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Kerala History

     Home > Kerala History > European Conquest

          History of Kerala

           
          EUROPEAN CONQUEST


          Kerala historyFor centuries the Europeans had chaffed under the Arab monopoly in trade with the East. Just when Europe was stirring out of its deepest of dark ages, there were many sponsors for journeys to the unknown Orient, not the least being the kings and queens of Europe. The Papal proclamation then had roughly divided the world into two spheres of influence between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

          In stepped an adventurous Vasco de Gama, a capable naval Captain and a fortune hunter. He found the easiest way to India by bribing the Arab pilot when his ship anchored off Kenya at Port Malindi. Following the centuries old route taken by the Arab traders and riding on a monsoon wind, he sailed the Sao' Gabriel to land at Kappad near the town of Calicut or Kozhikode. The entire history of the East was to change from that day.

          Kerala historyThe Zamorin or Samuthiri received the Portuguese,(known locally as parungees) warmly. Trade concessions were granted to the Portuguese. But sensing the rivalries of the local kings, the Portuguese immediately set about engaging themselves in consolidating their positions. Through all this, what struck the otherwise peaceful people of this land was the extreme cruelty of the Portuguese. Cabral Alvarez believed in the supremacy of the Portuguese on the sea-lanes and killed anyone dared to break it.

          Vasco de Gama's second foray into Kerala was tainted with such acts of barbarity that it was said that "…his deeds were blots in the annals of a Christian nation, and a disgrace to the name of humanity.." A succession of Governors, soldiers and priests set about expanding the territories and plundering the lands they conquered.

          There was some organised resistance to the Portuguese expansionism, particularly at sea from the Samuthiris of Kozhikode. Notable among the Samuthiri's Admirals is Kunjali Marakkar, still a revered hero in Kerala. He achieved some sort of victory in checking the Portuguese expansionism, but against better weapons, technology and cunning, it was a losing battle.

          An interesting sidelight is the Portuguesebehaviour towards the thriving community of Christians in Kerala. Tradition has it that these Christians were converted by St.Thomas the Apostle in the 1st Century AD . The Portuguese were a little annoyed that the local Christians were more Hindus in their outlook, culture and traditions and never heard of the Pope in Rome. The famous Synod of Diamper (present day Udayamperoor near 14 Kms from Kochi) in 1599, decreed that all Christians henceforth revert to the Pope in Rome as the Supreme Spiritual head and not the Pontiff at Antioch

          This is the course of time led to a revolt by a section of the Syrian Christians . Legend has it that they took an oath - by tying themselves to a Cross at Kochi on 15 January 1653. This is known as the "Koonan Cross Oath" and is still revered as a turning point among the Syrian Christians who constitute about 23 percent of the population of Kerala. But the Portuguese had some success in proselytising and did manage to convert some communities along the coast to Christianity. They are the Latin Catholics and have become an influential section in Kerala.

          Kerala historyThe Portuguese finally met their match in the Dutch, the other predatory European powers in the East. They proclaimed the Kochi Maharaja as the titular head and drove the Portuguese out. With aim of total control over the Eastern Spices trade, the Dutch East India Company was set up in 1602. Stefan Van Hegena set sail with 13 ships and reached Kannur ( Cannanore) in 1604.

          The Dutch known locally as Lanthakar, was in the race for evicting the Portuguese from the lucrative Eastern spices trade. Strategic alliance with the Samuthiri helped them drive out the Portuguese once and for all by 1663. But from then on it was the same old story of the former allies falling out. This phase ended with the Dutch gaining undue advantages and gaining foothold over most of the coastal areas and towns, prominent being Kannur and Kochi. By 1717 there was some sort of a treaty established between them. But these could not save the Dutch from defeat in 1741 at the hands of a resurgent king of Thiruvithanmkur , Marthanda Varma in the battle of Kolachel. By 1795, the Dutch were so weakened, that the British did not have much trouble evicting them permanently from the Kerala landscape once and for all.

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