Portuguese in India

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July 06, 2024

Why in news?

A closer study of Bengali cuisine, language, and culture shows a greater influence of Portuguese in the Bengali culture.

How did Portuguese invaded India?

  • Portuguese interests in India – They had multipronged interests in India.
    • Spices from Malabar
    • Indigo from Gujarat
    • Textiles from both Gujarat and Tamil ports.
  • Arrival – The Portuguese, under King Manuel I, sought a direct sea route to India to bypass Arab and Venetian merchants dominating the lucrative spice trade.
  • Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached the Indian coast at Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1498.
  • Reaction of natives - The arrival of the Portuguese was met with mixed reactions from the local population.
  • He met the Zamorin ruler of Calicut and despite objections from the Arab raiders, obtained permission from the Zamorin to trade in Calicut.
  • But Vasco da Gama was unable to pay the custom duties and price of his goods.
  • He realized that the only way to establish a foothold in India was through force which began the rise of Portuguese rule in India.
  • Conquests in India – In 1509, they defeated the combined fleet of Egyptians, Arab and Zamorin at the battle of Diu.
  • In 1510, Alfonso de Albuquerque captured Goa, which became the administrative and commercial center of Portuguese India.
  • Nino Da Cunha occupied Bassein and Diu in 1534 and 1537 respectively.
  • In 1539, they defeated a combined fleet of Ottomans, Mamluks of Egypt, the Gujarat Sultanate and the Zaomorin of Calicut at Diu.
  • By the end of the 16th century, they had about fifty forts and a powerful naval fleet of 100 ships.
  • Settlements – Initially, forts and trading posts were established Cochin and Cannanore in Malabar region.
  • Diu, Daman, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Bassein and Goa were the important settlements in India.


Albuquerque (1509- 1515), the successor of Almeida, was the real founder of the Portuguese empire in India.

What are impacts of Portuguese rule in India?

Positive Impacts

  • Discovered alternate sea route to India – A new sea route from Europe to India bypassing the Ottoman Empire was found.
  • Contained monopolistic trade of Arabs – Bypassing Arabs helped in increased trade relations between Europeans and India.
  • Introduced new military tactics – They used gun powder and superior artillery against the native rulers.
  • Francisco d’ Almeida followed ‘Blue Water Policy,’ and accordingly, he added more ships to strengthen the navy.
  • Created new ethnic groups – Alfonso de Albuquerque introduced the policies of intermarriage between Portuguese men and Indian women.
  • Social Justice – Alfonso de Albuquerque tried to ban the practice of sati, the ritual of burning the widows on their husbands’ funeral pyre.
  • Facilitated human development – Christian missionaries helped in improving the living conditions of natives by establishing education institutions and health care facilities.
  • Developed printing press – They brought the first printing press to India.
  • St. Paul's College in Goa had its first printing press in 1556.
  • Introduced western education – Establishment of early Western-style educational institutions, promoting European knowledge and science.

Negative Impacts

  • Paved way for European colonialism – For the first time in the political history of India the Europeans conquered and seized territories from the Indian rulers.
  • Followed divide and rule policy – Initially, Vasco da Gama used the enmity between the two Hindu rulers of Cochin and Calicut for establishing their power in India.
  • Exploited traders - Under the cartaz system, they exacted money from the traders as price for protection against what they termed as piracy.
  • Social disruption - Their involvement in capturing and trading slaves, caused social disruption.
  • Religious conflictsTheir introduction of Christian missionaries which involved in religious conversion lead to conflict with other native religious people.

Mughal-Portuguese Relation

  • Battle of Diu (1509) – A significant naval battle where the Portuguese defeated a coalition that included the Sultan of Gujarat, an ally of the Mughals, asserting their dominance in the Indian Ocean.
  • Embassy to Akbar (1572) - The Portuguese sent an embassy to Mughal Emperor Akbar's court, aiming to secure trading privileges and political alliances.
  • Jesuit missions in Mughal court - Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, such as those led by Father Antonio Monserrate, were active in Akbar's court, promoting Christianity and cultural exchange.
  • Capture of Hugli (1632) - Mughal forces under Shah Jahan captured the Portuguese settlement at Hugli in Bengal, citing the Portuguese's illegal activities, including slave trading.

What led to the downfall of Portuguese in India?

  • Resistance from local rulers - The Portuguese faced strong resistance from local Indian rulers and kingdoms, such as the Vijayanagara Empire and the Mughal Empire.
  • Competition with other European powers - The arrival of other European powers like the Dutch, British, and French intensified competition for control of trade routes and territories, diminishing Portuguese influence and economic dominance.
  • The Portuguese suffered significant defeats, such as the Battle of Swally (1612) against the British, weakening their control over key territories.
    • In 1612, they lost Surat to English
    • In 1661, Bombay was handed over to English over matrimonial alliance.
    • In 1663, they lost all their forts to Dutch on the Malabar Coast.
  • Technological and naval superiority of rivals - Advanced ships and navigational techniques of rival European powers gave them a strategic advantage over the Portuguese fleet.
  • Limited resources and manpower - Portugal's small population and limited resources made it difficult to maintain extensive colonization and military operations.
  • Internal conflicts and corruption - Internal conflicts and rampant corruption among officials weakened their governance and operational efficiency in India.
  • Economic challenges - The high costs of maintaining and defending their coastal forts and trade routes strained the Portuguese economy lead to financial difficulties.
  • Cultural and religious factors - Portuguese efforts to spread Christianity often led to conflicts with local populations, further undermining their influence and control.   

How Indo-Portugal relations evolved after India’s Independence?

  • Diplomatic relations – Relations between India and Portugal began amicably in 1947 after India’s independence and diplomatic relations were established in 1949.
  • Sovereignty issues – Bilateral relations declined after 1950 as Portugal refused to surrender Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nager Haveli on India’s West Coast.
  • By 1955, diplomatic relations were cutoff between the two nations.
  • End of Portuguese colonialism – Indian military forces liberated Goa in 1961 by Operation Vijay.
  • The Governor of Portuguese India signed the Instrument of Surrender in 1961, Liberating Goa after 450 years of Portuguese rule in India.
  • Recognition of India’s Sovereignty – India and Portugal finally signed a treaty in 1974 on recognition of India’s sovereignty over Goa, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and related matters.
  • This treaty came into force in 1975.

Under Portuguese law, individuals born in Goa before December 19, 1961, and two subsequent generations have the option to register as Portuguese citizens.

  • Indian community in Portugal – The Indian origin diaspora in Portugal is estimated to number around 1,25,000.
  • Political relations - Portugal has consistently supported India’s permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • Economic ties - As per Government of India’s data, India-Portugal trade in FY 2022-23 amounted to US$1,201.41 million.
  • Indian exports stood at US$1,005.41 million and Portuguese exports at US$196 million.
  • Defence cooperation - India and Portugal signed an MoU in defence cooperation in 2017.
  • Both sides have regularly exchanged delegations and participated in the defence expos.
  • Academic and youth exchanges - Regular academic exchanges were being held until the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions.
  • Indian diaspora youth from Portugal have so far participated in the ‘Know India’ Programme(KIP) and in the ‘Know Goa’ Programme(KGP).


  1. The Indian Express| Influence of Portuguese in India
  2. EOILisbon| Indo-Portugal Relationship


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