The Goa Inquisition was set up at the request of Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in a letter dated 16 May 1546 to King John III of Portugal. Between the Inquisition’s beginning in 1561 and its temporary abolition in 1774, at least 16,202 persons were brought to trial. Almost all of the Goa Inquisition’s records are lost, destroyed by the Portuguese when the Inquisition was abolished in 1820.
French historian and philosopher Voltaire wrote, “Goa is sadly famous for its Inquisition, which is contrary to humanity as much as to commerce. The Portuguese monks deluded us into believing that the Indian populace was worshipping the Devil, while it is they who served him.” – IS
At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material was in most cases utilized to erect new Christian churches and chapels. Various viceregal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories; the public practices of Hindu rites including marriage rites, were banned; the state took upon itself the task of bringing up Hindu orphan children; the Hindus were denied certain employments, while the Christians were preferred; it was ensured that the Hindus would not harass those who became Christians, and on the contrary, the Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion.”
A particularly grave abuse was practiced in Goa in the form of mass baptism and what went before it. The practice was begun by the Jesuits and was alter initiated by the Franciscans also. The Jesuits staged an annual mass baptism on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), and in order to secure as many neophytes as possible, a few days before the ceremony the Jesuits would go through the streets of the Hindu quarter in pairs, accompanied by their Negro slaves, whom they would urge to seize the Hindus. When the blacks caught up a fugitive, they would smear his lips with a piece of beef, making him an “untouchable” among his people. Conversion to Christianity was then his only option.
The Goan Inquisition is regarded by all contemporary portrayals as the most violent inquisition ever executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It lasted from 1560 to 1812. The inquisition was set as a tribunal, headed by a judge, sent to Goa from Portugal and was assisted by two judicial henchmen. The judge was answerable to no one except to Lisbon and handed down punishments as he saw fit. The Inquisition Laws filled 230 pages and the palace where the Inquisition was conducted was known as the Big House and the Inquisition proceedings were always conducted behind closed shutters and closed doors. The screams of agony of the victims—men, women, and children—could be heard in the streets, in the stillness of the night, as they were brutally interrogated, flogged, and slowly dismembered in front of their relatives. Eyelids were sliced off and extremities were amputated carefully, a person could remain conscious even though the only thing that remained was his torso and head.
Diago de Boarda, a priest, and his advisor Vicar General Miguel Vazz had made a 41 point plan for torturing Hindus. Under this plan Viceroy Antano de Noronha issued in 1566, an order applicable to the entire area under Portuguese rule:
“I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.”
In 1567 the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished.
A religious order was issued on the basis of the findings of the Goa Inquiry Commission. It stated, “Hereby we declare the decision that the conventions mentioned in the preamble of the order as stated below are permanently declared as useless, and therefore prohibited.”
Prohibitions Regarding Marriages
- The instruments for Hindu songs shall not be played;
- While giving dowry the relatives of the bride and groom must not be invited;
- At the time of marriage, betel leaf packages (pan) must not be distributed either publicly or in private to the persons present;
- Flowers, or fried puris, betel nuts and leaves must not be sent to the heads of the houses of the bride or groom;
- Gotra ceremony of family God must not be performed;
- On the day prior to a wedding, rice must not be husked, spices must not be pounded, grains must not be ground and other recipes for marriage feast must not be cooked;
- Pandals and festoons must not be used;
- Pithi should not be applied;
- The bride must not be accorded ceremonial welcome. The bride and groom must not be made to sit under pandal to convey blessings and best wishes to them;
- The poor must not be fed or ceremonial meals must not be served for the peace of the souls of the dead;
- There should be no fasting on ekadashi day;
- Fasting can be done according to the Christian principles;
- No rituals should be performed on the twelfth day after death, on moonless and full moon dates;
- Hindu men should not wear dhoti either in public or in their houses. Women should not wear cholis;
- They should not plant tulsi in their houses, compounds, gardens or any other place.
Following the law of 1567, orphans were kidnapped for converting them to Christianity.
On September 22, 1570 an order was issued that:
- The Hindus embracing Christianity will be exempted from land taxes for a period of 15 years;
- Nobody shall bear Hindu names or surnames.
In 1583 Hindu temples at Esolna and Kankolim were destroyed through army action. “The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers.” wrote Sasetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588.
An order was issued in June 1684 eliminating Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing roughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the symbols of non-Christian sects were destroyed and the books written in local languages were burnt.
The archbishop living on the banks of the Ethora had said during one of his lecture series, “The post of Inquiry Commission in Goa is regarded as holy.” The women who opposed the assistants of the commission were put behind the bars and were used by them to satisfy their animal instincts. Then they were burnt alive as opponents of the established tenets of the Catholic Church.
The victims of such inhuman laws of the Inquiry Commission included a French traveller named Dellon. He was an eye-witness to the atrocities, cruelty and reign of terror unleashed by priests. He published a book in 1687 describing the lot of helpless victims. While he was in jail he had heard the cries of tortured people beaten with instruments having sharp teeth. All these details are noted in Dellon’s book.
So harsh and notorious was the Inquisition in Goa, that word of its brutality and horrors reached Lisbon, but nothing was done to stop this notoriety and escalating barbarity and it continued for two hundred more years. Nobody knows the exact number of Goans subjected to these diabolical tortures, but perhaps it runs into hundreds of thousands, may be even more. The abominations of the Inquisition continued until a brief respite was given in 1774 but four years later, the Inquisition was introduced again and it continued uninterruptedly until 1812. At that point in time, in the year of 1812, the British put pressure on the Portuguese to put an end to the terror of the Inquisition and the presence of British troops in Goa enforced the British desire. Also the Portuguese power at this time was declining and they could not fight the British. The palace of the Grand Inquisitor, the Big House, was demolished and no trace of it remains today, which might remind someone of the Inquisitions and the horrors inside this Big House that their great saint Francis Xavier had commenced.
Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha, a Catholic citizen of Goa writes, “Inspite of all the mutilations and concealment of history, it remains an undoubted fact that religious conversion of Goans is due to methods of force adopted by the Portuguese to establish their rule. As a result of this violence the character of our people was destroyed. The propagation of Christian sect in Goa came about not by religious preaching but through the methods of violence and pressure. If any evidence is needed for this fact, we can obtain it through law books, orders and reports of the local rulers of that time and also from the most dependable documents of the Christian sect. – www.vgweb.org
› Dr Teotónio Rosário de Souza (18 February 1947–20 February 2019) was a Goan historian and the founder-director of the Goa-based Xavier Centre of Historical Research (XCHR), at Alto Porvorim. Based in Portugal since 1995, de Souza was head of the Department of History in the Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias from 1999-2014. He had been a fellow of the Portuguese Academy of History since 1983, and of the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa since 2000.
Goa Inquisition – I
Goa Inquisition – II
Goa Inquisition – III
More about the Goa Inquisition
- Fr. Francis Gonsalves tries to sell the Jesuit brand to Indians – Ishwar Sharan
- The Goa Inquisition: The Terrible Tribunal for The East – A.K. Priolkar
- An Account of the Inquisition at Goa, in India – M. Dellon