Origin And Early History Of The Muslims Of Keralam

This book is a study of the origin and early history of the Muslims of Kerala from 700 AD to 1600 AD. It starts unusually with a long Introduction. It is on the whole a stinging criticism of Indian scholarship in social sciences and historical writing which is almost entirely dependent on knowledge and ideas developed by western scholars. The observations made by Edward Said, a professor of Columbia University and Bernard Cohn, a renowned American anthropologist, in this respect are quite instructive. The former had maintained that western scholars have represented and continued to represent the non-western societies in such a way as to accentuate its differences and subordination to the west. Said was convinced that the innumerable western orientalists during the colonial period, were either paternalistic or candidly condescending towards the subject of their study i.e. the Orient and they also carried forward the binary typology of advanced and backward (or subject) races, cultures a...

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About The Author

J.B.Prashant More

J.B.Prashant More is a historian of international repute. He was born in Pondicherry on 28th August 1955. He studied at St.Joseph of Cluny school and Petit Seminaire, Pondicherry. After obtaining a bachelor's degree from Tagore Arts College, Pondicherry, he proceeded to France for higher studies. He obtained a Ph.D in History at the renowned Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities. After facing several setbacks in his scholarly pursuit, he took to writing history.

Since 2001 Prashant More has authored more than fifteen books and several articles. He is a specialist of south Indian history, especially Muslim and Dravidian history as well as the colonial history of India. His book on the Partition of India remains unchallenged to this day. He writes in French, English and Tamil. Currently he teaches at Inseec, Paris.

His mother tongue is Tamil. He holds French nationality. His father, Panjab Rao More is a Marathi Bhakti poet.His mother belongs to the ilustrious Prouchandy family of Pondicherry, whose members have played significant roles in the history of Pondicherry. One of them, Darmanathan Prouchandy was the first steam navigator from south India and the Tamil country. His grand father had played a martyr's role in India's freedom movement due to his association with the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's freedom struggle in south-east Asia (French Indochina, Saigon).

This book is a study of the origin and early history of the Muslims of Kerala from 700 AD to 1600 AD. It starts unusually with a long Introduction. It is on the whole a stinging criticism of Indian scholarship in social sciences and historical writing which is almost entirely dependent on knowledge and ideas developed by western scholars. The observations made by Edward Said, a professor of Columbia University and Bernard Cohn, a renowned American anthropologist, in this respect are quite instructive. The former had maintained that western scholars have represented and continued to represent the non-western societies in such a way as to accentuate its differences and subordination to the west. Said was convinced that the innumerable western orientalists during the colonial period, were either paternalistic or candidly condescending towards the subject of their study i.e. the Orient and they also carried forward the binary typology of advanced and backward (or subject) races, cultures and societies.

     India became independent in 1947. But it still functioned more or less within the same administrative, economic, ideological, political and pyramidal framework put in place by the British as the Indians did not evolve anything original of their own. Though the British had left India, they had created and left behind a vast power system or machinery like the centralised government, the capitalist economic system and ‘elitocracy’ (representative democracy). The entire system is based on the concentration of power in the hands of a few. The colonialists had no doubt a stake in the maintenance of this power structure in India even after their departure as part of their legacy. The British had put in place this system in India while creating at the same time a large storehouse of knowledge about India, seen through their own eyes and interpreted according to their own understanding. Edward Said and Bernard Cohn had demonstrated that this knowledge about India and Indians was created not only to give a European form to a formless knowledge, but also to control, supervise and govern the Indians with the help of that knowledge. So the colonial powers had a natural stake in the maintenance of this knowledge, as they had a stake in the maintenance of the power structure that they had put in place to rule India. Thus knowledge and power were intimately related during the colonial rule in India and even after.

     With India’s independence, the colonial powers departed. But the knowledge that they had created remained and was even used by the new Indian authorities to govern India. The post-independence Indian scholars and intellectuals did not bring about a radical change in this knowledge or in the value-system or power machinery left behind by the colonisers. In fact, a good number of them lived and thrived on these borrowed European ideas, knowledge and values, which are not absolutely rational, like the law of gravity. If they had really been rational, they would not have created so much confusion and conflict, killings and massacres, injustice and inequality in society, not just in India, but the world over.

     Besides, many of these scholars were and are even busy promoting these irrational ideas and value-systems in every knowledge field – political, economic, social, intellectual and even cultural. But the former colonial powers and their allies knew that they have to and can continue to play a role in the knowledge field related to India and the Indians and thus maintain a certain control and influence over things that were ‘Indian’. They were conscious that knowledge was related to power whether they ruled India or not.

     As a result, it is not surprising to witness today a whole industry in the west, involving hundreds of scholars catering to oriental or Indian studies, even after the decolonisation process. They want collaboration, cooperation and cultural exchange, on various pretexts including globalisation in order to be present in the Indian knowledge field and space in one way or the other.

     Cooperation between two parties can take place only when there is total absence of the urge to dominate the other. Unfortunately, this urge to dominate on the part of the one or the other is never absent. This contributes indirectly to the subordination of Indian scholars to the west and their values. There is no precedent to affirm that western scholars are only imbued with altruistic intentions which pushes them to seek collaboration with Indian institutions and scholars in the field of social sciences and history. On the contrary, there is every indication that their object of collaboration is to prolong their control, influence and hegemony in the Indian intellectual and knowledge field, though they might have quit India politically since 1947. Besides, they not only seek to represent or continue to represent the ‘backward’ Indian societies according to their own yard scales and knowledge, but they also seek to appropriate and reformulate their identity to such an extent that Indians themselves are rendered largely dependent on their scholarship about things that are purely Indian, even after decolonisation.

     The author who has no clannish moorings, national, ethnic, or ideological, has been striving to steer clear of all collaborative projects that might compromise his independence and individuality and freedom of expression as a historian since quite some time. It is because he thinks that in the changed global situation after decolonisation, collaboration in the intellectual field which is a form of globalisation must be two-way traffic. The veteran Indian statesman and educationist, C.Rajagopalachari, during the inauguration of the French Institute in Pondicherry in 1955, had pointed out that any cultural exchange or cooperation between India and the west after decolonisation cannot be just one-way traffic. He had thought it fit to sound a note of caution that any such exchange or cooperation between east and west have to be two-way traffic and not one-way traffic as it is largely the case today.

     Today like yesterday, we hardly find any Indian scholar working on western societies or collaborating with western scholars and institutions to study western societies, which are considered ‘developed’ and ‘rational’. Instead we find hundreds of western scholars descending upon the Indian sub-continent, working on Indian societies (which are still considered ‘backward’ or ‘developing’ and even ‘exotic’) and collaborating with Indian scholars and institutions. This sort of collaboration, which is a part of the ‘globalisation’ agenda of the west in the knowledge field related to India, is without doubt one way traffic as Rajagopalachari had rightly feared, which leads to a sort of hegemony and dependency.

     Some newspapers and magazines in India too hankering after western scholarship on India give more coverage to such scholars than to genuine Indian scholars. Ramachandra Guha has pointed out this fascination for ‘whites’ in his article published in The Hindu, titled ‘Foreign Certificates’ in the beginning of January 2009. There are some scholars as well as others, who come to the defence of western scholars working on India and praise profusely their accomplishments and even give handsome awards to them for their own personal reasons.

     As an impartial historian, who is not tied to any ideological, linguistic, national, ethnic or cultural pole, the author is under the obligation of bringing out the preceding facts to the notice of the readers of this book. As a matter of fact, a serious and responsible historian cannot belong to the East or the West or any group interest. He cannot see history from a particular ideological angle or any other angle. Instead, he has to place himself above all groups in order to observe the facts of history, in the most impartial manner, without bias or prejudice. This is what the author proposes to do in the course of this book related to the origin and early history of the Muslims of Kerala and the significance and fall-out of the advent of Vasco Da Gama into Malabar and the Indian Ocean waters.

     According to all available evidences Muslim settlements on the Malabar Coast seems to have come into existence during the course of the ninth century onwards. Their presence became more prominent from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Several Arab and Persian travellers have visited India and the Malabar Coast since the ninth century starting from Sulaiman al Tajir. The great Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta visited Malabar in the fourteenth century and attested the presence of Muslims all along the coast. He also noted the conversion of a Hindu prince of the Kannur region in the fourteenth century or a little earlier to Islam, which might have given birth to the Arakkal dynasty of Kannur. Apart from this lone conversion, no other Arab or Persian, Chinese or European traveller before the fifteenth century had noted any other princely or kingly conversion.

     But with the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century to the Malabar coast, the legend crops up in Portuguese accounts and later in the accounts of Sheikh Zainuddin as well as in Keralolpatti that Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala went to Mecca and converted to Islam. Sheikh Zainuddin claims that this conversion probably took place in the ninth century, while Prof.MGS. Narayanan asserts that the last Chera king Rama Kulasekhara converted in the twelfth century. There are some others who make the fantastic claim that Cheraman Perumal went to Mecca in the early seventh century itself and met Prophet Mohammad in person and converted to Islam. After close scrutiny and due to lack of adequate corroborating evidences either in the form of literature or epigraphy, all these claims have been reasonably set aside by the author, on the basis of adequate proofs and powerful arguments. In fact, there is nothing in the Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, Malayalam or Sanskirt pre-fifteenth literatures to prove that the last Chera king converted to Islam. Neither did he convert to Christianity and go to Bethlehem or to Buddhism and go to China as claimed by many others. Instead the only conversion of a Hindu ruler or prince to Islam took place in Kannur in the fourteenth century or little before as signalled by Ibn Batuta. It seems that the Cheraman Perumal legend became associated or mixed up with the conversion of this prince of Kannur. This seems also to be the view of the noted Kerala historian, Sreedhara Menon.

     The last part related to the early history of the Muslims of Kerala deals with the encounters of the Portuguese with the Malabar Hindu king, the Zamorin of Calicut and his Mappila subjects who manned his navy especially. The extraordinarily cordial relationship that existed between the Hindu king of Calicut and the Muslims of Malabar during the sixteenth century had been brought out conspicuously in this chapter.

     Anyone going through the Arabic work of the Sheikh Zainuddin ‘Tohfut ul-mujahideen’ would easily understand that he was a deeply religious and truthful person in the Islamic sense of the terms. There was no reason for him to lie on anything. Whatever information that he had recorded in his work, he would have obtained from various books and mosque records, through interviews, his own observations and experiences and other oral sources. This does not mean that there could be no mistakes in his recordings, for he might have sometimes noted down even wrong information, especially with regard to the origin and early history of the Muslims of Malabar. He might also have made some wrong observations.

     The Sheikh seems to be a widely travelled man. His knowledge of the geography of India and the Arabian Sea region is quite impressive. He knew a lot about the social and political situation of Malabar. His knowledge of the traditions and customs of the Malabar society in which he lived and evolved and the situation of the Muslims in that society is equally impressive. Generally the Muslims in Malabar did not face any opposition in the largely Hindu society, except on rare occasions. They were allowed to live their lives as Muslims. Besides, the local Hindu rulers like the Zamorin of Calicut were favourably disposed towards them and never prevented conversions to Islam. This becomes obvious when one goes through the Sheikh’s work, Tohfut-ul-mujahideen.

     The Iberian enmity for the Muslims was not born all of a sudden with Vasco de Gama’s departure to India in 1498. It pre-existed his arrival since several centuries. The Sheikh was totally ignorant of this fact. The Reconquista or reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christians backed by the Roman Catholic Church, continued until 1492, when the last ruling Muslim power in Granada was wiped out in the most violent manner by the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella. In spite of the reconquest of Spain and Portugal, the Mamluks of Egypt and the Turkish and Persian empires blocked Europeans from gaining access to India and the East by land and through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Besides, the lucrative spice trade was in the hands of the Mamluks and the Venetian merchants. This was an impossible situation for the Spaniards and the Portuguese.

     The Pope had assumed direct dominion over all kingdoms of the earth through a series of papal bulls. The three most important Papal Bulls were Dum Diversas of 18 June 1452, the Romanus Pontifex of 8 June 1455 and the Inter Caetera of 13 March 1456. Through the first, the Pope granted the King of Portugal to attack, conquer and subdue the Muslims, pagans and other unbelievers, to capture their goods and territories, to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery and to transfer their lands and properties to the king of Portugal and his successors. The prominent maritime historian, C.R.Boxer called the second Bull as the “charter of Portuguese imperialism”. The Bull recounted the discoveries, conquests and colonisations accomplished since 1419, in order to compel the Muslims and others to come to Christianity. It authorised the King to subdue and to convert the pagans found in the regions between Morocco and India and spread Christianity. It expressly prohibited all other nations of the world from infringing and interfering in any way with the Portuguese monopoly of discovery, conquest and commerce. The Inter Caetera, promulgated by Pope Calixtus III confirmed the terms of the previous Bull. In fact from 4th May 1493, the Pope divided the world between the Portuguese and the Spaniards. The former was to have Brazil and Africa and all lands in the east, while the latter would have the lands in the west, except Brazil. Boxer affirmed that the cumulative effect of these Papal Bulls was to give the Portuguese and in due course the other Europeans who followed them, a religious sanction for adopting a masterful attitude towards all races beyond the pale of Christendom.

     When the Christians reconquered Spain and Portugal and the Inquisition came into force, forcible conversions of Muslims and Jews to Christianity took place. The Inquisition was extended to Portuguese territories in India in 1560. Actually during the whole of the sixteenth century, the Syrian Christians of Malabar were subjected to persecution and violent methods by the Roman prelates in order to bring them into the Roman Catholic fold. The French nobleman Voltaire had later condemned the Inquisition and persecution in India, which became notorious in Europe for its cruelty and use of torture.

     One could say that the Portuguese were literally pushed into the ocean because the Turks and Arabs had blocked their way to Asia overland. Even before the middle of the fifteenth century, the Portuguese had started to indulge in the ignominious slave trade in West Africa. The blacks were regarded as the lowest in the scale of humanity by the Portuguese. It was even held that black men were outside the law of Christ and that their bodies were at the disposal of any European nation.

     Prince Henry the Navigator had died in 1460. He was succeeded by King Affonso V. He earned the surname of ‘African’, for his penchant towards Africa. In fact – to use the picturesque words of Barros – he “raged round Africa as a hungry lion roars around some guarded fold”. The slave trade prospered especially during his rule.

     In 1487-88 Bartolomeu Diaz, reached Natal and the Cape of Good Hope at the southern end of the African continent. The whole of the Indian Ocean was open to Bartolomeu Diaz. He did not continue further and returned to Portugal. But he had explored 1250 miles of the West African sea-board. The arrival of Diaz at the Cape of Good Hope was not really a great exploit from the navigational point of view as the West African coast was in fact a southern prolongation of the European or Portuguese coast. When compared with the earlier navigational exploits of the Persians and Arabs who had reached south-east Asia and China by sea even before the birth of Islam and that of the Chinese who had reached the East African coast and the Arab heartlands even before the fifteenth century, the exploit of Bartolomeu Diaz pales into insignificance. What however is surprising is the fact that the Portuguese had to wait until the last decades of the fifteenth century to explore the whole of the West African coast and reach the Cape of Good Hope, which were located on the same West Atlantic sea-board like the west European coast.

     On 12 October 1492, Christopher Columbus, despatched to seek India, discovered the Red Indian continent. Though this discovery was a major discovery, it was only a chance discovery, for nobody knew about the existence of the Red Indian civilizations in America until then.

     Nevertheless it was these crucial expeditions and the information obtained from them that would have prompted King Manuel I to send a fleet under Vasco da Gama to India in 1497. Bartolomeu Diaz had already reached the southern tip of Africa. What remained to be done for Vasco Da Gama was to venture into the Indian Ocean in search of Prester John of Ethiopia and the spices of Malabar. In early July 1497 King D.Manuel summoned Vasco Da Gama and his officers to the town of Montemor-O-Novo, near Evora for the purpose of bidding farewell. The king declared that through this voyage they would proclaim the faith in Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and obtain much fame and praise along with kingdoms and States with many riches, wrested by force of arms from the hands of the barbarians. Vasco Da Gama thanked the king for bestowing upon him such an honour and kissed his hand in reverence. The King presented him with a silken banner with the Cross of the Order of Christ in the centre. Vasco Da Gama then declared:

     “I Vasco Da Gama, who now have been commanded by you most high and powerful king, my liege Lord, do swear on the symbol of this cross, on which I lay my hands, that in the service of God, and for you I shall uphold it and not surrender it in the sight of the Moor, pagan, or any race of people that I may encounter, and in the face of every peril, fire or sword, always to defend and protect it, even unto death.”

     The preceding however shows two important things: first the fact that Vasco Da Gama enjoyed the full confidence and patronage of the king of Portugal and secondly the strong Catholic orientation and atmosphere of the whole affair. It would be naïve and irresponsible to assume that Vasco de Gama and his men did not carry the hatred and enmity that the Portuguese had for the Muslims in and around their homelands, across the seas all the way to Africa and India, when their own King and patron had indulged in the persecution and expulsion of Muslims from Portugal.

     The crossing of the Arabian Sea by Vasco Da Gama was not a great navigational exploit as it has been made out to be by many modern maritime historians, as Vasco Da Gama had taken the help of a Muslim pilot which had facilitated the crossing to a great extent. Besides, Arabs, Persians, Indians and even Chinese were used to crossing the Arabian Sea since several centuries before the Portuguese. Further the voyage from the Portugal coast to the Cape of Good Hope along the West African coast is no exploit at all because Bartolomeu Diaz had already accomplished this mission and Vasco Da Gama had just to follow his footsteps. Crossing the Arabian Sea was certainly not an exploit for the Arabs, Persians, Indians, Turks and Chinese. In the light of this, one does not understand how this voyage of Vasco Da Gama can become one of the most significant events in the history of mankind from the navigational point of view.

     Arabs and Persians were trading with China by sea even before the birth of Islam through the Malacca Straits. The discovery of the Malacca Straits, whoever discovered it, must have been a greater discovery, which united West Asia, Europe and India with south-east Asia and China economically and geographically than the rounding of the Cape to India. We do not know exactly why the Arabs, Persians, Indians and Chinese never sought to reach Western Europe by the oceanic route. It however appears more probable that there was no necessity for it as they controlled the land routes to Europe and Western Europe.

     But necessity had always been the mother of invention. The Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Indians had no necessity to find an oceanic route to Western Europe as it was just one of the markets for their goods and that too a market located at the outer fringes of the known western world. But the West Europeans were not in a similar position as the Asians. They had been blocked overland and had been prevented from reaching India and East Asia by the Arabs and Turks firmly established in West Asia and North Africa since several centuries. They had no other alternative but to take to the ocean.

     Under the guidance of the Muslim pilot Vasco Da Gama and his men crossed the Arabian Sea during the right season and anchored off Kappad village about 19 kilometres north of Calicut at the mouth of the Elattur River on 20th May 1498. In spite of them being total strangers, the Malayalis of Calicut welcomed Vasco Da Gama and his men, with the usual courtesies. Trumpets were played and muskets were fired in the air, while Vasco Da Gama was taken in a palanquin in procession to meet the Zamorin. Vasco Da Gama and his men did not expect such a grand welcome, which even the kings of Europe rarely got.

     But contrary to all expectations, Vasco Da Gama committed a diplomatic blunder of the first order by daring to give some trivial presents to the Zamorin, the sovereign of the land. This was scorned at by one and all including the Zamorin and the principal Muslims present. The presents actually consisted of 12 pieces of lamtel (striped cloth), 4 scarlet hoods, 6 hats, 4 strings of coral, a case containing 6 wash-hand basins, a case of sugar, two casks of oil and 2 of honey. Whatever reasons Vasco Da Gama invented to ward off the damage done by his paltry gifts, it could not prevent the deterioration of the relations between the Zamorin and the principal Muslims on one side and the Portuguese on the other. The trivial gifts were probably suitable for the Hottentots and the Bantus, but not for the Zamorin, the most powerful king of the Malabar Coast, used to receiving costly gifts from foreign dignitaries.

     We know the consequences that followed after the return of Vasco Da Gama to Lisbon and the ensuing postures of King Manuel I, who styled himself thenceforth as the “Lord of the Conquest, the Navigation and the Commerce in Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and the India.” In A.D.1500 the king despatched Pedro Alvarez Cabral to the Indian Ocean waters and Malabar, with thirteen powerfully armed warships, and about thousand five hundred men, equipped with the most sophisticated artillery of the time and stormed into the Indian Ocean waters and Malabar like ‘a pack of hungry wolves upon a well-stocked sheep-walk,’ to use the words of Sir George Birdwood. He established a Portuguese factory in Calicut and by 1502 he was bombarding the town. Joao de Nova followed Alvarez Cabral to the Indian Ocean. Vasco Da Gama himself returned to India in 1502-1503 with a fleet divided into three squadrons totalling 20 ships and thousand men. Other expeditions were despatched all throughout the sixteenth century. This set the example for other nations of Western Europe to emulate the Portuguese, which led in the course of time to the colonial subjugation of India. These are facts and not rhetoric as Sanjay Subrahmanyam wants us to believe.

     Portuguese guns and cannons were made of bronze and their ships were manufactured with iron nails. Indian ships including the Malabar ships were sewn with coir. These ships had hardly any artillery. They were meant largely for peaceful navigation and commerce. The Indian ships were no match to the Portuguese. The latter imposed their power, using their superiority in their arms and ammunitions and naval power and skills and through the construction of coastal forts at vantage points along the western coast. Their presence in the Indian Ocean waters created uncertainty and disruption in the entire region. All this contributed to the decline of the Muslim dominance of the Indian Ocean trade circles in which Malabar and its Muslims were key players. It heralded the colonial subjugation of India and much of the eastern world. The Romish church and King Manuel I were no doubt the prime inspirers, instigators and initiators of this subjugation. Vasco de Gama and his men were tools in their hands.

     The violence unleashed by the Portuguese in the western Indian Ocean waters and coasts had no parallel in the history of the region. Vasco Da Gama himself had indulged in some of the most heinous violence, crimes and atrocities in the region. These atrocities and violence in the Indian Ocean region, especially against the Muslims continued all throughout the sixteenth century.

     Sheikh Zainuddin had given us a largely first-hand account of the atrocities committed by the Portuguese in Malabar and all along the western coast and the Indian Ocean region. His brother, Abdul Aziz too had given us a substantial account of Portuguese atrocities against the Zamorin and the Muslims in his Fathul Mubiyn. The Portuguese chroniclers of the sixteenth century and later like Joao de Barros, Diego di Couto, Castanheda and Gaspar Correa had also given extensive coverage to these atrocities in their works. Faria y Sousa, in his Peregrinations, published in 1614 painted a harrowing picture of the frightful moral depravity and inhuman bloodthirstiness of the Portuguese intruders and of the confusion and misery brought by them on the indigenous population of the southern shores of Asia, whose powerful overland commerce with Europe of 3000 years growth, they overthrew within a generation of da Gama’s rounding of the Cape of Good Hope. The Frenchman Pyrard de Laval who was on the Malabar Coast given us an account of the feats of one of the last Kunhali Marakkars who confronted the Portuguese during the last decade of the sixteenth century. This Marakkar along with forty others were finally imprisoned by the Portuguese and taken to Goa. He was finally executed on a scaffold raised in the large square in front of the Portuguese vice regal palace. His forty other companions were put to death in a similar manner. Besides, scholars and specialists of the expansion of Christianity in the world like D’Sa and K.S.Latourette have documented the Portuguese atrocities on the Malabar Coast in their works. The Cambridge scholar, Stephen Dale on his part had affirmed that the Portuguese were eager to extirpate the Islamic communities whenever the opportunity arose. M.J.Rowlandson was the first modern scholar from Britain, employed in India, to realise the fact of Portuguese violence, cruelty and aggressivity. In the light of all these facts, it is not right to minimize the atrocities committed by the Portuguese like Ashin Das Gupta by insinuating that Indians were used to violence and brutality even before the European arrival.

     Many anti-colonial Indian scholars with the likes of K.M.Panikkar in the lead have come done heavily on Portuguese intrusion into India which started with Vasco da Gama and ended up with the colonial subjugation of India. But for the Portuguese in general and the European scholars and historians in particular Vasco da Gama and Columbus were national and European heroes who braved the oceans and opened up a new chapter in world history, the chapter of European expansion – political, cultural, religious and racial. As early as the eighteenth century, the British scholar Adam Smith had considered the discovery of America by Columbus and the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco Da Gama as the two greatest and most important events in the history of mankind, though they or their successors individually or collectively might have committed the greatest crimes against the Africans, Arabs, and Indians – Indians of the east and the Red Indians of the west.

     The maritime scholar Ashin Das Gupta had insinuated that in terms of time the Mughals, who were Mongols, had come to India later than Vasco da Gama and therefore it is not right to hold Vasco da Gama as the originator of the colonial subjugation of India, as the Mughals had subjected India even before the Europeans. He went to the extent of asserting that the Portuguese were not that hostile to the Muslims of Malabar and that there was no religious war. Sanjay Subrahmanyam has become the latest proponent of such revisionist views and theories that tended to disculpate the role of Vasco da Gama and by implication the Portuguese king and the Romish church in the colonial subjugation of India.

     But what both Ashin Das Gupta and Sanjay Subrahmanyam and other revisionist historians like them seem to have forgotten is the fact that even before the arrival of Vasco da Gama, India had been invaded by the Turks and Afghans and before the Turks, by many others. But these people as well as the Mughals who had come to India as invaders, had made India their home and they never received orders from the rulers of their original homelands of what they have to do in India and how. But this was not the case with Vasco da Gama and his successors and the other Europeans who followed them. Actually, it was the Mughals who had made India their only home, and who called India as ‘Hindustan’. They never took away the riches of India to their homelands, for they had made ‘Hindustan’ as their homeland. That is why we cannot talk of the colonial subjugation of India by the Mughals and we can talk of the colonial subjugation of India by the Europeans, bearing in mind that this form of subjugation is an improved version of slavery, whatever good that such slavery might have engendered.

     To put it in a nutshell, the policy followed by the Portuguese, in order to offset their numerical disadvantage, was two fold: viz., ‘divide and rule’ and ‘smash the rebel and spare the slave’. Thus in the first place they made use of the divisions between the local rulers to their advantage to gain a foothold in India. Secondly they smashed ruthlessly the rebels i.e. the Zamorin of Calicut and his Muslim allies and spared the ‘slaves’ (the Raja of Cochin for example) who allied with them. Sheikh Zainuddin and the Portuguese chroniclers of the sixteenth century and also the various studies by modern scholars like C.R.Boxer had portrayed amply how the Portuguese smashed the rebels and spared the slaves.

     There was a third policy to which they resorted deliberately or out of necessity and not out of generosity or a feeling of humanity, in order to offset the disadvantage of their small numbers. That was ‘calculated cross-breeding’ or ‘deliberate miscegenation’. In the light of this, it is highly misleading and fallacious on the part of Ashin Das Gupta to hold that the intention of the Portuguese was never to annihilate the Muslims and the local societies. As for Sanjay Subrahmanyam, if he gets his way, he will even assert that Vasco Da Gama straightaway fell in love with the Zamorin of Calicut and the Mappila Muslims, before eating his first jack-fruit.

     Ashin Das Gupta, Sanjay Subrahmanyam and their likes must take a longer and broader view of history before passing hasty and not well thought out comments, using some bombastic or subtle language, which tend to minimize the pioneering role of Vasco da Gama and his men and their sponsors, the Portuguese royal establishment and the Romish church in the subjugation of India and disculpate them of the atrocities perpetrated by them and their successors in Malabar and the Indian ocean area, which the Sheikh of Malabar had portrayed in his accounts with such anguish and exasperation.

     Besides Ashin Das Gupta, Sanjay Subramaniam and their likes should also think about the atrocities perpetrated by the Portuguese and the Spaniards in America and Africa due to the discovery of the Red Indian continent by Columbus in 1492, under the same papal and royal impulse, when they try to minimize the role of Vasco da Gama in the subjugation of Asia and India. It is not right on the part of scholars like Sanjay Subrahmanyam to gloss over these atrocities, which are irrefutable historical facts and not some mechanistic forms of comparative history or culturalist exoticism. They were the outcome of Vasco da Gama coming to India and Columbus discovering America. In the face of these facts, it is completely out of step to lecture the scholarly audiences about “connected histories”, when it is clear as crystal that the history of colonisation and European expansion in the world had all the trappings of “confrontational history” or “competitive history”.

     This confrontational culture and colonisation even gained a certain dubious scientific and philosophical legitimacy in the year 1859, with the publication of Charles Darwin’s highly controversial speculative theory of evolution related to the origin of the human species through a struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. Darwin later maintained that man descended from animal. Darwin’s theory of evolution and the descent of man was a rejection of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic theory of creation, which was a West Asiatic theory. Darwin himself considered the European races as ‘civilised’ who in the course of time will weed out ‘uncivilised’ or ‘savage’ races.

     If we accept that colonisation, slavery and extermination had contributed to the progress of man in the past, then, logically speaking they could as well contribute to the progress of man in the future. So the argument that colonisation, slavery and other atrocities contributed to the progress of man in the past is dangerous and erroneous. Nevertheless, the global and international linkages that we have today, spawned by the Europeans during the colonial period would be a product of this Darwinian struggle for existence and the resultant confrontation and clash, subjugation and colonisation. The origin of these violent and agressive linkages, and the coercive political, economic and ideological structures and systems, which are still the basis on which ‘modern’ societies function, can be rightly traced to a great extent to the arrival of the Portuguese and the other Europeans in the Indian Ocean waters and the Red Indian continent. Not that there was no violence before the Europeans spread out across the world. But the thing is that violence has become more organised, concentrated and sophisticated during the colonial period and after to such an extent that whole peoples were wiped out and can be wiped out in one blow. This of course cannot be termed as progress of mankind. But it is part of ‘modernity’.

     It is quite startling to note that the economic, political, cultural and ideological structure and the underlying quest for power, which provoked wars and destruction has not changed fundamentally since the days of Vasco da Gama and Columbus. On the contrary, it has become more sophisticated, with some modifications of course in the course of time. Its latest avatar called ‘globalisation’, which is no doubt another phase in the never-ending quest for power by some, driven by the destructive pathology of the urge to dominate, is tending deliberately to beat down all human beings and various groups of people into a certain monotonous straitjacket uniform political, economic and cultural system, which is being thoughtlessly hailed by some scholars like Francis Fukuyama as the end of history and the final destiny of man. It is awful to realise that all human beings should live under a particular system, based on irrational and unjust ideas, invented and imposed by some men or a group of men, stricken by the pathological urge to dominate.

     Further, at no other time in the history of man, man was faced with the possibility of his own instantaneous extinction because some terrorist somewhere holding the world hostage in a permanent fashion would press a button and blow half the world out of existence. This new and lethal phase of violence seems to have started with the bombardment and razing to the ground of Calicut from the sea by Vasco Da Gama and his comrades. The logics of violence, with the help of superior arms, ammunitions and technology inaugurated by Vasco Da Gama, Columbus and their successors, with the blessing and backing of European rulers and the Romish church and justified in the course of time to a considerable extent by Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest theory’, has taken man to the brink of the precipice.

     There has been and there is also a competition and confrontation in the cultural and racial fields, where one race or culture or people is trying to smother or swallow the other races or cultures. We have seen that for the king of Portugal who had sent out Vasco Da Gama to India, all those who did not believe in Jesus Christ were ‘barbarians’. Vasco Da Gama himself swore in front of the king that he would vanquish the Moors, pagans and other ‘races’ of the world. Thus apart from the religious factor, there was also the racial factor involved in the expansion of the Portuguese and other Europeans across the world. Darwin seems to have thought that the ‘civilised’ European races were the fittest of all to survive and the ‘savage’ races were bound to vanish in the struggle for existence. Many other European philosophers, anthropologists and ethnologists more or less followed Darwin’s way of thinking and philosophy.

     We know about the terrible consequences of this line of thinking and the resultant atrocities committed against the other races, cultures and peoples since the time of Portuguese and European expansion across the world. These are facts that can be verified and not some vague pseudo-scientific unverifiable dubious Freudian theory. They cannot be wished away by declaring solemnly as some fossil researchers tend to do that the first man descended from an animal in Africa and all men and women, minds and languages in the world today came out of Africa. We are not concerned here of whether their assertions which are nothing more than theories are right or not. But to suggest or insinuate today directly or indirectly that all men came from the first man in Africa and that if this truth was known earlier, all the atrocities, enslavement, subjugation, colonisation and even extermination of the other races by the Europeans would not have happened, is not reasonable or founded. As a matter of fact, there is not much difference between the Christian theory of creation and the Darwinian theory of evolution in one sense i.e. both assert that there was a first man and woman from whom all men and women in this world were descended. So the Europeans who were Christians knew from the very beginning that all men including the Negros, Red Indians and Hindus were all descended from Adam and Eve like the Europeans. However, this knowledge did not prevent the Europeans from subjugating and committing all sorts of atrocities against the other races and colonising their lands.

     The existence of races, peoples and cultures, whatever its nature, composition and structure, are facts. European intolerance towards these facts and attempts to subvert these facts by various means including colonisation, extermination, and identity appropriation through the policy of integration and assimilation (as it happened to the natives of America and Australia) had resulted in immense misery to many millions of people around the world and had caused a great amount of loss of life and destruction of the natural historical identities of whole peoples. This reality cannot be wished away or justified as part of human progress born out of the struggle for existence or natural selection. On the other hand, European expansion in the world since Vasco Da Gama’s times at the expense of other races and cultures has been followed by the expansion of the other three major racial/cultural groups i.e. the Africans, East Asians and Indians, in other parts of the world, where races and cultures are vying with one another visibly and invisibly, consciously and unconsciously.

     Samuel Huntington had brought out so clearly in his book on clash of civilisations such ongoing tussles, on the basis of authentic evidences. He even admits that the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence.

     It is also so obvious that the semblance of outward peace, order and cooperation between the competing parties in this world is being somehow maintained artificially through force, coercion, persuasion, fear and terror or out of momentary convenience and not through a proper, patient and rational understanding of the human and existential issues involved. In the light of all this and much more, it is naïve to think that east and west have met due to Vasco Da Gama and Columbus and all the barriers have been broken, leading to the birth of a new humanity. Instead, they had contributed to colonial subjugation and slavery in this world and had actually set in motion a new era of more ruthless competition, confrontation and quest for power.

     It is unreasonable and smacks of romanticism to attribute and identify the whole of the East with the Zamorin or the Indians and the whole of the west with Vasco Da Gama or the Europeans. Such a romantic attribution or identification is more or less similar to the gratuitous assertion by scholars like Adam Smith that the arrival of Vasco Da Gama in India is one of the two greatest events in the history of mankind, the other one being the discovery of America by Columbus. The only difference here is that for Adam Smith it is no more a question of identifying Vasco Da Gama with just the Portuguese, European or western worlds but it is a question of identifying Vasco Da Gama with the whole world or mankind. I wonder if Adam Smith had a special mandate to make such assertions involving the whole world or the whole of mankind.

     Today there are probably many philosophers, historians and evolutionists, especially in the west, who justify colonialism and the related atrocities committed by the colonialists since the fifteenth century as a sort of necessary evil in the progress of humanity towards the so-called religion of humanity or modernity. However, in my opinion, neither Vasco Da Gama nor Columbus, who heralded the coming of Europeans to the East and America respectively, was indispensable in the strict sense of the term for the evolution, progress and sustenance of the humans and other creatures in this world. They and their successors however came and brought about or wrought certain transformations in this world. But what the world lost in terms of diversity of human existence due to their coming through subjugation, extermination and identity appropriation in order to maintain European dominance, values and power across the world is much more than what is generally supposed to have been won.

     We have seen earlier that the arrival of Vasco Da Gama on the Malabar Coast was not a great exploit from the navigational point of view. Then what was actually so great about Vasco Da Gama that the historians of European origin highlight in their numerous books? Some Indian historians too subscribe to the greatness of Vasco Da Gama. Is it because Vasco Da Gama and his successors brought Christianity and Christian values to Malabar and India? Vasco Da Gama under the orders of King D.Manuel came to India definitely in order to proclaim Jesus Christ. But Christianity had come to India several centuries before Vasco Da Gama’s arrival and it was thriving particularly in Malabar during the fifteenth century. So Christianity and Christian values which were European values cannot account for the greatness of Vasco Da Gama.

     Apart from proclaiming Jesus Christ, Vasco Da Gama had also orders to capture the wealth and lands of the barbarians, Moors, pagans and the other races. Vasco Da Gama and his successors implemented these orders to the best of their ability on the Malabar Coast and the Indian Ocean region, which was situated about 20000 miles away from their homelands, with the limited resources and numbers at their disposal. They acquired and captured lands at various points on the Malabar Coast, built formidable forts at vantage points, made Goa as their headquarters, indulged in proselytisation and even forcible conversions, mixed with the local populations to create a hybrid race who would be loyal to them and their values, controlled the Indian Ocean, imposed passes on Indian ships and monopolised trade on the Malabar coast to the detriment of Arab, Turkish, Persian, Indian, Chinese and Mappila traders.

     All this they could do not because of their values or way of life, which they nevertheless sought to impose on others, but because of the sophisticated and superior arms and ammunitions that they possessed, especially in the form of guns and cannons. If they acquired a foothold on the Malabar Coast, in spite of their limited numbers, it was solely because of the arms that they had at their disposal and the better developed navigation vessels which were literally warships, fitted with bronze cannons and guns with which they could dominate ruthlessly the high seas and with which they could bombard and raze to the ground any coastal town, as it was the case with Calicut in 1502. It was this domination and power by the force of superior arms, capable of exterminating hundreds of people in one blow, which accounts largely for the greatness of Vasco Da Gama and his successors and not because of their values or their intentions to trade or their navigational exploits, as it is made out to be generally by many modern historians.

     No other nation before the Portuguese had disrupted trade or had monopolised trade or had tried to monopolise trade in the Indian Ocean region. The Portuguese were followed by other west European nations like Denmark, Dutch, England and France, who too had acquired more and more sophisticated arms and ammunitions and ocean-going vessels and warships. By the force of their arms and warships, they were powerful, though their nations were limited in size and numbers. With the help of their arms and warships they could impose their will not only in the Indian Ocean region but also in the Indian sub-continent and colonise and subjugate various and vast parts of the world and its people. It would be ridiculous to maintain that they conquered and subjugated the world with their values. The values came later. The arms, the cannonading and bombardment came first. The values and theories came later to justify their actions and prolong their power, domination, conquests and colonialism. This has been demonstrated conspicuously by the noted American thinker and political scientist Samuel Huntington in his monumental work.