The political history of the smallest state in India dates back to the 2nd century BCE. From the 2nd century BC to the 6th century CE, Goa was primarily under the Chutus of Karwar, followed by the Chalukyas of Badami (c. 578 CE to 753 CE), and then the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed (c. 753 CE to 953 CE). In the interim, the western Kshatrapas, the Abhiras of western Maharashtra, the Bhojas of the Yadava clan in Gujarat, and the Konkan Mauryas ruled over the region. Over the next few centuries, the Kadambas successfully held reign.
The Kadambas—a unique local dynasty that gradually dominated the region by forging alliances with their neighbours and overlords, the Chalukyas—ruled over Goa for three centuries, beginning with just a small part of the Konkan, i.e. Sashti, or present-day Salcette. Believed to have been founded by Shasthadeva after conquering the city of Chandrapur from the Shilaharas, the Kadamba dynasty was responsible for shaping the political entity of the district of Goa for the first time. This period of wealth as well as administrative stability is known as Goa’s first ‘Golden Age’. Moreover, the gold coins issued by the Kadambas as currency were perhaps one of the purest and heaviest among the empires in the medieval period.
While Sanskrit and Kannada were the key languages for administrative purposes during this period, Marathi and Konkani were equally prevalent in Goa. Chandrapur, the capital of Goa under the Kadambas, was later shifted to Gopakapattana. In 1312, however, following the invasion of Alauddin Khilji, Goa came under the governance of the Delhi Sultanate.
The Bahmani Kingdom ruled over Goa in two phases: first from 1356 CE to 1370 CE, following which it was taken over by the Vijayanagara Empire, and later, returned to power from 1469 CE to 1492 CE. Considered as the first Islamic kingdom in the Deccan region, its general administrative model was along the lines of the Delhi Sultanate. The Bahmani Sultans created a new riverine city called Ella, which functioned as a flourishing port for trade along the northern banks of the Mandovi. While they contributed significantly to the architecture, culture and politics of the time, the period also marks an endless struggle with the Vijayanagara Kingdom. The Bahmanis eventually splintered into five independent successor states.
At the end of the first phase of the Bahmani rule in 1370 CE, they were forced to surrender the region of Goa to Harihara I of the Vijayanagara Empire. With land revenue as their main source of income, the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire made several improvements such as building dams and canals in order to promote agriculture. With Virupaksha II as the emperor in 1465 CE, the Vijayanagara kingdom began to decline. Taking advantage of this precarious situation, the Bahmani Sultan Mohammad Shah II, in 1469 CE, ordered his generals to march into Goa and seize it once again.
Once the dynasty of the Bahmani Sultans crumbled in 1492 CE, the seat of power in Goa was taken over by the Adilshahis of Bijapur. They established, as their auxiliary capital, the city known under the Portuguese as Velha Goa (Old Goa). The construction of Panjim’s oldest surviving building, the Adilshah’s Summer Palace, is at the cusp of the rule of the Bijapur Sultanate and the Portuguese. It is believed that Yusuf Adilshah—the founder of the Bijapur Sultanate—built the palace along the Mandovi river in c. 1500 CE, and has, since then, served as Goa’s premier seat of power. Eventually, in 1510 CE, seeking the help of a local ally Timoya, the Portuguese defeated the ruling Bijapur kings. This led to the establishment of their permanent settlement in Velha Goa.
Goa was the first territorial conquest of the Portuguese in Asia, and ruled over the region for 450 years. Attacked in March 1510 CE by Afonso de Albuquerque, Goa lost the struggle, with Albuquerque emerging victorious. By November that year, the Portuguese completely defeated the then reigning Bijapur Sultanate. While they had complete control over Goa, the Portuguese did not interfere in matters related to customs and constitutions of the 30 communities of the island at all, save for the abolition of the practice of sati, or an ancient Hindu tradition where a recently widowed woman would throw herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. Moreover, Albuquerque encouraged the men to marry indigenous women and settle as farmers, traders or artisans. Their descendants later became a privileged caste, and Goa was home to a significant Eurasian population.
By the mid-16th century, Goa had around 4,000 Portuguese and other European settlers including Italians, French, English, and Flemish; 10,000 converted Indian Christians; and at least 50,000 Hindu Indians who spoke Konkani.
The year 1542 CE, Goa saw the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier along with the Jesuits. Till date, the saint is regarded as the Patron Saint of Goa. In 1543 CE, the Portuguese had stretched their control over the areas of Salcette, Bardez and Mormugao (now Marmagao). This was their first phase of expansion in Goa, or ‘Velhas Conquestas’. Between 1575 CE and 1600 CE, Goa gained the prestigious status of the capital of the entire Portuguese territory east of the Cape of Good Hope, and was granted civic privileges similar to those of Lisbon’s.
Under the Portuguese, Goa attained rank as the headquarters of the viceregal court, the church, the army, and the navy. Surrounded by a defensive wall, it accommodated the governor’s residence, several bazaars, houses based on the inhabitants’ occupation or religion, and a number of small, well-laid out winding streets. A High Court—with Portuguese as the language of all its administrative matters—was responsible for all legal matters. While European-style laws were applicable only to the European or mixed-race inhabitants, the Hindu population was largely left to use its own legal mechanism. Meanwhile, the locals residing in villages could devise their own rules, as they had been doing.
The Portuguese held a monopoly on European exploration and trade in the Indian Ocean. With a focus on the western coast of India, their strategies were largely determined by sailing conditions, and Goa served as an invulnerable site that doubled as an excellent harbour and an important hub for spice trade. A large part of their revenue in the East was derived from the trading taxes—or customs duty—that had to be paid by traders at the port.
With the Dutch landing on Indian shores, in 1603 CE and 1639 CE, Goa was blockaded by Dutch fleets; Goa, however, held out. It also faced the wrath of a cholera epidemic in 1635 CE. The Hindu Marathas attacked Goa in 1698 CE, further threatening Portuguese dominance. From 1812 to 1815, during the Napoleonic Wars, Goa was occupied by the British.
Owing to subsequent military losses to the British and the Dutch, Goa, as a commercial port, began to see a downward spiral, mirroring the decline of the Portuguese stronghold. Given the rising number of land and sea routes to transport goods to Europe, the stiff competition in trade from the Middle East, and the Dutch and British establishing trading companies in Asia, Goa’s trade revenue under the Portuguese was massively hit. Its decline meant that Velha Goa was abandoned and, in 1843, a new settlement was established ten kilometres to the east, known as Nova Goa or Panjim. In the mid-20th century, Portugal made last-ditch attempts to procure iron ore and manganese from Goa but in vain. In 1961, in the wake of diplomatic pressures from a newly independent India, Goa was occupied by the Indian army, marking the end of the longstanding Portuguese rule.
Freedom Struggle and Liberation
With the shift in the capital from Velha Goa to Nova Goa (Panjim) in 1843 CE, geographically, the Portuguese stronghold was more or less within Goa’s present-day state limits. While 1961 CE marked the end of Portuguese rule in Goa, it also saw their simultaneous collapse in other parts of India, thereby ending the reign of the Estado da India Portuguesa.
On 18th June 1946, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia led the Goa Liberation Movement with the aim of liberating the region. In 1954, Goan nationalists seized the Portuguese enclaves of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, establishing a pro-Indian administration. The following year, a group of satyagrahis attempted to enter Goa. While they were initially deported, they then began to cross the borders in droves, compelling the Portuguese authorities to use force, which led to several casualties. As a result, diplomatic ties between Portugal and India were severed in August 1955. The tension escalated further, and on 19th December 1961, Indian troops—supported by naval and air forces—invaded and occupied Goa along with Daman and Diu.
In March 1962, Goa was incorporated into the Indian Union as a union territory. The first democratic election in Goa took place in 1963 and in 1987, Goa was given statehood, as part of the Union of India.