Most historians have observed that the coming of the Portuguese not only initiated what might be called the European era, it marked the emergence of naval power. The Cholas, among others, had been a naval power, but it was now for the first time a foreign power had come to India by way of the sea. The Portuguese ships carried cannon, and this was the first step in gaining monopoly over trade—with the threat or actual use of force. The Portuguese declared their intention to abide by no rules except their own, and they were intent on getting a decisive advantage over the Indians and over the Indian Ocean trading system.

In the Malabar of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese showed military innovation in their use of body armour, matchlock men, and guns landed from the ships. The Portuguese may have contributed by example to the Mughal use of field guns, and the ‘artillery of the stirrup’. However, an important military contribution made by the Portuguese onshore was the system of drilling groups of infantry, on the Spanish model, introduced in the 1630s as a counter to Dutch pressure. The practice was adopted first by the French and English, and later taken up by the Marathas and Sikhs, and such armies of sepoys became new tools of empire in India.

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The Portuguese were m asters of improved techniques at sea. Their multi-decked ships were heavily constructed, designed as they were to ride out Atlantic gales rather than run before the regular monsoons; this permitted them to carry a heavier armament. Their use of castled prow and stern was a noteworthy method by which to repel or launch boarding parties. Indian builders adapted both to their own use. However, the Portuguese skill at organisation—as in the creation of royal arsenals and dockyards and the maintenance of a regular system of pilots and mapping and pitting state forces against private merchant shipping—was even more noteworthy.The Mughals and Marathas may certainly have learnt from the Portuguese but the more certain heirs of this knowledge were other Europeans, especially the Dutch and English, in Asia.

In India, the memory of religious persecution and cruelty detracts from the other contributions made by the Portuguese in the cultural field. However, it cannot be forgotten that the missionaries and the Church were also teachers and patrons in India of the arts of the painter, carver, and sculptor. As in music, they were the interpreters, not just of Portuguese, but of European art to India.

The art of the silversmith and goldsmith flourished at Goa, and the place became a centre of elaborate filigree work, fretted foliage work and metal work embedding jewels. However, though the interior of churches built under the Portuguese have plenty of woodwork and sculpture and sometimes painted ceilings, they are generally simple in their architectural plan.

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Vishal Singh


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