Christianization of Goa

The indigenous population of the erstwhile Portuguese colony of Goa underwent a large-scale conversion from Hinduism to Christianity after its conquest by Portugal, led by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510. After conversion to Roman Catholicism, they were granted Portuguese citizenship.[1] Almost all present-day Goan Catholics are descendants of these local converts to the religion. They constitute the largest Christian community in Goa and account for 25 per cent of the total Catholic population in India.[2] Many Mangalorean Catholic and Karwari Catholic in Karnataka are also descended from Goan converts.[3] East Indian Catholics of northern Konkan districts and Christians of Damaon also have some Goan ancestry and interaction, East Indians were formerly Portuguese citizens until Bombay was handed over as a royal dowry to the British East India Company by the Portuguese Viceroyalty.

Chapel of St. Catherine, built in Old Goa during Portuguese rule. It should not to be confused with the Cathedral of Santa Catarina, also in Old Goa.

Conversion to ChristianityEdit

During the mid-16th century, the Portuguese colony of Goa, especially the city of Goa, was the center of Christianization in the East.[4] Christianization in Goa was largely limited to the four concelhos (districts) of Bardez, Mormugao, Salcette, and Tiswadi.[5] Furthermore, evangelisation activities were divided in 1555 by the Portuguese viceroy of Goa, Pedro Mascarenhas.[6] He allotted Bardez to the Franciscans, Tiswadi to the Dominicans, and Salcette, together with fifteen southeastern villages of Tiswadi, including Chorão and Divar, to the Jesuits.[6] The city of Old Goa was shared among all, since all the religious orders had their headquarters there.[6] Prior to that, the Franciscans alone Christianized Goa till 1542.[7] Other less active orders that maintained a presence in Goa were the Augustines, Carmelites, and Theatines.[8] The first mass conversions took place among the Brahmins of Divar, and the Kshatriyas of Carambolim.[9] In Bardez, Mangappa Shenoy of Pilerne was the first Hindu to convert to Christianity in 1555, adopting the name Pero Ribeiro and thus becoming the first Christian of Bardez.[10] His conversion was followed by that of his brother Panduranga and his uncle Balkrishna Shenoy, who is the direct patrilineal ancestor of Goan historian José Gerson da Cunha.[10] In Salcette, Raia was the first village to have been Christianised, when its populace was converted en masse to Christianity in 1560.[11]

In 1534, Goa was made a diocese and in 1557 an archdiocese. The Archbishop of Goa was the most important ecclesiastic of the East, and was from 1572 called the "Primate of the East".[12] While the Portuguese rulers implemented state policies encouraging and even rewarding conversions among Hindu subjects, it would be false to ascribe the large number of conversions solely to force. On the contrary, the rapid rise of converts in Goa was mostly the result of Portuguese economic and political control over the Hindus, who were vassals of the Portuguese crown.[13]

Name changesEdit

This process of Christianization was simultaneously accompanied by Lusitanisation, as the Christian converts typically assumed a Portuguese veneer.[14] The most visible aspect was the discarding of old Hindu names for new Christian Portuguese names.[14] The 1567 Provincial Council of Goa—under the presidency of the first Archbishop of Goa Gaspar Jorge de Leão Pereira and after his retirement under that of George Themudo, Bishop of Cochin—passed over 115 decrees.[15] One of them declared that the Goan Catholics would henceforth not be permitted to use their former Hindu names.[15] Consequently, the converts typically had to adopt the surnames of the Portuguese priest, governor, soldier or layman who stood as godfather for their baptism ceremony.[14] For instance, the Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama lists the new names of some of the prominent ganvkars (Konkani: Freeholders). Rama Prabhu, son of Dado Vithal Prabhu from Benaulim, Salcette, became Francisco Fernandes; Mahabal Pai, son of Nara Pai, became Manuel Fernandes in 1596. Mahabal Kamati of Curtorim became Aleisco Menezes in 1607, while Chandrappa Naik of Gandaulim became António Dias in 1632. In 1595 Vittu Prabhu became Irmão de diago Soares and the son of Raulu Kamat became Manuel Pinto in Aldona, Bardez. Ram Kamat of Punola became Duarte Lobo in 1601, while Tados Irmaose of Anjuna became João de Souza in 1658.[16] Since in many cases, fathers and sons were not necessarily baptised in the presence of the same godfather, this would lead to them having different surnames.[17] For instance in 1594, the son of Pero Parras, a ganvkar from Raia acquired at baptism the new name of Sebastião Barbosa. Later in 1609, another of his sons converted and took the name of João Rangel.[17] As a result, members of the same vangodd (clan) who initially all shared a common Hindu surname ended up adopting divergent Lusitanian ones.[17]

Impact of Christianity on the caste systemEdit

However, the converted Hindus retained their mother tongue (which in most cases was Konkani) and caste status, even after becoming Christian.[18] Based on their previous caste affiliations, the new converts were usually lumped into new Catholic castes. The converts from the priestly Brahmin class were Bamonns (Konkani: Brahmins).[19] All Brahmin subcastes such as the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Padyes, the Daivadnyas, and especially the goldsmiths and a few merchants, were lumped into the Christian caste of Bamonn.[19] The converts from the Kshatriya and Vaishya Vani castes became Chardos (Kshatriyas);[19] and those Vaishya who couldn't become Chardos formed a new caste Gauddos.[20] Those converts from lower castes were grouped together as Sudirs, equivalent to Shudras.[21][22] The Bamonns, Chardos, and Gauddos have been traditionally seen as the high castes in the Goan Catholic caste hierarchy.[23]

Persistence of the caste systemEdit

A typical white Sant Khuris (Holy Cross), of a Goan Catholic family, constructed in the style of Portuguese architecture

The Portuguese attempted to abolish caste discrimination among the local converts and homogenise them into a single entity.[24] Caste consciousness among the native Christians was so intense that they even maintained separate Church confraternities. In church circles, the Bamonns and Chardos were rivals and frequently discriminated against each other.[25] Caste discrimination even extended to the clergy. However, some non-Bamonn priests did achieve distinction. The Portuguese church authorities decided to recruit Gauddos and Sudirs into the priesthood, to offset the increasing hostilities of the Bamonn and Chardo clerics.[26] The church authorities initially used the native priests as Konkani and Marathi interpreters in their parishes and missions.[26]

Discrimination against native ChristiansEdit

Since the 1510 conquest, the Portuguese had been intermarrying with the natives and created a Mestiço class in Goa that followed Portuguese culture. The Portuguese also desired a similar complete integration of the native Christians into Portuguese culture.[27] The retention of the caste system and Hindu customs by the converts was contemptuously looked down upon by the Portuguese, who desired complete assimilation of the native Christians into their own culture. [27]

Some Portuguese clergy bore racial prejudices against their Goan counterparts.[28] In their letters, they made frequent references to the fact that the native clergy were dark skinned, and that the parishioners had no respect for them as a result.[28] The Franciscan parish priest of Colvale Church, Frei António de Encarnação, excommunicated for striking a Goan assistant, wrote a bitter and virulent essay against the native clergy wherein he called them ' negros chamados curas ' (Portuguese: blacks called curates) and termed them as 'perverse' and 'insolent'.[28] The Franciscans further expanded on the viceregal decree of 1606 regarding making the natives literate in Portuguese to qualify for the priesthood.[28] However, the Archbishop of Goa Ignacio de Santa Theresa is known to have respected the native Goan clerics more than the Portuguese ones, whom he considered to be insolent and overbearing.[28]

Conversion of Catholic GaudasEdit

In the late 1920s, prominent members of Goan Hindu society requested Vinayak Maharaj Masurkar, the prelate of a Vaishnava ashram in Masur, Satara district; to actively campaign for the 're-conversion' of Catholic Gaudas to Hinduism.[29] Masurkar accepted, and together with his disciples, subsequently toured Gauda villages singing devotional bhakti songs and performing pujas.[29] These means led a considerable number of Catholic Gaudas to declare willingness to come into the Hindu fold, and a Shuddhi ceremony was carefully prepared.[29] Their efforts was met with success when on 23 February 1928, many Catholic Gaudas were converted en masse to Hinduism in a Shuddhi ceremony, notwithstanding the vehement opposition of the Roman Catholic Church and the Portuguese authorities.[30] As part of their new religious identity, the converts were given Hindu names. However, the Portuguese government refused to grant them legal permission to change their names.[31] Around 4,851 Catholic Gaudas from Tiswadi, 2,174 from Ponda, 250 from Bicholim and 329 from Sattari became Hindus in this ceremony. The total number of Gauda converts was 7,815.[32] The wider Hindu Gauda community refused to accept these neo-Hindus back into their fold, and they were now alienated by their former Christian coreligionists.[33] These neo-Hindus developed into a separate endogamous community, and are now referred to as Nav-Hindu Gaudas (New Hindu Gaudas).[34]

Decline of ChristianityEdit

The percentage of the Christian population of Goa has been facing a continual decline since the Annexation of Goa not due to loss of faith, but due to mass immigration from other states of India.

As per the 1909 statistics in the Catholic Encyclopedia, the total Catholic population was 293,628 out of a total population 365,291 (80.33%).[35]

In 2011, 66% (963,877 individuals) of Goa residents were Hindu and 25% (366,130 individuals) were Christians.[36]

Further readingEdit

  • Roger Crowley (2015). Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire. Faber and Faber.
  • Anthony D’Costa (1965). The Christianisation of the Goa Islands 1510-1567. Heras Institute.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Holm 1989, p. 286
  2. ^ de Mendonça 2002, p. 55
  3. ^ Prabhu 1999, p. 154
  4. ^ de Mendonça 2002, p. 67
  5. ^ Borges & Stubbe 2000, p. 304
  6. ^ a b c Meersman 1971, p. 107
  7. ^ de Mendonça 2002, p. 80
  8. ^ Prabhu 1999, p. 111
  9. ^ Gomes 1987, p. 64
  10. ^ a b Mascarenhas 2008
  11. ^ Prabhu 1999, p. 101
  12. ^ Padinjarekutt 2005, p. 99
  13. ^ de Mendonça 2002, p. 397
  14. ^ a b c Prabhu 1999, p. 133
  15. ^ a b de Sousa 2011, p. 69
  16. ^ Kudva 1972, p. 359
  17. ^ a b c do Carmo Costa 2006, p. 12 "Um fenómeno curioso aconteceu neste processo de conversão: por vezes, irmãos e pais convertidos, ou em momentos diferentes, ou por terem padrinhos diferentes, acabaram por adoptar apelidos diferentes. A título de exemplo, encontra-se numa escritura de 1594, como gancar da aldeia da Raia, Sebastião Barbosa, filho de Pero Parras; e num outro documento, de 1609, João Rangel, também gancar, filho do mesmo Pero Parras. Dois irmãos, um Rangel e um Barbosa, ambos filhos de um Parras." ("A curious thing happened in this process of conversion: sometimes siblings and parents converted, or at different times, or having different sponsors, and ended up adopting different last names. For example, there is a deed of 1594, when a ganvkar (villager) of Raia, Sebastião Barbosa, shows up as the son of Pero Parras. In another document, in 1609, João Rangel, also a ganvkar (villager), turns out to be the son of the same Pero Parras. Two brothers, one a Rangel and one a Barbosa, both sons of a Parras!")
  18. ^ Priolkar, Dellon & Buchanan 1961, p. 147
  19. ^ a b c Gune & Goa, Daman and Diu (India). Gazetteer Dept 1979, p. 238
  20. ^ Gomes 1987, p. 78
  21. ^ e Sá 1997, p. 255
  22. ^ Muthukumaraswamy, University of Madras. Dept. of Anthropology & National Folklore Support Centre (India) 2006, p. 63
  23. ^ Gomes 1987, p. 79
  24. ^ Boxer 1963, p. 75
  25. ^ de Souza 1994, p. 144
  26. ^ a b de Souza 1989, p. 71
  27. ^ a b Pinto 1999, pp. 141–144
  28. ^ a b c d e de Souza 1989, p. 77
  29. ^ a b c Kreinath, Hartung & Deschner 2004, p. 163
  30. ^ Ghai 1990, p. 103
  31. ^ Ralhan 1998, pp. 304–305
  32. ^ Godbole 2010, pp. 61–66
  33. ^ Shirodkar, Mandal & Anthropological Survey of India 1993, p. 23
  34. ^ Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France) & Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses 2001, p. 458
  35. ^ Ernest Hull (1909). "Archdiocese of Goa". Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  36. ^ "Population by Religious Community - 2011".


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