Goa Inquisition: Bribery, Threats, Torture – Tools of Conversions

 Goa Inquisition: Bribery, Threats, Torture – Tools of Conversions

This is the fourth part in the series of articles on the Goan Inquisition based on the book by Anant Kakba Priolkar. The earlier parts of the articles are as follows:

  1. Goa Inquisition: How it all began in Spain  
  2. Goa Inquisition: How Inquisition came to Portugal
  3. Goa Inquisition: Origins of Inquisition in Goa

The Inquisition in Goa was applicable to those who had converted to Christianity, be they Jews or the Indian natives. However, if a Hindu dissuaded another who was keen on converting or caused a convert to commit apostasy, Inquisition would apply to them as well. And as per Francois Pylard who visited Goa between 1608 to 1610 that used to happen a lot as well.

That begs the question, was the conversions of the Hindus of Goa to Christianity out of conviction or something else? The King of Portugal enjoined repeatedly that the proselytization must be based on free consent & persuasion and shouldn’t be through compulsion & force.

But the reality on the ground was something else. As Boes Penrose writes “..it is 6 May 1542 when Francis Xavier set foot ashore in Goa. From then on the Jesuits did their worst, using every form of bribery, threat & torture to effect a conversion.”

Burton writing in the 19th century refers to “fire and steel, the dungeon and the rack, the rice pot and the rupee – which played the persuasive part in the good work assigned to them.”

Dr Antonio Noronha, a Judge at the High court of Goa comments, ” ‘None should come here by constraint’ – what pious comedy! As though they had not been snatched violently from their families & interned in the house of Cathecumens for being indoctrinated with whip and ferule”

Until 1560 in Salsette, there was just one church & one mission house in the fort of Rachol. Within just 50 years, majority in the region had converted to christianity and there were 28 parishes. What was responsible for such aggressive rate of conversions?

We should note that, Salsette (or Sashti as it was called by the native people) was the place where most of the Gouda Saraswata Brahmins lived. 1564 is when the Kavale Mutt in Keloshi was destroyed & Swami was forced to flee. Similarly the temples of Shantadurga, Manguesh among others were also destroyed during this time.  At that time, the territory of Ponda in Goa wasn’t in Portuguese territory. Which is why all the deities of Salcette found a new home in the forests of Ponda, in makeshift temples which were later properly constructed. The marble block outside the Mangesh Temple records this migration.


So, lot of Hindus did migrate to preserve their way of life. The others had to convert if they had to survive in the Portuguese domain. Some of the common reasons for conversions were

  • Fear of physical force
  • Moral cowardice
  • Reluctance to desert the country of their birth
  • Avoid loss of properties and interests.
  • Hope of landing lucrative positions in the govt.
  • Desire for association with Christian women.

Conviction in the Catholic faith was extremely rarely the reason for conversion .

Fr James Brodrick, the biographer of Xavier writes about a co-worker of Xavier named Minguel Vaz – “It was not as he imagined by destroying Hindu Sanctuaries in Portuguese territory & applying their revenues to building Churches that Indians would be won over to Christianity. No Hindu in Goa, Cochin, Malacca, and other centers was ever forced by that policy to accept the faith. But a great deal of pressure, social and financial, was exercised to persuade them to do so…. It was but the application of European Motto ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’”

Fr Alessandro Valignano who was the Visitor of the Missions noted the practical measures undertaken by the Father of Novices for the conversion of heathens & education of new converts. He wrote, “As regards to the first duty, i.e conversion of unbelievers, in these parts of India do not commonly occur as a result of sermons & doctrine, but is effected by other ‘just’ means such as

  • Obstructing Idolatrous practices & meting them just punishment
  • Refusing them favours which can be justly refused & offering them to those who are newly converted.
  • Honouring, assisting and protecting the latter in order that others might thereby get converted.”

These means were approved by the Concilio Provincial in Goa. The Father of Novices were expected to be trained in each of these measures and expected to put them to use, because experience suggested that these led to conversions.

Of course, the new converts, probably had no understanding of the new faith, nor the piety. So, many of these new converts were sitting ducks for the Inquisition Tribunal. They were bound to do something that was heretical. Merely out of habit, following a practice from their earlier Hindu religion would be good enough to get them imprisoned or even burnt at stake.

We will end this chapter, with an example of the cruelty suffered by an Indian convert family as per the code of Inquisition. This is recorded by Filipe Nery Xavier in his periodical “Gabinete Literatorio”. In 1840, in the district of Bassein was discovered a part of a flat stone that was raised in 1786 on the site of a house that was ordered to be razed to the ground as per the Inquisition. The Inscription on the stone was as follows:

They, being dogmatists of the said sect, practiced rites and ceremonies with the participation of many other persons, and for this they were condemned by the Holy Office and being delivered to secular justice burnt in the Auto de Fe celebrated on Dec 30 1747. It was ordered that their houses should be demolished and ploughed with salt and this stone erected in detestation of the said crimes.

The entire family staying in that house was burnt on stake on Dec 30 1747. This is just one instance. There were many many more.

Aurva Bhargava

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