Short Essay on the Life of vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama with the help of a Moorish broker from Bombay (now Mumbai), Davane by name, whom he picked up from Mozambique, sailed to India and anchored off the village of Kappad, 8 miles north of Calicut on 17th May 1498. This discovery of a sea route to India opened a new era in world history, paving the way for the rise of European imperialism and the economic exploitation of the flourishing nations of the East.

This also resulted in the ruin of the sea borne trade of the Muslims in the Indian Ocean and the Red and in the words of Danvers, "made a complete revolution in the commerce of Europe and raised the political importance of Portugal to a high degree; whilst to her Kings was added the glorious title of "Lords of the Conquest, Navigation, and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and China."

Da Gama landed at Calicut, whose ruler, the Zamorin, the most powerful of the princes of Kerala, extended freedom of religion and commerce to all peoples, indigenous and foreign. The sanguinary motive of the Portuguese was quite in evidence even from the beginning of their relations with the Indian states.

Gama wanted hostages on his ship in order to go on shore when Zamorin invited him to his palace. A party of fourteen set out to Calicut to meet the King. They mistook every Hindu to be a Christian and every pagoda to be a Christian chapel.

They entered a temple and prayed there; says one of this party, Alverto Velho, "Here the chief captain prayed and we also with him. And we did not enter inside the chapel, because it was their custom that only certain men should enter who were in the service of the Church and whom they called Quafers.

These (Quafers) wore some twisted threads over their left shoulder and the shoulder of their right arm just as the priests of the Gospel wear the stole. They sprinkled us with holy water and gave us white clay which the Christians in the country used to put on their foreheads and on their chests."

The meeting between da Gama and the Zamorin was cordial and the letter of the Portuguese King, Dom Manuel was received with great courtesy. But Gama's request for the grant of commercial facilities in Calicut did not get full compliance at the hands of the King.

The cheap and tinsel presents given by Gama made him look at the foreigner with disfavour and the unattractive wares brought for sale, as well as the Moorish manoeuvres, both went against the Portuguese making much headway in their dealings. It was the goodwill of the Zamorin that enabled them to gain a modicum of success in collecting spices for their homeward voyage.

In August 1498, on the eve of his departure da Gama committed high-handed and undiplomatic act in carrying away five subjects of the King as captives when he insisted upon the payment of the usual customs duties by the Portuguese.

On his way back he touched the port of Cannanore and landed there on the invitation of the Kolattiri Raja, who was the hereditary enemy of the Zamorin. Some favourable trade terms were offered by the Raja which enabled Gama to load his ships and set sail on 20th November 1498.

From the political and economic points of view da Gama's arrival in Calicut was a great tragedy for India because it opened the gate for the continuous ingress of European invaders in the following centuries. Princely states one after the other fell victims to these alien aggressors and South India became a sport of their treacherous designs till the British established their supremacy here.

Da Gama and his crew learned nothing about the people their religion and the economic conditions of Malabar during their three months stay there. They could not spot out a single Hindu in the whole Kingdom of the Zamorin whom they addressed as a Christian.