| Maratha Empire
|Shivaji Bhonsle||Matias de Albuquerque
The Bicholim Conflict of 1640-1641 was a period of armed conflict between the Portuguese rulers of Goa and the Maratha Empire led by Shivaji Bhonsle in the northern regions of Goa, particularly in the Bicholim region. The conflict lasted from mid 1640 to early 1641, when the Maratha Confederacy and the Portuguese signed a treaty by which they would respect the pre-existing Maratha-North Goa boundary. However, the conflict continued to cause tension between the Maratha rulers and the Portuguese in Goa and the islands of Daman and Diu. While the conflict mainly remained localized to Northern Goa, at one point anti-Portuguese uprisings occurred in the neighbouring regions of Pernem and Bardez.
Portuguese traders set up Goa as their first trading port in India in 1498, when Vasco da Gama created a route through Goa. By 1542, the areas of Velhas Conquistas were enjoying higher elements of prosperity. Those that converted to Christianity were given extra privileges in comparison with those that opted to remain Hindu or Muslim. In 1560, the Goa Inquisition was established and 4,000 people were arrested for heresy in the first few years alone. The neighbouring Hindu regions, particularly those to the north of Goa and those in the Novas Conquistas, felt a great deal of apprehensiveness towards the newly established inquisition.
Although Goa slowly grew in its splendour during this time, the Marathas to the north exhibited more expansionist growth. Between 1603 and 1639, the Dutch fleet blockaded Goa, as part of the Dutch-Portuguese War, cutting it off to supplies from Portugal and forcing the inhabitants of Goa into desperate poverty. The Dutch and Portuguese were at war as a result of Dutch attempts to seize Portuguese colonies to add to its expanding empire. At the same time, Shivaji Bhonsle began his series of conquests which would eventually lead to the creation of the Maratha Empire. In 1635, the Maratha Empire and Portuguese Goa gained a common border. Aware of the growth of the Marathas and forcibly experiencing a widespread famine, many inhabitants in North Goa expressed their support for the Marathas. Others also accepted Maratha immigrants into their village, particularly those from the influential region of Kolhapur, which bordered Goa.
In 1639, in the same year when the Dutch blockade was lifted, a treaty was signed between the Marathas and Mysore, forbidding either of the parties to oppose the other in any way and ensuring that both parties accepted their common border. The Marathas had also offered a type of protectorate status to the remaining Deccan states. The only part of their southern frontier which was not secured as peaceful was that with Portuguese Goa, which the Marathas conveniently surrounded from the north and the east.
 Path to conflict
In January 1640, the Marathas attempted a negotiation with the Portuguese Governor-General established in Goa. However, Governor-General Matias de Albuquerque was reluctant to confront the Maratha Empire, particularly because of the external political pressures playing on him. The inquisitors had great influence in Portuguese Goa's administration in those times and conducting negotiations with the largely Hindu Maratha Empire would be considered a betrayal to the cause.
The message evidently got to the Marathas, who began directing troops from the peaceful Mysore frontier to the frontier with Goa. Albuquerque finally agreed to a meeting with a representative from the Maratha Empire, but no resolutions were reached. The Marathas, who were committed to secularism, especially condemned the treatment of Hindus in Goa and pointed to the burning at the stake of Hindus who allegedly committed heresy through their actions. Undoubtedly, the inconclusive result of this meeting was one of the major causes of the later confrontations.
By the beginning of the 1640 Goan summer (i.e. February - March 1640), Albuquerque had ordered the maintenance of a Portuguese presence amongst Goan villages in Pernem and Bicholim. Suspicious of this action, a minor troop buildup along the border between the Maratha Empire and Bicholim was ordered by the Marathas. The borders were not particularly fortified as there had never been an external land threat to Goa before. The governor of the Bicholim region was a native Goan Christian convert named Nicolau de Mello. Mello was a trusted governor and reasonably popular amongst his subjects. According to David D'Souza, a Goan historian, Hindu members of the Bicholim community considered Mello to have an anti-Hindu bias and were more ready to side with the Marathas. However, Vasantakulan Srinivasan is more inclined to believe that the Hindus were not aware of the Maratha presence and, although ruffled by their mistreatment, were loyal to Mello.
 Confrontation at Ibrampur
The Marathas wanted a secure southern frontier but members of the Goan inquisitorial forces were reluctant to negotiate with them. Indeed, at one point there was discussion of advancing the Portuguese navy north to launch an invasion of the Kolhapur region and, in doing so, remove the threat the Marathas had on Novas Conquistas. However, such an attack was rejected as it could have triggered escalation and thus open up the chance that the Marathas would ally with the Dutch to fight against the Portuguese. The actual start of the conflict was triggered at Ibrampur, a small town in the Pernem district which was located near important roads and the source of the Chapora River. The Maratha forces at the Bicholim border were allegedly tipped off by an informant claiming a buildup of Portuguese forces at Ibrampur. However, at that time, the Portuguese forces were actually based at a fort in Alorna, which was further away from the border.
The Marathas crossed the traditional border and led a cavalry expedition to Ibrampur so as to scout the area. When the Portuguese were not found, it was assumed by the commander that they were yet to come and it was decided that it would be necessary to fortify Ibrampur for the time when the Portuguese would arrive. The Portuguese forces, headed in Bicholim and Pernem by Manuel de Elaminos, were notified of the Maratha incursion and reported the invasion to Vasco da Gama, Goa. They took discretion to move down the road to Ibrampur, in doing so leaving Alorna defenceless and attack the Marathas at Ibrampur.
The Portuguese attack during August 1640 was swift and effective. The two main paths out of Ibrampur, those to the north and to the west, were both surrounded. To avoid too much damage, the Portuguese opened their attack on the city with a wave of infantry. While only light casualties were inflicted on the infantry, they retreated after seeing the size of the built-up Maratha forces. Evidently, the Marathas believed they had the upper hand and decided to push the Portuguese back along the road to Alorna. The Maratha cavalry chased the retreating infantry back to their line of offence. Continued engagement led to the call-up of the Portuguese forces stationed north of Ibrampur to come to the west and help in the battle.
The relatively minor contingent of Portuguese in the northern side were, however, cut off by Maratha infantry advancing from Ibrampur. Thus by the end of the first day of battle, there were two fronts for the troops. Casualties had been low, as clever maneuvering by the Portuguese in the west had meant that they could carry out an organized retreat. Nonetheless, the Portuguese had suddenly become aware of the intensity of the conflict and the strength of the Marathas. They were also made forcibly aware of the hard fact that the residents of Ibrampur accepted and allowed Maratha fortifications to be built around their town. They believed the Hindu-majority town might have been a bad influence on other towns around the frontier.
After two days of the Maratha push towards Alorna, reinforcements from Vasco da Gama, Goa reached the troops. The balancing of numbers meant that the Portuguese could stop the push. After another day of manoeuvring, the forces reached a stalemate and did not move from their positions for the next week. Neither side wished to escalate the conflict by taking risks and causing casualties. Both sides sought to use offence as a method for defence. The Maratha troops had inflicted casualties early on the first two days of battle, which had triggered the retreat towards Alorna, but had remained subdued, using their cavalry advantage to outmanoeuvre the Portuguese as opposed to charging onto them.
In early July, the Portuguese received permission to use artillery, as they had fallen far away from Ibrampur. The artillery was effective in subduing the infantry, although it inflicted very few casualties. Continued fire on the Maratha cavalry led to the decision to quickly retreat out of artillery range. It was assumed that they would be able to regroup further away from Alorna and then use their speed to out-flank the enemy south of the road and cause a devastating blow to their artillery. The Portuguese had a technological advantage and the Marathas were forced to adapt to this new enemy. However, the Portuguese quickly opted to split their forces and try to flank the Marathas in their return. The unsuspecting Marathas were hit hard by the Portuguese counter-flanking and were forced to move even further south, further towards the Chapora River.
When the Maratha cavalry reached the Chapora, they decided to retreat back into Maratha-controlled territory, trying to lure the Portuguese out of their strategic positions within Goa, however, the Portuguese did not even follow them down to the source of the Chapora. By the end of July, the Marathas had regrouped in their territory and the Portuguese had fortified Alorna under the leadership of Alberto Pinto, who diversified troop positions north of the Chapora.
 Maratha push into Bicholim
At this point, both sides were convinced that a show of force would be required to settle the dispute. The Marathas still believed that the Portuguese had been moving troops to Ibrampur to invade Maratha territory and the Portuguese wanted to create a buffer zone between Goa and the Maratha Empire, possibly by seizing Kolhapur to the north, although it was never clear whether this was a rumour or a plan. Pernem was situated in a region which was surrounded by Maratha land from the north and east and was thus considered by both sides as the area which was most likely to come under the line of war. However, in a bold move, the Marathas abandoned their earlier plan to secure Pernem and moved south to Bicholim.
Bicholim was not as heavily defended by troops but was more central and easier to reach from Pangim. The Marathas entered Bicholim in mid August and took a route through the vast farming land and fields which were present in the north of the region, south of the Chapora. The Maratha presence remained unreported by locals, who were either fooled to ignore the Marathas or persuaded to side with the Marathas.
In late August, a two-pronged attack by Maratha infantry on Kansarpal and Latambarcem as well as a small-force invasion into nearby Sal, which were important Hindu religious and cultural locations. The Hindu majority area did not provide much resistance and no casualties occurred as the Marathas began to fortify the town as a forward base. In fact, it took a week until news of the occupation reached Nicolau de Mello in the Bicholim town and even longer for it to reach Vasco da Gama and the forces at Alorna and Ibrampur.
Maratha forces secured the major road which ran from Dodamarg to the border with Bardez and all regions between the road and the Chapora were considered Marathi. On September 10, Portuguese troops crossed the Chapora river via a bridge west of Alorna. Reconnaissance found Maratha infantry patrolling the southern banks and thus the crossing occurred in the middle of night. However, the night attack also meant that artillery was rendered ineffective or too dangerous. After making stealthy progress, dawn began to break and the Portuguese attacked a Marathi post north of Kansarpal. The Maratha patrols flanked the Portuguese and the small force surrendered, handing over their weapons to the Marathas.
This defeat was pivotal in the course of the conflict, as not only had the Portuguese lost their weapons advantage, they had also lost many troops which had earlier pushed the Marathas out of Goa and had also abandoned artillery in Alorna. The Marathas launched another attack from the border with an attack on Maulinguem. Again, the attack was successful with only minimal fighting due to the acceptance of the Marathas by the Hindu majority in the town.
Portuguese troops were stationed in Bicholim town, Lamgao, Mulgaon and Vathadeo as well as the borders between the Maratha Empire and Satari. However, the Portuguese refrained from an attack directly on the Marathas stationed in Bicholim, as they were aware that the people of Bicholim did not oppose the Marathas. Incidentally, the towns which they had fortified and protected the most had fewer Hindus and were thus less susceptible to easy takeover. When the October attack on Vathadeo came, a battle commenced.
 Battle for Vathadeo
The Battle for Vathadeo was short yet had great implications on the Portuguese defence of Goa. Vathadeo was a strategic point which the Marathas felt necessary to capture before advancing on to the Bicholim town. The Portuguese had placed necessary fortifications around it, although the relatively small village did not have any static defences. Albert Pinto was called from Pernem to Bicholim so that he could defend Vathadeo. The Maratha attack came, as expected, from the north, and the Portuguese immediately bombarded them with artillery fire. Maratha cavalry dispersed in face of the fire and the infantry suffered light casualties as it continued its advance. The Portuguese artillery were inaccurate and did not have an effect on the cavalry.
As the Portuguese formed a standard line of defence around the northern side of Vathadeo, the Maratha infantry confronted them, with the aim of engaging them in close combat while the cavalry could out-flank them and cause casualties. The engagement occurred, but the Portuguese immediately broke through the Maratha line of offence and caused heavy casualties. The Maratha strategy was in tatters as the Maratha infantry suffered heavy casualties. Inefficient ordering by commanders led to the cavalry allowing the Portuguese counter-attack to continue for some time before going in to stop it. The fierce battle at the northern edge of Vathadeo was one of the heaviest and most intense fights in the conflict, with the constant fighting in equal numbers lasting for most of the day. Eventually, with the onset of darkness, Pinto ordered the Portuguese troops to stop their forward push and come back to Vathadeo. The details of casualties in that battle were never described in Portuguese or Marathi histories but have been assumed to be fairly high. David D'Souza, however, claims the reasoning behind this is because at the end of the conflict, the number of casualties suffered in this battle could have been the determining factor over who had come out with the upper hand and both sides were afraid to concede their equally high casualties.
On the next day, the Maratha forces attacked once again from the north, just before dawn, so that they did not have to manoeuvre or encounter the artillery. The attack started successfully but was again in tatters after dawn with Pinto showing military prowess in turning the tide and once again pushing the Marathas north, albeit with much less casualties and much more clever maneuvering. However, this time the Maratha cavalry managed to escape from engagement and travel south into Vathadeo to confront the troops remaining in the town. The Portuguese surrendered in Vathadeo with the onset of a great cavalry attack, although the majority of their forces were within vision of the remainder of the Portuguese forces.
Pinto, upon becoming aware of the white flag being raised, was enraged and organized a retreat back to Vathadeo. However, his retreat was organized so that his troops received minimal casualties and for that reason it took him until night to get back to the town. The Marathas were outnumbered but were strategically placed to confront Pinto's forces. However, more manoeuvring outside the town saw the Maratha cavalry forced to the north of Vathadeo. With both sides scenting victory, the fighting continued throughout the night. Eventually, the fatigued Portuguese retreated to positions within the southern end of the town and fortified it, allowing the Marathas to take the northern end.
While the town had been split into two, the civilians were freely allowed movement between the two sides by the Marathas. Sensing ulterior motives, Pinto ordered a section of his troops to maintain a curfew-type check on the homes of the town's residents, particularly those of a high-caste Hindu background. It was suggested that these civilians may rally to the Maratha cause if they went to the north and spoke to the Maratha troops. Their suspicions were partially correct, as on the next afternoon, with the two sides at a stalemate, a group of civilians from the north attempted to steal Portuguese weapons. They were caught in the act and brutally imprisoned for treason and sent back to Vasco da Gama. However, rumours of this action quickly spread and civil unrest led to the Portuguese being forced to clamp down on movement in the southern part of the town. David D'Souza claims that the rumours were exaggerated by the Marathas.
Nevertheless, the contrasting appearance of the north and south sides of the city caused unrest. In the north, the Marathas allowed free movement and the civilians carried a business-as-usual attitude while in the south, but for a few privileged and influential families, most of the civilians were forced to remain indoors. On the next day, the Marathas launched an infantry offensive and gained ground until the Portuguese forces grouped together and pushed back the infantry. The Marathas could have made more ground but cleverly spent time going house to house and informing residents that they were free. When the Portuguese regained the territories, they ordered civilians back into their homes. Instead of going back, the civilians opposed the troops and began a riot which rocked the south of Vathadeo. With many Portuguese containing the riots, the Marathas struck again in the night and a short but decisive battle ensued, in which the Marathas cornered Portuguese forces into a small area in the south-west of the town.
Pinto ordered his troops to retreat to the road south of Vathadeo to lay siege on the city on the next morning. The troops received renewed orders from Vasco da Gama, telling them to not let Vathadeo out of their sights. After two days, they cut off supply routes to the city. The Portuguese even cut off inhabitants from their outlying farming regions, leaving them without food and unprepared for a siege-type procedure. By early November, civilians began leaving Vathadeo and submitting to the Portuguese. Some were accused of treason and were arrested, others from the mainly Catholic Portuguese factional families were allowed free exit.
 Beginning of uprisings
The Marathas had been pushed into a situation in which they could not afford to send any more troops to fight. Contrary to their previous invasions, which had been relatively swift and effective, they were taking a long time to combat the Portuguese technological advantages. Their forces were now under siege in Vathadeo and they did not want to suffer many casualties, so they decided to wait for the situation to change.
However, news of the arrests and curfews placed on the Hindu population in Vathadeo spread quickly throughout the Goan country-side. In early December, the rumours had been exaggerated into stories of a massacre at Vathadeo of people who were allegedly allied with the Marathas. The first major show of dissent was back at Ibrampur, which had earlier accepted the Marathas but was now under heavy fortification by the Portuguese. The inhabitants of Ibrampur left work and attempted to fight Portuguese troops. Their lack of weaponry however meant that the Portuguese frightened many with shots in the air and could imprison the troublemakers in the town without causing damage. Anconem, which was north of Ibrampur, also suffered a similar fate.
However, when inhabitants of the small village of Tatradingam, just north of the Alorna fort, marched over to the fort demanding that the Portuguese surrender Pernem to Maratha forces, a small fight ensued. Portuguese representatives achieved no compromise with the villagers, who forced themselves into the fort. Facing a military base infiltration, the commander at the fort took discretion to injure a few of the civilians. The over-zealous troops caused fatal wounds on a large portion of the villagers, who were unable to treat the wounds in time. De Albequerque saw this as an effective measure in defending military bases and did not condemn it.
In Bicholim, the city's residents flocked to the government house held by Mello to demand an end to the massacres. D'Mello controversially instructed the troops in the city to organize a curfew. The curfew was extended to all areas in Bicholim with a high troop density. Another uprising at Sirigao resulted in the whole Bicholim region (the parts that were still held by the Portuguese) being put under a state of emergency. The eastern end of Pernem was also placed under a state of military emergency.
In late December, with Christmas approaching, a small band of five to ten Hindus in Dravidna in Bardez set fire to homes in the city, claiming that they were liberating Goa and giving it to the Marathas. The attack led to a nasty reprisal in Dravidna, with Portuguese troops rounding up the gang and other alleged co-conspirators and publicly sentencing them to death.
In the onset of the new year, the Portuguese made an offensive at Maulinguem, which had a small contingent of Marathas controlling it. The attack was successful and the Portuguese took the town with minimal casualties. Again, some civilians were arrested for alleged treason. The Portuguese troops advanced to regain their lost land in Bicholim. The Maratha troops began surrendering and leaving Goa. However, more Maratha troops regrouped at the border, causing the prospect of another invasion. The only Maratha presence within Goa itself was at Vathadeo. Even there, the two month siege was beginning to cause unrest amongst even the most staunch of Maratha supporters.
 Peace treaty
The last blow for the Marathas at Vathadeo was the alleged sabotage of the food stores. The Maratha forces were not prepared to let their only defended town starve to death and thus raised the white flag of surrender in late January 1641. The Portuguese were apprehensive at first and readied themselves for battle, but Maratha troops began exiting the town in small groups so as to be harmless. The Portuguese, for their part, allowed troops free passage out of the town, but arrested those troops which did not immediately surrender their arms to the Portuguese. It is speculated by Srinivasan Vasantakulan that if the Marathas had opted to fight the Portuguese, they would have lost due to malnourishment and dwindling morale. The Portuguese also outnumbered the Marathas in the town, as they had been quickly reinforced.
In early February, Maratha troops once again entered Ibrampur, but this time they gave a message to the Portuguese seeking to negotiate the release of the Maratha prisoners and an end to the brutalities against civilians who were alleged to have been Maratha sympathizers. Shivaji himself was granted an audience with Albuquerque to negotiate a treaty under which the Marathas would accept the standing de facto border between the Maratha Empire and the Portuguese colony of Goa and would respect it as a border between princely states. The Portuguese similarly conceded that they would make no attempts to conduct any expansion north of the boder.
The motives for making such a treaty were many. The Marathas needed the troops captured at Vathadeo reinstated into their forces. The Marathas were also unsure as to whether they could push into Goa as swiftly as earlier assumed and decided it would be better to secure the southern frontier as originally planned as opposed to continuing a war in the south. With this treaty, the entire southern stretch of inter-nation-state boundary for the Maratha Empire was secured as peaceful through treaty.
For the Portuguese, there were immense fears that the uprising in Bicholim and Pernem could spread to other regions and could increasingly aid the Marathas. They were also very much aware that the Marathas had a large amount of reinforcements building up near the de facto border. They were afraid that a simultaneous uprising and Maratha invasion would see much of North Goa fall into Maratha hands and might even threaten Pangim and Vasco da Gama, Goa. The Marathas had shown when offering their treaty that they could threaten Ibrampur again without much resistance.
Some Goans were let down by the treaty, unhappy that they lost the chance to become part of the Maratha expansion. However, most of them were happy with the way the treaty was negotiated and satisfied that they would not be subject to unfair treatment once the Maratha Empire and Portuguese Goa were peaceful. The conflict did not stop uprisings in Goa, but limited them immensely. It must also be noted that the reason this conflict is not known as a war is because neither side ever declared that they were in a state of open war with each other, although the Marathas and Portuguese were actively preparing to battle each other.
 Historical legacy
It is because of this monumental peace treaty and the resulting confidence between the Marathas and Portuguese that the Maratha Empire never expanded southwards to Goa, even when it was at its peak. For this reason, Portugal maintained its control over Goa, which eventually became part of the Union of India in 1961. Modern-day Goa has its own government, culture and enjoys the autonomy of a state in the Indian Union.
 In popular culture
The conflict was fairly brief and its impact in terms of casualties and damage was minimal. For this reason, it has not become much of a talking point amongst filmmakers and bookwriters. A 1921 fiction book by Frank McCallas on rebellion in India bore notable similarities to the events of the Bicholim conflict. Another book in 1958 by Goan writer Victor D'Souza entitled "Goan Life" presented a story about a Christian family living in a village which had given up allegiance to the Marathas, which was possibly inspired by the events during the conflict.
 See also
- ^ a b c d Thompson, Mark, Mistrust between states, Oxford University Press, London 1996. p 207. ISBN 9783161784200
- ^ a b Thompson op cit. p 208.
- ^ Sakshena, R.N, Goa: Into the Mainstream, Abhinav Publications, 2003. ISBN 9788170170051
- ^ a b c d e f Rule, William Harris, History of the Inquisition, Wesleyan Conference Office, London 1868. ISBN 8189004077
- ^ Hunter, William W, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Trubner & Co, 1886
- ^ Thompson op cit. p 199.
- ^ a b Thompson op cit. p 200.
- ^ a b c Thompson op cit. p 201.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw Srinivasan Vasantakulan Bharatiya Struggles (1000 AD - 1700 AD), Voice of India, 1998. ISBN 9789132145612,[page needed]
- ^ a b Thompson op cit. p 203.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n D'Souza David, Roots of conflict in Portuguese Goa, Dakini Books, 1961. ISBN 9782354278882
- ^ a b c Thompson op cit. p 211
- ^ a b c d Thompson op cit. p 212.
- ^ Thompson op cit. p 206.
- ^ Kansarpal Hindu religious and cultural locations
- ^ a b Thompson op cit. p 215.
- ^ a b c Thompson op cit. p 219.
 Further reading
- Rule, William Harris, History of the Inquisition, Wesleyan Conference Office, London 1868
- Thompson, Mark, Mistrust between states, Oxford University Press, London 1996
- Sakshena, R.N, Goa: Into the Mainstream, Abhinav Publications, 2003