Chapter Fourteen

The conquering of India for Christ by the Popes and their Portuguese “secular arm” started in earnest with the arrival in India of Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. His fleet, the first to reach Calicut after Vasco da Gama’s bloody landing, carried eight ordinary priests and eight Franciscan friars. C.B. Firth, in An Introduction to Indian Church History, explains, “Though it was the hope of gain that brought the Portuguese adventurers to India, it was also the purpose of their kings to promote the spread of Christianity among those who came under their rule. On this ground several of the fifteenth century Popes granted them rights of dominion and commercial monopoly in the newly acquired territories. A modern reader will wonder what right the Popes had to do this; but in mediaeval Europe theologians held that the Pope, as Vicar of Christ, had a direct domination over the kingdoms of the earth, and so such grants did not seem outrageous―not to the beneficiaries at any rate. In a famous bull of 1493 Pope Alexander VI,[43] to settle rivalry between Spain and Portugal, the two colonial powers of those days, drew a line down the map of the Atlantic Ocean south of the Azores Islands to form a boundary between their respective spheres of influence. All lands not already under Christian rule ‘discovered or yet to be discovered’ to the west of the line, he assigned to Spain; those to the east, to Portugal. Along with this fantastic enactment went a command to the Spanish and Portuguese kings ‘to send to the said lands and islands good men who fear God and are learned, skilled and expert, to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic Faith and good morals’. Moreover, other foreigners were forbidden to enter those lands without license from these kings. Whatever may be thought nowadays of such orders, the Spaniards and Portuguese were prepared to act on them; and not only in claiming and exercising, as far as they were able, rights of dominion and trade; they were seriously prepared to propagate Christianity.”[44]

K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, in A History of South India, tells the story of the propagation of Christianity in India. He writes, “[The Portuguese] acted throughout as if they had a divine right to the pillage, robbery, and massacre of the natives of India. Not to mince matters, their whole record is one of a series of atrocities. They delighted particularly in plundering all rich temples within their reach, even Tirupati not escaping their predatory attentions. … The Roman Catholic missionaries, headed by St. Francis Xavier,[45] were not only forcefully converting to their faith large numbers on the pearl-fishery coast … but induced the fishermen to transfer their allegiance to the king of Portugal. … The Franciscan friars and Jesuits were busy demolishing temples and building churches in the coastal cities, and the Portuguese governor of Goa was reported to be organising a plundering raid against the rich temples of Kanchipuram.[46] … The Portuguese policy of [destroying temples and] turning religious propaganda to political use roused the resentment of even the tolerant rulers of Vijayanagar and their Feudatories.”

M. Arunachalam, in an article in Christianity in India: A Critical Study, writes, “It is well known that the Portuguese sacked the famous Tiruchendur Murugan Temple on the sea-coast and threw the idol into the sea. Sometime later, in 1654, the chieftain Vadamalaiyappa Pillai of Tirunelveli, salvaged the idol from the sea and installed it at the present Tiruchendur temple.”[47]

He continues, “The Tirumalai Nayak Mahal [at Madurai] is another example. Jealous of its magnificence, the British began demolishing it, but public agitation checked it and what we have today is only a part of what was originally there.”

The British were generally less destructive than the Portuguese and the French, but they did not hesitate to attack temples that were in the way of construction works or to desecrate them as a means of intimidating the local populace. They fired on the temples of Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh for this last reason; and Victoria Terminus in Bombay―now  Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) in Mumbai―is built on the original site of that city’s famous Mumbai Devi Temple. In Madras they obliterated the small Hindu shrines that once stood inside Fort St. George. The fort now contains St. Mary’s Church, the first Protestant church built east of Suez.

But it is the French who vied with the Portuguese in their Christian zeal to destroy Pagan places of worship. Henry Love, in Vestiges of Old Madras, records that they used temples as barracks in their military operations against the British. Between 1672 and 1674, at Madras, they fortified the rebuilt Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore and the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane when they were besieged by Golconda and the Dutch.

Sita Ram Goel, in History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, quoting The Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai translated by J. Frederick Price and K. Rangachari, gives a graphic account of the destruction of the Vedapuri Iswaran Temple at Pondicherry by the French governor’s wife, Madame Dupliex, and the Jesuits. He writes, “The Vedapuri Iswaran Temple was the principle place of worship for the Hindus of Pondicherry. The Jesuit missionaries built the Church of St. Paul adjacent to it and obtained an order from the King of France that the Hindu temple should be destroyed….

“The first incident at the Vedapuri Temple took place on March 17, 1746, ‘On Wednesday night at 11,’ writes Pillai, ‘two unknown persons entered the Iswaran Temple carrying in a vessel of liquid filth, which they poured on the heads of the Gods around the altar, and into the temple, through the drain of the shrine of Iswaran; and having broken the pot of dirt on the image of the God Nandi, they went away through a part of the building which had been demolished’….

“As the report of this sacrilege spread, Hindus ‘from the Brahmin to the pariah,’ held a public meeting. The governor, Dupliex, when he heard of it, sent his chief peon to disperse the meeting. … The people, however, defied the order and protested, ‘you better kill us all’….

“The next incident recorded by Pillai took place on December 31, 1746. ‘It was reported,’ he writes, ‘tonight at 7, that an earthen jar, filled with filth, was thrown from within the grounds of the Church of St. Paul, into the Temple of Vedapuri Iswaran. It very nearly fell on the head of Sankara Aiyan, who was at the shrine of the God Pillaiyar, on his way round the temple, in the performance of religious duties. When the jar struck the ground, and broke to pieces, the stench emitted was unbearable’….

“The temple was now doomed to destruction. ‘Yesterday,’ Pillai continued in his diary of September 8, ‘200 soldiers, 60 or 70 troopers and sepoys were stationed at St. Paul’s Church in view of the matter in hand. This morning, M. Gerbault (the engineer), the priests with diggers, masons, coolies and over 200 in all, with spades, pick-axes and whatever is needed to demolish walls, began to pull down the southern wall of the Vedapuri Iswaran Temple and the outhouses. At once the temple managers, Brahmins and mendicants came and told me. … Just then … news, was brought that Father Coeurdoux, the superior of St. Paul’s Church, had kicked the inner shrines with his foot, and had ordered the Coffrees to remove the doors, and the Christians to break the Vahanams.’”

Pillai now went to Governor Dupliex, in an attempt to save the temple, as did the caste leaders who sought to save the temple’s movable articles, but it was all to no avail.

“‘Then Father Coeurdox of Karikal came with a great hammer, kicked the Lingam, broke it with his hammer, and ordered the Coffrees and the Europeans to break the images of Vishnu and the other Gods. Madame [Dupliex] went and told the priest that he might break the idols as he pleased. He answered that she had accomplished what had been impossible for fifty years, that she must be one of those Mahatmas who established [Christian] religion in old days, and that he would publish her fame throughout the world. … Then [the native convert] Varlam also kicked the great Lingam nine or ten times with his sandals in the presence of Madame and the priest, and spat on it out of gladness, and hoping that the priest and Madame would regard him also as a Mahatma. Then he followed Madame. I can neither write nor describe what abominations were done in the temple. I know not what fruit they will reap. All the Tamils think the end of the world has come. The priests, the Tamil Christians, the Governor and his wife are more delighted than they have ever been before, but they have not yet considered what will befall them in the future.’”[48]

43. This Vicar of Christ was known as Alexander the Scabrous and ruled from 1492 to 1503. Joseph McCabe, in A Testament of Christian Civilization, writes, “He brought into Italy [from Spain] an unscrupulous brood of relatives, the Borgias, who spread graft and depravity on all sides and opened the vilest page in history of the higher authorities of any known religion.” He played vicious power politics, practiced simony, held famous public orgies in the Apostolic Palace, committed incest with his daughter, went whoring with his son, poisoned his cardinals to get their wealth, and himself died of poisoning. The legend on his triumphal arch read “Chastity and Charity”.

44. This paragraph fully exposes the hollowness of the Catholic apologists’ claim that the Church’s association with Portuguese imperialism was unwilling and an unfortunate accident of history.

45. In a letter to the Society of Jesus, quoted by Sita Ram Goel in St. Francis Xavier: The Man and His Mission, Xavier wrote, “Following the baptisms, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in their turn also prepared for baptism. After all have been baptised, I order that everywhere the temples of the false gods be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols by the very people who formerly worshipped them.” Xavier did this after the Hindu raja of Quilon had given him a large grant to build churches. In another letter he writes, “There are in these parts among the pagans a class of men called Brahmins. They are as perverse and wicked a set as can anywhere be found, and to whom applies the Psalm which says: ‘From an unholy race, and wicked and crafty men, deliver me, Lord.’ If it were not for the Brahmins, we should have all the heathens embracing our faith.”

46. On one of these voyages up the Coromandel Coast the Portuguese were blown ashore in a storm, at a fishing village 12 km south of Nagapattinam. They declared that the Virgin Mary had saved them and in thanksgiving took over the local Vel Ilankanni Amman Temple (which was the sister shrine of the Vel Thandakanni Amman Temple at Sikkil, closer to Nagapattinam). This village has now become the famous Christian pilgrimage centre of Velankanni. The original Devi temple was enclosed within the first Portuguese church, known as the Mada Koil, that is situated at a distance from the present Basilica of Our Lady of Health. The stone image of the Devi was on public display until some years ago, but has since been removed and an image of the Virgin Mary put in its place.

47. The hundreds of temples and thousands of idols destroyed by the Portuguese in Goa has been documented by A.K. Priolkar in The Goa Inquisition. And the historian T.R. de Souza, quoted by M.D. David in Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, writes, “At least from 1540 onwards and in the island of Goa before that year, all Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material were in most cases utilised to erect new Christian churches and chapels.”

48. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is built on or beside this temple site, and the local tradition is that the broken lingam is hidden under an altar in the church. The Christian practice of covering a desecrated image or sacred stone with an altar is very old and churches in England, France, Italy and Spain that have been built on Pagan sites are found to contain these images and other relics.