prohibited people from building new temples. It also prohibited them from repairing old temples, because Jeernoddhar was our, it was ingrained in our psyche. That people kept renovating temples, people kept making the temples better. So not only was it prohibited to build any new temples, it was also prohibited to repair any old temples, who happened to fall in disrepair.
They also said that nobody should make murtis of any kind, of wood, of stone, of metal and whoever does it, and if somebody reports that person, the person who makes the murti will be jailed and the person who reports it will get some financial reward. So you can imagine how this must have been used in those days. If you could actually, you know, if you did not like somebody then you could simply say that, guy was making a murti and you didn’t have to prove, you didn’t have to be there, or submit any proof. You just basically had to say and the other person had to bear the brunt of it.
The original temple of Mangeshi which is right now one of the most famous temples of Goa, it was destroyed around 1566 and a church was built in the same place. But the Hindus, wherever possible, they had managed to save the original vigraha and they moved it to the new place. So the temple was destroyed, churches were built in the original place. But the devi or bhagwan had been shifted to different places. This happened in my village also. In my village it happened in a big way. In my village of Kunkolin, in 1583 there was a big temple of Shantadurga, which was the gramadevata. That temple was destroyed, the people of my village, they actually led an armed resistance and 3 missionaries and 14 local converts and 2 soldiers were actually killed in 1583 by Portuguese soldiers.
So the Portugese retaliated in a big way. They came back with a whole force, the full force and they burnt, practically burnt a village down and even then the people wouldn’t listen, they would hide in surrounding forests, and they would keep coming back and attacking the Portuguese forces. So then the Portuguese would keep sending their forces. So finally the Portuguese government decided to end this problem once and for all, and they called the chieftains of the village, the warriors for talks in their fort in Assolna. The chieftains actually went and the Portuguese told them that ‘we will not interfere into your dharmic affairs, but, and we will give you passage of peace and all that so come without taking any arms. So they actually went there and you can imagine what happened. It is not a new story. They basically locked the doors and killed all of them. Only one of them, one person survived, because he jumped out of the window and into the river and then he swam and went to Karnataka.
So this was happening simultaneously. So the Portuguese had two kinds of policies. One was to make life so difficult for Hindus that being Hindu became a huge burden, a remaining Hindu became a huge burden and on the other hand if you became a Christian you had all sorts of incentives, you had financial incentives, you had social incentives, you had all sorts of incentives. Anti-Hindu laws had made life hell. In 1560 the Viceroy ordered the Hindus to be thrown out of Portuguese territories because those Hindus refused to convert. They were given one month to dispose off their property, otherwise it would be taken over by the Crown. So you can imagine, people basically sold everything they could in a distress sale to whomever, and who would buy it? Obviously people who had converted to Christianity. Hindus were forbidden to wear the sacred thread. Government employment and contractual work was given only to converted Christians. Hindus were prohibited from holding public offices. Village assemblies, every village in those days had an assembly which had the Gaonkars, the local inhabitants of that village who formed the gram sabha and they would take all the decisions.
So some people converted obviously for whatever reasons, so the Portuguese issued an edict that no gram sabha could be held unless there were Christians Gaonkars in it. So even if in a village, there were Hindus in a majority and the Christians were in a minority, the Christians had to be there in the gram sabha. Otherwise you couldn’t hold a gram sabha. And in villages where the Christian Gaonkars outnumbered more than the Hindu Gaonkars, Hindu Gaonkars were not allowed to be even represented. So that gram sabha would be only Christian Gaonkars. Hindu Gaonkars, even if they were there, they were told that you can’t participate. So obviously, a lot of monetary things, everything was related to land, right? So if the Gaonkars were told that you can’t have any part in the affairs of the village, they would at some point of time say that, ok I will become Christian. So that was the kind of policy that was made.
Then in 1620, the Viceroy issued an edict that no Hindu could marry in the Portuguese territories. Hindus were forced to either cross the river and go to the main island in Adil Shah’s territories to marry. They couldn’t even cremate their dead. They had to cremate their dead in boats in the middle of the river, because they couldn’t cremate them on the island, simply because it was a Hindu rite and it was considered heretical. So the pain of Hindus during those days is reflected in the Konkani folk song. I don’t know how many of you have heard of this song, it is there in Bobby movie, “hau sahiba poltodi voita damu na lagnani koita…” Aao saheba poltodi voita, poltodi voita”, actually means ‘I want to cross the river’. That term “I want to cross the river” has a very sad meaning in Goa, because it means that I want to escape from the Portuguese territories, ‘I want to cross the river and I want to go to a safer place’. And that is why the person says “hau sahiba, poltodi voita damu la lagnani koita”. Damu is a metaphor for a Hindu. So I want to attend Damu’s marriage that is why I want to cross the river. I want to go to a safer place, “maka saiba vat kalna”. ‘I am stopped from going across. So dear boatman please take me there‘. And that person says “Ge, ge ge, ge re sahiba” and the boatman says, ‘I won’t’ because he is terrified of the Portuguese. So the whole song is about the person saying that I will give you my bangles, I will give you my nose ring, I will give you my paon ka paigan, I will give you all the gold I have, but please take me poltadi. I want to preserve my dharma. That is the meaning of this song. But now it has become a happy folk song. But there is a lot of pathos in it.
And in 1669 came the worst, scariest order of the King. The King issued an order that all orphans from Hindu families should be handed over to the Jesuit priests to be baptized, educated and indoctrinated by the Fathers of the Church. And this edict had specified that children whose both parents were dead, whose grandparents were also dead, only those children were supposed to be handed over to the Jesuit priest. First of all even that was not fair, but even that was also an edict. But in reality what was happening is, after the death of just one parent be it father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, whatever, children were simply being collected and handed over to the Jesuit priest and what they did? The first thing they did was they cut off the shikha the shendi of the child, and then the child couldn’t even go back, because in those days of orthodoxy, to cut that shendi, cut that shikha meant that family or neighbors or the community would not accept the child back. So the child had no option. Then they would feed the child something and then they would say now the child has eaten with a Christian. So he has become a Christian already, so abhi aap kuch nahin kar sakte. And then if a small child, a 4 year old, 5 year old, 6 year old child is baptized like that, whoever is related to that child, be that the mother, or the father or the grandparents, sometimes they would simply convert out of their own will simply because they loved the child.
You can’t tell a mother, your son has become a Christian. So now you just give it up. The mother will say ‘OK, I would rather be with my child’. So that is how they converted a lot of people. Then they converted a lot of people giving enticements of property. So according to Hindu law, when a man died, his daughter wouldn’t inherit the money because she was given kanya dhan during her wedding. So what the Portuguese said that in case a Hindu person dies, his daughter, if she becomes a Christian or his widowed wife she becomes a Christian, she inherits the entire property. And if the wife and the daughter refuse to and if the son becomes a Christian he inherits the property and if there is no son and the nearest relative decides to become a Christian, then forget the children, he will inherit the property. So that is how embracing Christianity was made profitable.
Again if you are a slave of Hindu person, or a Muslim person, and slavery was practiced in those days in Goa, then you could become a Christian and then you would no longer be slaves. So obviously a lot of people embraced Christianity just to get out of slavery. So this was how Christianity was propagated. Then they said, they would simply put pieces of bread and pieces of beef in the common water supply of a community, like a community well, a community lake and whatever, and then people would drink that water and they would say that “OK now you have drunk the water which is, has beef in it. So you are no longer a Hindu anyway and your people will not accept you, so the only choice you have is to become Christian”.
And then there were some people who became Christian out of their own volition as well. I am not saying that everybody was converted by force. But most of the conversions were not by conviction, about more than 90% of the conversions were either by coercion, were either for profit, were either out of fear, ignorance all of these things. Everything, but conviction. Which is why they had to establish the Court of Inquisition. Because if you become a Christian out of conviction, then why would you go back to your old ways? You wouldn’t. Right? Logically. So the only reason why the court of inquisition had to be established in Goa is because the Christians would keep going back to their older ways.
Hindus were prohibited to teach their children about their own religion, and children younger than 15 were forced to attend Christian preaching organised in public places. Every attempt was made to humiliate and emasculate Hindus while converts were given concessions, jobs and right to property, and still a large population of Hindus chose not to convert. They either moved to the mainland areas which were still not controlled by the Portuguese. Some moved to Karnataka. Some moved further down to Kochi which is why you find Konkani speaking people all the way down to Ernakulam, all the way along the Konkan coast.
Then what the Portugese did was, once they converted the people, they changed their whole way of life. They destroyed the whole social fabric that they were familiar with. The language was suppressed, education in Konkani was prohibited, speaking Konkani was prohibited. All the elite were forced to speak Portuguese even at home. Then their way of dressing was changed. People were penalized if they wore the dhoti or the sarees that they were accustomed to and they were given western clothes. Their terms of using father and mother was in Goa also Aai and Papa or Aai and Bappa. That was changed to Mai and Pai which were the Portuguese names. So everything was changed, they were force fed pork. Their way of cooking was changed. Hindus never put, small, small things. Hindus never put salt in their rice. So the Christians were forced to put salt in their rice. Even today in Goa, Christians put salt in their rice. Whereas Hindus don’t. If you see, when I used to eat my Christians friends place that was the first thing I noticed that the rice was salty and I realized the meaning of it after I came to know about all these things.
So along with the systematic persecution of Hindus, the Portuguese embarked upon aggressive proselytization. But most people converted out of violence, avarice or fear. Richard Burton, the famous British traveler who had visited Goa during that time, had said that “fire and steel, dungeon and the rack, the rice pot and the rupee had all played their part in the conversions”. Entire communities as I said were converted by deceit. Dr. Antonio Narrona, he was the former judge of the High Court in Goa, in his essay ‘The Hindus and The Portuguese Republic’ had written, I quote, “in 1560 there existed only one church in Salcete. In less than 15 years, 28 full parishes had been established. It is known how such rapid conversion took place, some by fear of physical force, some from moral cowardice, some because they could not overcome the love of the country of their birth, some with their eyes on a lucrative job and almost no one from conviction”.
It is this lack of conviction as I said earlier that led to the establishment of Court of Inquisition. The Court of Inquisition was established in Goa in 1560. It was briefly abolished in 1773-1778 because in Portugal there was a regime change and there was a guy called Marques de Pombal, who was a liberal guy and he was the Prime Minister of Portugal. So he established, he abolished the Court of Inquisition in Goa. But after 5 years the regime changed again and he was fallen out of favor and the Inquisition returned back to Goa.
OK, so now, how was the Court of Inquisition formed? The Court of Inquisition had 2 inquisitors, both were answerable only to the King. They were appointed only by the King of Portugal. They were not answerable to the Archbishops of Goa. They were not answerable even to the Viceroy of Goa who was the highest, secular authority of Goa. They had, their appointments were from the Pope, but they were answerable only to the King. The aim of the Court Inquisition was to punish new Christians who practiced the customs and traditions of their erstwhile faiths, be it Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. It is true that the Court of Inquisition was meant for the neo-Christians who kept lapsing back to the ways of their old faith. But the Inquisition also had the powers to punish any Hindu who would stop or who was perceived as somebody who tried to stop a conversion. So a grandfather who would send his grandchild to the mainland because he didn’t want the child to get Christian instructions. That grandfather, Hindu grandfather, the Inquisitor could just arrest the grandfather and imprison him. Such Hindus were not killed, but Christians could be killed, the Jewish people who embraced Christianity could be killed, Muslims who had embraced Christianity could be killed. But these people could be tortured, they could be beaten or they could be sent off to other Portuguese colonies as slaves, the Hindus.
So, what were the offences that made neo-Christians liable to be arrested by the Court of Inquisition? You must be wondering. right? Aisa kya tha? What were the big offences? The offences were, there was an edict published by the Court of Inquisition, which list the offenses liable, there are some 56 offences. I cannot list all of them. But I will narrate some of them. The list is very comprehensive and it lists offences like distribution of veedo, which is betel leaves. So, for any auspicious function Hindus distribute betel leaves. But Hindus who had become Christians couldn’t use betel leaves in any form. If they were caught doing that they would be arrested by the Court of Inquisition. Having a Tulasi plant anywhere in their entire property, not just in the Brindavan, not just outside their homes, but in their entire property, even if was a wild growing Tulasi plant, they were liable to be arrested. Singing traditional songs called Vovio, which the Hindus used to sing in weddings, anointing a bridegroom or bride with Haldi and coconut milk as part of the ceremony, celebrating sixth day ceremony which still a big thing in Goa and Maharastra, where they say that the Goddess of destiny comes and writes the child’s future. So people used to keep a vigil when the new baby was born. So anybody who kept vigil on sixth day of birth would be liable to be arrested. Holding of a feast in the memory of their dead ancestors, i.e., shraddh, using cow dung to polish the floor or walls of their houses, cooking rice without salt, observing fasts on certain days of the week or on eclipses, men wearing dhoti, either in public or in private, attending Christian festivals or processions wearing Hindu apparel like sarees or dhotis, wearing a bindi or wearing sandalwood paste on their forehead, using Hindu musical instruments like cymbals and celebrating traditional harvest festivals like Shigmo., all of these were considered huge crimes and for any, even a single one of these crimes, you could be arrested. Now, witnesses were encouraged to denounce Christians who had relapsed into heresy. So again as I said there was no onus on the witnesses to prove anything. So if you didn’t like somebody, you could just go to the Court of Inquisition and say that, you know what? This person was seen bowing before an idol and the Court of Inquisition would come and arrest that person.
Any person could report a neo-Christian of having committed any of those offenses. The witnesses were neither required to substantiate their charge or curse the accused. In effect anybody could report anyone. The Court of Inquisition would then arrest the person, take him away from their family and immediately, the first thing that they would do is to seize all the property of that person. So part of their property would actually go to the witnesses who denounced that person and part of it would go to the Crown. Torture was used by Inquisition to obtain confessions. There were two kinds of tortures mainly, torture of pol or torture of pulleys where the victim would be suspended mid-air with weights on his feet, the weight would be increased till the victim could not bear it anymore and confessed. There was a water torture, torture of potro, where the victim was placed on a port or a kind of a slanted treadle where the head was placed lower than the body and an iron band around the throat kept the persons head immovable while tight chords cut deeply into his or her flesh. An iron prong forcibly kept the mouth open as water was poured into the person’s mouth and nose to strangle and suffocate the victim. This was repeated several times till the victim confessed. There were other tortures like putting candles in the arm pits, leg beatings., you name it. Everything was there. Women were subjected to even worse tortures, you can imagine what they were like.
The Archbishop of Avera, Portuguese Archbishop had remarked in a speech that the Inquisitors went to the length of imprisoning in his jail, women who resisted their advances and after having satisfied their bestial instincts, ordering that they may be burnt at stakes as heretics. The worse torture, the final torture was of course burning them alive at public events called Auto da fe, meaning ‘trial by fire’. These Auto da fe’s were held once a year or maybe once every two years, where people who had not confessed and people who were convicted of heretical crimes were actually burnt alive at stakes.
Charles Dellon, I don’t know how many of you have heard of his name. He was a French doctor, who was based in Daman. When he was arrested by the Inquisition, on the charges of not following Catholic practices like respecting images and whatever. He had some personal enmity with the Governor of Daman. That’s why he was arrested, and then he was taken to Goa and he was imprisoned by the Court of Inquisition for 3 years. He later on went back to France and he wrote a book called ‘The Relation of the Goan Inquisition’ which was a contemporary account and from that account we know many of the things that actually happened at the Court of Inquisition.
The Court of Inquisition was held in a big palace called the Palace of Inquisitions or the Santa Casa, The Holy House. Till today, I don’t know how many of you have been to Old Goa. But in Old Goa, there is a big church where Francis Xavier’s remains are kept and across the road is the main Basilica. Next to the Basilica there is another church called St. Catherine’s church. In between the Basilica and the Catherine’s church, there is a huge ground which is right now just lying fallow. But that’s where, the palace of Adil Shah used to be there, which was taken over and made into the Inquisition palace. So much was it’s terror that nobody could call that palace or Santa Casa as the house of Inquisition or the Holy House. They used to call it the Hodle Ghar meaning the Big House by the local people.
So Charles Dellon has described that the palace of Inquisition was a dreaded, imposing building, that contained about 200 prison cells, many of which were dark and windowless. According to Dellon, the 2 inquisitors had their living quarters as well as their chapel in the palace. All inquisitors were nominated by the King and confirmed by the Pope and received more respect than the Archbishop or even the Viceroy. Philippe Rene Vyke in his book published in 1903, says that the terrible acts of the inquisition has caused terror to be so deeply rooted in the memories of the people that nobody dared to name the Palace as the ‘house of the inquisition’, but gave it the mysterious name of Hodle Ghar.
Charles Dellon has given the description of auto da fe, the grisly ceremony where people convicted of heresy were burnt alive. The victims to be tried were given yellow robes with the cross of St. Andrew painted in red in front and behind. These robes were called Samvenitos. Those victims who were convicted wore robes called the samara which had their portrait, the portraits of the prisoners were painted on the robe and on both sides they had ascending flames and devils pushing those unfortunate people into the flame saying that these people are basically going to go to hell. When they were about to be burnt alive the victims were asked one question. Do you want to die as a Christian or not? If they said they want to die as a Christian, they would be strangled first as an act of mercy and then burnt, and the people who would not confess would be burnt alive. And mind you, the jurisdiction of the inquisition was on the living as well as the dead. So of somebody said that a person who is dead, and this happened typically with rich people. If some witness said that somebody who has died 3 years ago, but he was a practicing Hindu or he was a practicing Jew, the inquisition had the powers to dig up the bones of the person, try the bones and then cremate the bones. I mean burn the bones, and of course the minute they did that, the property of the dead person would go to the church. So this happened with a lot of rich people. Suddenly, mysteriously they found out that they were practicing Jews or practicing Hindus.
This happened, Auto Da Fe happened in Campo de Sao Lazaro. Even today if you go to Goa, there is a pillar called, in Konkani Hath katro khambo meanig the pillar of broken hands, where the people would be tied, who had to be burnt and they were burnt. Now it is lost in an urban sprawl but it still exists. The pillar still exists in Goa. The inquisition also had the power to censor and confiscate books. All books written in Sanskrit and Marathi were ceased by the inquisitors and burnt on the suspicion they might be heretical in their content. Boxes containing prohibited books were carried in procession at Auto Da Fe and burnt in public. The Court of Inquisition did keep records of all the cases it handled. But in 1812 when the Court of Inquisition was finally abolished, official records were burnt. There is no accurate information about how many people were tried by the Inquisition in its entire duration of 250 years. But there is recorded data available that in the 63 years period between 1561-1774, 16712 cases were tried by the Court of Inquisition.
Now you will ask me 16,712 is not a big number so why should we bother? First of all remember, that Goa’s population at that point of time was very, very minuscule. What the population was then 16,000 people mattered a lot. Secondly, the territory under the Portuguese rule at that point of time was about 1/8 of today’s Goa’s territory. So in such a small territory 16,000 people lives mattered a lot.
(Inaudible question from audience). Yes, but this is a typical question that I get asked a lot. You know, when I announced that I was giving a talk on Goan Inquisition, the first comment actually came from a Goan Hindu and he said “aap gade murde kyo ukhaad rahen ho?” Why are you raking up the ghosts of the past? Why do you want to talk about it? Now Hindus and Christians live peacefully in Goa. Why do you want to talk about it? (Inaudible voice from audience). Exactly, exactly, that was my answer to him and truth liberates. I am giving you the facts, I am giving you the recorded facts. How you take them is entirely up to you. That I cannot tell you. But, these are facts, you cannot just ignore the truth, just because it is inconvenient for you.
Secondly, it is not even inconvenient. Today whatever they may tell you, every Christian in Goa knows that they were Hindus converted to Christianity. Many of those people, they know their family deity. When they get married they first give a coconut to their original family deity and then they, have to give a notice in church, then they give a notice in church. Everybody knows. They know, they even know their erstwhile Hindu surnames. So I have had people come to tell me that we are related, Christian Brahmins. That is another unique thing about Goa.
(Inaudible question from audience) Yes. So I have a lot of Christian Brahmins coming and telling me, “Oh! we are also from Nagoa. So we could have been related at some point of time”. That kind of thing. If you see the matrimonial ads in Goa you will see that Christian Brahmin groom wants Christian Brahmin bride or Christian Chardo groom wants a Chardo bride. But everybody knows. So its not like, fortunately or unfortunately it’s not like we descended from the Arabs. People know that they were Hindus and they were converted. So the whole point of this talk is to make people aware that something like this existed. It’s very unfortunate that many people today who go to Goa as tourists, they go to Old Goa and they pray to Francis Xavier. I have seen even Hindus do that. When you know that he is the person who was basically responsible for the establishment of the Court of Inquisition, and unless you know the truth, how are you ever able to fight it? And it’s not that it happened in the past, ok? It happened in 90s. It happened with her, it happened in Kashmir. It is still happening as we speak in Bangladesh. It’s the same template. It’s the exact same thing that is happening. It’s like first make you ashamed of your roots, make you ashamed of being a Hindu. Make life so difficult for you and make it easier for you to convert in every which way, by giving every other concession possible so that you would always make. If you are slightly weak or vulnerable or whatever, you would always take the easier choice. It keeps happening. Which is why it is important to know about it. Which is why we need to talk about this.