On this day in 1497, almost 525 years ago, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (1460 – 1524) set sail from Lisbon, and after what must have been a grueling journey of 316 days, landed in Calicut, India in May 1498. With this, he changed the course of history.
Many western explorers and conquerors had been to India, among them, and perhaps the most famous, was Alexander the Great in 326 BCE who came via the treacherous Khyber Pass. Vasco da Gama, however, was the first to discover a new sea route from Europe to India, the first European to land in the South Indian port city of Calicut, and the first to open India permanently to colonization by the west. With all the wealth his first voyage created for the King of Portugal, he was sent back two more times – though he did not return the third time. He died in Calicut in 1524. The Portuguese, however, did not leave India until December 1961 – over 4 centuries after Vasco da Gama first set foot in India.
Portuguese Goa still has over 15000 Portuguese speakers, last names like Souza and Mascharenas, large Catholic community, and its landscape is dotted with centuries old Portuguese mansions, churches, and forts.
One of Goa’s most famous artists, and founder of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, Francis Newton Souza (1924 – 2002) captured the beauty and simplicity of Portuguese Goa in these soulful and beautiful works from the 1940s and 50s.
Vasco da Gama’s long trip has left an even longer shadow and a deep footprint in this coastal part of India.