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The History of India: Coming of the Europeans


Coming of the Europeans
The period spanning a hundred and fifty years, between the death of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 AD, and the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 witnessed the gradual increase of the European influence in India. This was the time when the Europeans actually got involved in trade and commerce. Prior to this period, Europeans did arrive in India from time to time but these were no more than isolated incidents.
All historians agree that the Portuguese explorer and adventurer Vasco da Gama was the first known European to reach India in 1498. It is believed that Gama had landed at Calicut (modern Kerala) in quest of spices and the famous Calico (fine cotton) cloth. The other Portuguese nationals who accompanied him were motivated by either missionary zeal or trading prospects.

Vasco da Gama
Advent of the Portuguese
The Portuguese eventually settled down to a very prosperous trade in spices with India. The Muslim rulers (including the Mughals) were averse to the idea of a foreign power carrying on commercial activities on the high seas bordering India. In Goa, which had become a Portuguese bastion there were reports of religious intolerance, forced conversions, devastation of Hindu temples and so forth.

However Alphonse de Albuquerque (1509-1515), who was the second Portuguese governor in India, encouraged mixed marriages of the Portuguese with the local people, probably imbued with the idea of creating a mixed race of Catholics, who would be racially and culturally linked to Portugal. The invasion of Portugal by Spain in 1580 arrested the further expansion of Portuguese influence.

A canon at Cabo fort, Goa,
a former Portuguese enclave

Advent of the French
Although the erstwhile French ruler Louis XII had granted letters of monopoly to French traders as early as 1611, it was only in 1667 that a French company was set up at Surat (Gujarat) with Francis Caron as its Director-General. In 1669, another French company was set up in Masulipatnam (Andhra Pradesh), after the then king of Golconda, exempted the French from paying import and export duty. In 1672, Caron was succeeded by Francis Martin, who is regarded as the real founder of the French colonialism in India.

French Colonial style
edifice in Chandannagar
Chandannagar was established as a French colony in 1673, when the French obtained permission from the Nawab of Bengal, Ibrahim Khan, to establish a trading post on the right bank of the Hooghly river. It became a permanent French settlement in 1688, and in 1730, Joseph François Dupleix was appointed governor of the city. During his administration numerous brick houses were erected in the town and a fairly large degree of maritime trade was carried on.

In 1756, war broke out between France and Great Britain, and Colonel Robert Clive of the British East India Company and Admiral Watson of the British Navy bombarded and captured Chandannagar (a.k.a Chandernagore) in March 1757. The town's fortifications and many houses were demolished thereafter, and Chandannagar's importance as a commercial center was eclipsed. Chandannagar was restored to the French in 1763, but retaken by the British in 1794 during the Napoleonic Wars. The city was returned to France in 1816. It was governed as part of French India, under a governor-general in Pondicherry until 1950.

(click here) The French in Pondicherry

Robert Clive
Advent of the Dutch
The Dutch did not come to India at the same time as their other European compatriots. As a matter of fact they established a station for spice trade in Jakarta, Indonesia. India was merely a port of call on their trade route to Europe, which also passed Ceylon( Sri Lanka) and Cape Town (South Africa). Gradually however, the Dutch set up factories and settlements in Cochin (Kerala), Bheemunipatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Nagapatnam (Tamilnadu) but they did not attempt to gain military power. Interestingly Chinsurah a petty town of Bengal located along the Hooghly river, was a Dutch settlement from 1656 to 1825. It was later exchanged by the Dutch for the British-held Indonesian island of Sumatra in 1825. Mention must be made of a second Dutch colony at Baranagore, near Calcutta, which was mainly a port and loading dock for Dutch ships.

Advent of the Armenians
Before Chinsurah became a Dutch colony, it was already home to Calcutta's oldest expatriate community. The Armenians arrived (from their original homeland Armenia ,located in south-western Asia,eastof Turkey) and settled here in the 16thcentury. Their interests, however, were more local than their Dutch counterparts. They settled permanently in Chinsurah as traders, unlike the Dutch who remained predominantly sailors. The Armenians funded the British East India Company to develop the city of Calcutta.They subsequently moved to Calcutta and still have a strong presence here.

Tombs at Bheemunipatnam
Advent of the Danes
The Danish East India Company established a colony called Fredericknagore, in honor of their ruler King Frederick the Vth near Serampore, West Bengal in 1699. Occupied twice by the English during their war with Denmark, Fredericknagore failed as a commercial venture. In 1777, after the Danish company went bankrupt, Serampore became a Danish crown colony. However, Serampore's commercial failure was compensated by its immense success on the cultural front. Since the British banned missionary activities in their territories, Serampore became a safe haven for missionaries in India.

In 1799, Reverend William Carey and two fellow Baptist missionaries established the first printing press in Asia, in Serampore to print copies of the Bible. In 1819, Carey established the Serampore College, the first institution to impart western style higher education in Asia. In 1827, a Royal Charter by the King of Denmark declared it as a university at par with those in Copenhagen and Kiel. In 1845, Denmark ceded Serampore to Britain, thereby ending the nearly 150 years of Danish presence in Bengal.

Serampore College,

Advent of the British
The English traders formed their East India Company on December 31,1600 and entered the Asian region along with the Dutch. Their common foes – the Portuguese and the Spaniards – brought them closer. However, soon the English realized that the Dutch were not willing to share their holdings in the East Indies with them. This realization made the British turn to India as an alternative because spices were plentiful in India, where the Dutch had not so strong a presence. Inspite of skirmishes with the Portuguese, they were able to gain a foothold in India.

In the year 1612, the Mughal emperor Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe, the first ambassador of Britain to India.Roe’s diplomacy with the Mughals was so successful that by a treaty in 1618 the East India Company became their naval aide. By 1674, the city of Bombay comprising seven islands was handed over to the British as part of the dowry of given to the Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza, who married Charles II of Britain.

The naive Indians could not perceive the strategic threat posed by the East India Company. Right from the beginning The British followed a policy of divide and rule. Through diplomacy and deceit they gained control of revenue collection in the province of Bengal. This indirectly gave them effective control of administration too. The Marathas, the Sikhs and the rulers of Mysore could never unite to confront the formidable foreign adversary and succumbed to their machinations and intrigues.

After Aurangzeb’s demise the decline of the Mughal empire went on a tailspin. Powerful nobility ruled the day at the Mughal court, poetry and wine flowed freely; the hours were whiled away in watching performances of nautch (dancing) girls; clearly it was that twilight hour of a grand empire;

A death blow was dealt to an already tottering empire by the invasion of Delhi by the famous Persian king Nadir Shah in 1739. At this time one of the best Mughal generals, Nizam-ul-Mulk was busy fighting the Marathas. The Khooni Darwaza (The gateway of blood), the ruins of which still stand in Delhi was the site of the genocide, masterminded by Nadir Shah. The invader departed after 57 days, having ransacked the royal treasury, and carrying away with him two fabulous and precious objects - the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor diamond. After this incident the richness and splendour of the Mughals was eclipsed for ever.


Afghan Invasion
The next to invade Delhi were the Afghans, under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Abdali, an ex-general of Nadir Shah. He led as many as seven invasions into India between the years 1748 and 1767. After the havoc caused by Nadir Shah, it was an extremely easy task for Abdali to ransack Lahore, Punjab and even Delhi once more. It was left to the Marathas, who wielded considerable power, to confront Abdali. The Marathas clashed with Abdali and his forces in the Third battle of Panipat on January 13, 1761, which ended in the defeat of the Marathas.

Abdali returned in 1764, driven by a lust for riches and gold. His previous invasion had the Sikhs (who had by then carved out a kingdom under the famous Maharaja Ranjit Singh) up in arms. When Abdali invaded India for the last time in 1767, the Sikhs managed to defeat him and gain control over Lahore and Central Punjab.

Nadir Shah

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