Portuguese Empire of India

From 1505 to 1961, some territories of India remained under Portuguese State of India {Estado da India} or Portuguese India {Índia Portuguesa}. The Indian empire of Portuguese was mainly confined in isolated colonies on both East and West Coast of India and was part of Portuguese possessions in Asia, East Africa and Pacific.

India’s Trade at the time of Arrival of Portuguese

From 7th century onwards, India’s merchandize trade with European countries was dominated by Arabs, who took goods from India and supplied it to the merchants of Venice and Genoa in Italy, who in turn supplied it to European markets. Naturally, the sea routes were also dominated by the Arabs who did not allow any other to encroach these routes.

However, this arrangement was disturbed when Spanish and Portuguese discovered alternative sea routes to India and South East Asia. Gradually, the seaborne trade of Arabs in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea was paralysed.

Foundation of Estado da India

Foundation of this state began with discovery of an alternate route from Portugal to India by Vasco da Gama via Cape of Good Hope. The first fleet of Vasco da Gama arrived on 20 May 1498 at Koppad near Calicut. He was received with traditional Indian hospitality by Zamorin {this term was used by Hindu Eradi rulers Kozhikode in Medieval India}. However, whatever gifts were brought by Vasco for the Zamorin was not up to his expectation and due to this Vasco had to return without any concrete outcome of his visit. The rival Arabs told the Zamorin that Vasco is not a royal ambassador but only a small time pirate. Thus, this particular journey of Vasco was an utter failure. Nevertheless, it opened up a new route, which was safe from the rival Arabs.

First Portuguese Colony at Calicut

Two years after Vasco’s discovery, another Armada came in 1500 under Pedro Álvares Cabral. He had discovered of Brazil on the way. He was able to make some fruitful treaties with the rulers of Kozhikode and Cannanore and established first Portuguese factory at Calicut.

However, he had to fight with the Arabs in the efforts of creating a niche for Portuguese. During these fights, he captured some of the vessels of the Arabs and killed their crew. Arabs retaliated by burning down the factory and killing several Portuguese. This is called Battle of Calicut. In 1501, Cabral had to go back to Portugal, defeated and humiliated.

In 1502, Vasco returned to India and this time, he was able to get some favor from local rulers. His demand to get the Arabs expelled from the area was not fulfilled and so he started some serious naval fights in the region.

Consolidation of Empire

In 1503, Francisco de Almeida was sent as Governor and Viceroy of Estado da India. He was able to erect some fortresses at Cochin, Cannanore, Kilwa and Anjadiva. He had to engage in a fierce fight with a Muslim confederacy of Muslims of Egypt, Turkey and Gujarat. He was able to defeat them but died soon in 1510. He was replaced by Alfonso de Albuquerque.

Afonso de Albuquerque invaded Goa in 1510 and fought the Battle of Goa (1510) with the forces of Sultan of Bijapur Adil Shah. In this battle, he was able to take possession of some of territories of Goa and made them the Portuguese colonies. He started first Portuguese mint and issued coins in Gold, Silver and Bronze with badge of Portuguese Kings. In 1511, he was also able to win Malacca {Malaysia} by defeating the Arab merchants.

Albuquerque is known as real founder of Portuguese colonial empire and a Portuguese Cultural Ambassador also. In view of the paucity of manpower in Portugal, Albuquerque had encouraged the lower classes of the Portuguese settlers to marry Indian women. From that time onwards, the Portuguese started settling in Goa and marrying the local ladies. Albuquerque was the first to abolish the practice of Sati, which was vogue in that time, in his territories.

The next important Portuguese Governor was Nuno da Kunha, who brought Mombasa, Mozambique etc. under Portuguese circle.  During his term, Vasco had come to India for a smaller duration under pompous title of Viceroy of India but he died in 1524 in Cochin.

By 1529, Nuno was able to capture Daman and Diu from Gujarat’s ruler Bahadur Shah and compelled the Indian ruler to sign a Treaty of Bassein. Via this treaty, Bahadur Shah gave Bassein {Vasai and Nalla Sopara area of Mumbai’s Thane district} to Portuguese. When Gujarat was captured by forces of Mughal emperor Akbar, Bahadurshah tried to win support of Portuguese by giving them Mumbai and surrounding areas. Bahadurshah was later killed by his Portuguese friends on a ship and his body was thrown in Arabian sea. By 1534, Portuguese had acquired Mumbai, Vasai, Virar, Daman and Diu, Surat and entire Goa. In 1579, they had established the town of Hooghly-Chuchura.

Decline of the Empire

Portuguese were first Europeans to settle and colonize in India. They came to India mainly to trade spices but gradually made colonies here. In their expansion, artillery gave them great advantage in sea warfare. Even on land the Portuguese proved the better fighters. However, they were wiped out from most of the territories by 19th century. At its climax, the Portuguese empire was spread in many isolated colonies in entire peninsular India. The age of the heroes for the Portuguese India had passed away with the end of Afonso De Albuquerque who had the same spirit as Dupleix or Lord Clive. But his policy was not continued and the Portuguese empire on Indian soil was abandoned in favor of the other Europeans. In 1612, they lost Surat to British. In 1631, Mughals recaptured Hugli from them. In 1661, Portuguese government gave Bombay in dowry to Prince Charles-II of England. By 19th century, Portuguese were confined to only Goa, Daman and Diu. They retained it till 1961, when the armies of Independent India forced them out.

Role of Religious Policy in decline of Portuguese

Portuguese were notorious for cruel treatment of their native subjects. Their spirit of crusading led to a fanatic desire to convert all their subjects to Christianity, even at point of sword. After 1540, the Portuguese colonies were flocked by numerous Jesuits and priests who displayed an intolerant bigotry and introduced all the horrors of the inquisition. This policy was one of the main reasons that they could not survive for long.


  • Dr Sunil Chaudhry

    Goa Transition on to Indian State is phenomenal