An Air Warrior who has published over a100 short stories and 8 books on fiction,5 novels, and 4 books on military history
The 15th -18th century is considered the great age of exploration. Sailors and mariners set out to explore the world. There were innumerable of them, but one man stands heads and shoulders above all. He is the Portuguese mariner Vasco Da Gama. His feat of having opened up the sea route to India from Europe puts him ahead of all other seamen-explorers.
The European powers were for long looking for a sea route to India. The reason was trade. The European powers could only access exotic goods from India like silk and spices through the Arabs, who acted as the intermediaries. The Europeans wanted a direct route to India so they could bypass the Arabs who had monopolized the trade.
The mariner Christopher Columbus was also searching for the sea route to India. He set out searching for the route to the exotic land of India and ended up discovering America. This was in 1492, but the winner of the race to discover India was Vasco Da Gama, who sailed in a special ship right across the Cape of Good Hope and thence across the Arabian Sea to the West Coast of India. He landed at Calicut on the Indian coast in1498. Gama's arrival on the West Coast of India was without any problem. His landing on the Indian coast can be termed "entente cordial" and set the tone for the East and West to meet without an intermediary
For this, Gama deserves accolades as a man who was ahead of all. The route to India was something the Europeans had been looking for long especially after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks and the subsequent clampdown of trade in spices and silk from the East and India
Vasco da Gama: The Mission
Vasco da Gama was born in 1460 and was the 3rd son of Estevao da Gama, a minor provincial nobleman. At that time the Portuguese kings were hard-pressed to fill their treasury and were looking for alternative sources of revenue. An important way to earn was by the spice trade to India and the east.
The Portuguese were keen to open a route to India, especially after the Ottoman Empire became a bulwark against such trade. The Turks denied pepper and spice to Europeans and charged an exorbitant amount as a tax if this was allowed.
The Court especially commissioned Vasco da Gama to search for a sea route to the east. Accordingly, he set out from, Lisbon on 8 July 1497. After a voyage that took him across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope, he was able to reach the Malabar Coast on the west coast of India on 20 May 1498. It was a great voyage. His last leg was from the African coast across the Arabian Sea to the West Coast of India. Considering the primitive navigation instruments Vasco had, the voyage is a feat to remember.
One incident is worth recounting here. It appears that on the way Gama lost his way, but he was able to capture a pirate named Ibn Majid. This man was able to guide Vasco across the Arabian Sea. Some reports indicate that this man was taken back to Lisbon by Vasco. Nothing is heard of this man after that as he probably married a Portuguese girl and settled there.
Gama’s discovery heralded a new age in European imperialism in Asia. This helped the sagging Portuguese economy. The new sea route was instrumental in this revival. Vasco was well received by the native Indians and despite lack of knowledge of the local language Vasco carried himself with aplomb and laid the foundation for the imperialism of Europe at a later date.
Heralding the Age of Imperialism
Vasco laid the foundation of European presence in India. He started the spice trade, but soon the Portuguese diversified into other commercial products. This gave a great fillip to the Portuguese economy. Earlier the Portuguese had relied heavily on trade with West Africa, but now they had another opening.
Gama cleverly mixed politics and war with trade. He ensured a better price for the spice growers and prosperity increased
Vasco da Gama left an indelible mark but the effects of his first voyage were not repeated in subsequent voyages and on his next 2 voyages he was unable to get any treaty signed with the local rulers. This was held against him and he was bypassed. He was reinstated for the last voyage in 1524 to India. He set course with a fleet of 5 ships, but it was a troubled voyage as 4 ships were lost at sea. He landed in Calicut but died within 3 months of malaria. Thus the life of the greatest mariner went out thousands of miles from home.
Nevertheless, Vasco Da Gama did enough to leave an indelible mark on world history but for him, the age of imperialism would not have dawned for the western world. Vasco Da Gama has a respected place in the history of the sub-continent. The city of Vasco in Goa is named after him.
One small mystery, however, has not been solved. De Gama Landed at Calicut but the Portuguese empire concentrated around Bombay and Goa which is about 400 km away from Calicut. The last vestige of Portuguese rule in Goa ended in 1961 when Nehru ordered the Indian army to liberate Goa and the Portuguese army surrendered without firing a shot. Thus ended 400 years of Portuguese rule over a part of India.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 30, 2021:
Thanks, Tom, all said and done the foundation of European and Portuguese rule was started with the arrival of Vasco. I have been to Vasco in a Goa-lovely place. There is also a little doubt that the Raja at Calicut did welcome Vasco de Gama.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 30, 2021:
Thank you, Colonel, for your comment I appreciate it a lot.
Lt Col Parduman Singh on March 30, 2021:
Excellent article which I had not read earlier. Vasco was a great sailor and must rank as the greatest seafarer of all time.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 16, 2016:
Thank you Lawrence
MG Singh from UAE on January 14, 2016:
A great and informative post
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 14, 2016:
Vasco De Gama was one of the truly great explorers of all time.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 29, 2015:
Thank you Manatita for commenting.
manatita44 from london on December 29, 2015:
Yes, I knew of him when studying history in the Caribbean. The Portuguese are very proud of him. A truly brave and pioneering Soul. Excellent Hub!