An account of the persecution of Mangalorean Christians under Tipu Sultan

MARCH 20, 2017


An account of the persecution of Mangalorean Christians under Tipu Sultan

By Joe Lobo, March 28, 2006


Who are the Mangaloreans? Where did they originate? Why do some Mangaloreans and Goans call themselves Sarasvat Brahmins, even though they’ve been Catholics for generations? Is it true that the Mangaloreans are cowards who ran away from Goa? And why is the Mangalorean community so small today?

These have been questions that are often asked by our young ones, and many of us have a vague idea, but no solid answers. Here’s something that I have gleaned from the archives, and borrowed mainly from Alan Machado’s studies into Mangalorean and Goan ancestry, (the title of this article is the title of his book: Sarasvati’s Children, which I encourage you to read in its entirety). Hopefully this article will clear away some cobwebs in your mind, and put misconceptions to rest


Who are the Mangaloreans?

81% of the present Mangalorean Catholic community trace their origins to Goa. And where did the Goans come from? Well that leads us to the next question…..

Why do some Mangaloreans and Goans call themselves Sarasvat Brahmins, even though they’ve been Catholics for generations?

Some Mangaloreans and Goans, and also Hindus and Muslims on the Konkan coast say they are Sarasvats. And what or where is this Sarasvat thing?

Once upon a time, long, long ago the northwest part of India was peopled by races that had a fair complexion; many had green eyes (rather than blue eyes), and had brownish or black hair. But they were not the only ones living there. There existed among them many townships of dark-skinned people of Australo-Negroid descent, these people being called Dravidians. These Dravidians were almost purely vegetarian, whereas the fair-skinned people were non-vegetarian.

These people lived on the banks of the 7 rivers of north-west India (5 rivers form the Indus system, the other two are the Sarasvati and the Drishadvati)

As the centuries passed these people formed a very solid caste system, which is present even today. The fair-skinned people formed the Warrior caste (Kshatriya), and the Priestly (Brahmin) caste. The Labor caste (Vaishya) were mixed fair-skinned and dark-skinned, and finally the Menial caste (Shudra) were predominantly the dark-skinned people.

Around 600 BC, the Sarasvati River dried up, because its source in the Himalayas got diverted into the Yamuna River. Today the Sarasvati is a dry riverbed on the northern border of the Thar Desert, running from the Himalayas to the Gulf of Kutch. The ruins of the Mohenjodaro-Harrappa era lie on its banks.

The migration of 600 BC is important because many hundreds of thousands moved within a short span to south Gujarat, Maharashtra, and to Karnataka. The exact reason for this mass migration is not known for sure by archeologists and historians, but they generally agree that it is the drying up of the Sarasvati that triggered it.

In these new places, the working class and the menial class Sarasvats intermingled easily with the local populations.

But the Brahmins were another story. Having no trade or wealth, their only specialty was to know the Vedas by heart, and administer the priestly rites in the temples. They had no written record, and the entire Vedas were handed down by word of mouth.

In order to maintain their only legacy the Sarasvat Brahmins had to maintain a very tight hold on their culture, and were not open to intermingling with other peoples. By keeping their distance from the local population of the Konkan there were able to secure for themselves a special position in the hierarchical structure of Hindu society, even displacing the local dark-skinned priestly community.

Is it true that the Mangaloreans are cowards who ran away from Goa?

Well, this question cannot be answered in one paragraph. In order for you to comprehend more clearly the circumstances surrounding the Goan exodus to the south, it is necessary to describe to you the situation in a bit more detail. So pick up a cold beer, or a nice cool soft drink from your refrigerator, lay your feet up, and let’s start our journey into the past, with the early Christians of the West Coast of India…





In 1321 a missionary called Jordanus Catalani (an Italian) landed at a place called Bhatkal, and established a small missionary station there. The Prabhu clan (Peter Prabhu’s family) trace their conversion to this Jordanus at Bhatkal. Being Sarasvat Brahmins apart from the local Hindus, they easily converted to this new religion brought by the missionaries. Subsequently all the missionaries were massacred by the Hindus and the station razed to the ground.

Jordanus’ letter of February 1323, preserved in the Vatican Archives, brings alive the trials and tribulations faced in pursuit of his mission:

“I am all alone, abandoned in India where after the glorious death of my companions, the Franciscan Friars Thomas, James, Peter and Demetrius the Blessed martyrs, I remain alone….

“After their blessed martyrdom, which occurred on Thursday before Palm Sunday, in Thane of India, I baptized about 90 persons in a certain city called Parrocco (Baroda), ten days journey distant therefrom, and I have since baptized more than twenty, besides thirty-five who were baptized between Thane and Supera.”

But these conversions were just a handful of families. The great majority of conversions had to wait for the arrival of the Portuguese conquistadors, an empire that was dominated by the Catholic Church.


1500 – 1552 Portuguese dominance

It was at the peak of the Vijayanagara Empire that the Portuguese sails first billowed off the Kanara coast. During the voyage of Vasco Da Gama in 1498, he weighed anchor at El Padron de Santa Maria or St Mary’s Islands, Kundapura and Anjediva Islands, off Calicut. A few months later he touched down at Calicut.

The first brick-and-mortar church established by the Portuguese in India was at Calicut in 1500.

Experiencing heavy resistance from the Vijayanagara empire to trading, and also to conversion to Christianity, the Portuguese searched further up the Indian coast, and found ripe pickings at Goa, where they stepped ashore in 1500.

In 1502 the Portuguese bared their iron fists, by the burning of Bhatkal, whose chief received the orders that “the King of Portugal who is the Lord of the Sea, of the whole world, as also of this coast, by reason of which all the rivers and ports which had navigation, shall obey him, and pay tributes to his men who move about in his fleets.”


Christianity in Mangalore

There exists little by way of either tradition, or legend, or archeological findings to affirm the existence of Christianity in Karnataka prior to the 16th century. However, this is not due to lack of proselytizing efforts by the Portuguese in Kanara itself, where in fact they achieved their first success even before they did so in Goa.

Eight Franciscans arrived with Cabral’s fleet in 1500. They converted 22 persons in 1500 in the Mangalore region. However, due to lack of zeal, coupled with the fierce opposition of the Hindu landlords and rulers, only about 505 families finally turned to Christianity. These converts were mostly from the lower castes of the Hindus.

Among these first missionaries was Fr Luis do Salvador, who set off for the court of Vijayanagara, where Krishnadevaraya (1509-1529) perceived the usefulness of the Portuguese and their ability to supply him the Arabian horses that he sorely needed to fight the Mogul neighbors.

In 1510, The Portuguese defeated Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur who ruled Goa, and the Portuguese flag was planted. Goa was an excellent natural harbor, and the Portuguese grew strong and powerful. They started converting the local population to Christianity, right from Daman and Diu in the north, to Quilon in the south, using Goa as their main trading center.

For the next 30 years, friars were sent from St Paul’s in Goa on a regular basis. These priests stayed for 2 months to administer the sacraments and hear confessions, and then they left for Goa, or for the other missionary stations at Wypoeen (Cochin), Quilon or Cannanore. However, by 1533, there were only 505 converted families to Christianity in the Konkan region.

In a letter Goan Viceroy Antonio Bocarro, also chief custodian of the archives, wrote to his King: “We do not have any Christianity in the lands of the king at Kanara, and almost all are Hindus, the aversion they have for receiving our sacred faith is so great, that it is rare that any have been converted to it.”

In 1534, a Jesuit letter to the Vicar complained “in a single day…. I heard 300 confessions of persons who had not confessed for several years since there was no vicar and no priest to hear their confessions.” Through him 17 concubines were reconciled to the church, 20 Hindus were converted and baptized, and 1 Hindu charlatan was driven out of town.

The area around Mangalore was at that time ruled by a fearsome woman, the Rani of Ullal (not unlike our present day dacoit queen Phoolan-Devi!), and the Portuguese were having a tough time keeping up with her. So they built a fort at Mangalore (which stands in ruins today) at the mouth of the Netravati River.

The fort was quite large, a mile in circumference, with a deep moat surrounding it. The fort was used as a trading post for unloading Arabian horses for the Hindu royalty, which were highly prized, and for loading vast quantities of pepper, ginger, cardamom, and spices, which were prized in Europe and did not grow so well in Goa and the islands around Bombay.

In 1555 the Portuguese finally defeated the Rani of Ullal, but instead of establishing treaties, they razed all the temples to the ground, and massacred everyone in the area. Many Mangalorean Hindus still vividly remember this unnecessary evil deed of the Portuguese.





There were 3 major migrations of the Goans from Goa towards the south:

1. The Inquisition of 1560s

2. The war of 1571 with the Sultan of Bijapur

3. The wars of 1683-1740 with the Marathas


Most of the Christians in Mangalore stemmed from these migrations.

The First Wave of Migrations


1560: The Inquisition

By 1560, there were 1026 Christian converts in Mangalore region, 2 big churches of Milagres and Mangalore, two foreign priests to cater to the whole region, but no bishop. The Archbishop at Goa administered the whole flock of the Kanara region.

The Portuguese realized that a change of religion must be accompanied with a change of customs to the Portuguese way of life. The Jesuits entreated the King of Portugal, who decreed that every trace of Indian custom be eradicated completely by the Inquisition, which must be started without further delay. Under the charge of a Pai (an Indian convert appointed by the Portuguese to be in charge of religious instruction), the converts, especially the Sarasvat Brahmins, were forced to change their names, their habits, their dress and their diet.

By 1563, hundreds of hapless Goans died and many thousands suffered under this evil system, which even the white foreigners hated, and were shocked by it. Every form of Hindu practice was abolished. The Goans were forced to be non-vegetarian, and to counteract the constant Muslim threat, a law was passed that pork had to be eaten at least one of the 3 main meals of the day. Saris were banned, and the dress came into fashion.

The Jesuits established a fundamentalist group, much like the fundamentalist groups that range the Islamic countries today. A Portuguese could enter any room in any Indian home at will (with his boots on), and if the smallest Hindu tradition was found (including eating a complete vegetarian meal), the church confiscated the family’s house and belongings.

The government would throw the husband into jail for later trail. The wife and female children were discarded, and often ended up in dire straits. The male children were taken by the Church and put into the Santa Fe seminary to be brought up as negro (native) seminarians.

The Inquisition’s greatest thrust was against the Brahmin converts, the Sarasvats. The Portuguese realized that by forcing the Brahmins to adopt Portuguese customs, the remainder of the population would not be so difficult to control.

Many Goans, though Catholic by conversion, still clung to their ancient Hindu traditions, and fled to the neighboring regions of the Vijaynagara Empire, and Maharashtra.

Here is an account by Buchanan who visited Kanara in those days:

“The principal inhabitants of Hossa-bet and indeed many towns of Tuvalu are Kankanies, or people descended from the natives of Kankana. They say that the fled hither, to avoid the persecution at Govay (Goa), their native country. An order arrived from the King of Portugal to convert all the natives. The viceroy they say allowed them fifteen days to clear all their affairs, and then the persecution began. The Hindus, the exile Christian Brahmins and Sudras retired to Tuvalu, with such of their property as they could realize, and they now chiefly subsist by trade. Both Brahmins and Sudras are called by the national appellation of Kankanies, and other local Brahmins will have no communication with these exiles. The poor Kankanies who remained behind at Goa were, of course, all converted to what is called Catholicism.”

In this migration of the 1560s, about 7,000 devout Catholic families (mostly Saraswat Brahmins) fled Goa to nearby Thane, Bhatkal and south to Mangalore district.


The Second Wave of Migrations

1571: To compound this disaster, the Sultan of Bijapur attacked Goa in 1571, and almost exterminated the Portuguese Empire. The Portuguese had to give up most of Goa, and were driven to their last stronghold of Old Goa

It was this overthrow by the Muslims that triggered the second large wave of the Goans far south to Mangalore region. Many of the Sarasvat Brahmin Christians, already straining under the attentions of the Inquisition, now fled to the safer pastures of south Kanara. Many Mangalorean families trace their exodus quite clearly to this time. Some of these families are Desais, Pais, and Naiks.


The Third Wave of Migrations

Shivaji attacks outskirts of Goa

The next century saw an increasingly uneasy time in Goa, with the strengthening of the Vijaynagara Empire to the east, and the Marathas to the north. By 1650, the Portuguese had established a very strong hold over Goa, but this power now started its decline. In 1664, Shivaji attacked Kudal, and began his campaign for Goa. Shivaji was an intelligent and cunning man, and many of his advisors consisted of European deserters and mercenaries. The fear of Shivaji was very palpable to the natives of Goa who described to Fryer that “Seva Gi… who is everywhere, is named with Terror, he carrying all before him in a mighty Torrent”.


Enter Sambhaji

With Shivaji’s death on April 5th, 1680, the Maratha mantle fell on Sambhaji. This man was a viscous fighter, but lacked the cunning and diplomacy of Shivaji.



Town after town was slaughtered, then robbed and the inhabitants massacred if they did not accept Maratha rule. Sambhaji made it especially known that he hated the Christians, and any Christian who was caught in the advancing army could expect instant death, or torture and rape.

This onslaught of the Maratha ruler Sambhaji along north Goa drove nearly all the Christians living there to flee either to the stronghold of Old Goa, or else far down south along the Konkan coast. This was the second big wave of Goans towards the South.

Some Mangaloreans migrated from as far away as Salsett (Salcete) near the island of Thana in Bombay. There the Maratha Chimnaji Appa told Dom Bacaim with his 90 pieces of artillery they had six days to leave before the slaughter began. Most white Portuguese landowners in Thane fled for Goa, and the Indian converts were told to fend for themselves.

Bardes fell to the forces of Savant of Savantwadi, in Provincia do Norte. One by one the settlements fell, Ghodbunder, Thana, Bandra, Tarapore, Versova and Dharavi, until “the Portuguese Hidalgos or noblemen were reduced of a sudden from very flourishing circumstances to utter beggary”.

The Machado families trace their origins from Aldhona, in Bardes. After escaping Maratha persecution, they settled in Omzoor, near Ferangipet, a few miles off the coast of Mangalore. There they prospered.


Goa near death!

In December 1683, Sambhaji attacked Goa. Churches came down at Colvale and Tivim, at Parra and Oxel. Christian properties were confiscated. (The church at Nerul was saved because the priest there strategically surrounded the church with tree-trunks, made to look like cannon).

As town after town fell, the 20,000 strong Maratha army stood poised and ready at the gates of the Portuguese capital, Velha Goa. Nearly the whole of the Christian population of Goa (Indian and Europeans alike) was squeezed into this small area!


Francis Xavier to the rescue!

Death for the Christian Goans seemed certain, and the Portuguese conquistadors were pondering surrender in the hope of mercy from Sambhaji.

In the tense torrid air lying heavy on the capital, the Viceroy stepped into the church where the body of St Francis Xavier lay. There, he opened the catafalque, and put his Staff-of-Office into the saint’s hands. He then put his official colored robe on Francis Xavier and a hand-written note to Francis, petitioning him to save them, as Patron of the East.

Behold, a miracle! The very next day, Sambhaji received news that the Mughals were attacking his army from behind! This unexpected threat caused him to wait for a week off Goa, pondering his next move. After a week he abruptly withdrew from Goa, and turned to face the Mughal threat at his rear.

Ironically, the very Muslim enemy who had almost destroyed Goa a century ago now saved Goa!


Migration estimates

After the Mughals blunted the Maratha sword with 200,000 casualties in 1739, the migrations slowed down. During the 40-year period of harassment by the Marathas, the annual migrations from Salsett alone were in the region of 2,000. From Bardes and surroundings, Jesuit priests estimated they lost 12,000 Christians between 1710 and1712, most of them going southward.

A Goa Government report of 1747 presently in the Panjim archives blandly records the statistics: “5,000 Christians fled to the missions from Bardes and Tiswadi, and afterwards settled there due to the invasions of the Marathas.”

The Diego Fernandes Prabhu family is one of those who left Divarde in 1738, setting up base at Kallianpur. The family had another miraculous escape from Tipu Sultan’s troops 44 years later.

Many of the Christian families who had migrated reverted back to their Hindu names, like Prabhu, Naik, Bhat, Pai, Shenai (Chenoy) and Kamat. Just like the East Indians to the north, Hindu customs were now practiced freely in Christian guise. In fact the only changes discernible by foreign historians was in their worshipping of a foreign god. The girls switched back to saris, the men to dhotis. The diet changed to heavy vegetarian fare, and pork consumption reduced.


The East Indians:

The East Indians (living in the Gujarat-Maharashtra area) deserve special mention, as the Marathas began to harass them once again. They were severely taxed, the churches were torn down, and many of them re-converted to Hinduism. They were not allowed to speak any language but Marathi. No foreign missionaries were tolerated in any of the islands of Bombay and Thana.

In spite of their hardships, they prospered. Their numbers reached 16,000 by 1750. They re-built churches. A negro (Indian) Vicar-General was established to look after the north east Indians, as foreign priests were totally absent. At the festival of Thana in 1757 at which Antiquetil de Perron was allowed to visit, he found a flourishing community, a full-fledged choir accompanied by bassoons, trumpets, cymbals and drums, in which 15 priests participated, the pillars and balustrades decorated with gold and silver.



Mangaluru, Mangalapura, Mangaruth, Manjuran, Mandjaur, Mandegora, Corial, Codial Bunder, or Kuddala, as it has been known throughout the ages, Mangalore has been a living settlement from time immemorial.



One historian described Mangalore as “the country surrounding the junction of the Netravathi and Gurupur rivers, as fine as can be conceived. Besides its amazing fertility in many descriptions of Indian produce, it possesses all the picturesque beauties of hill and dale, mountain and plain, which give to the beholder on one side, all the charms of a rural landscape, while on the other, the view ranges over the unbounded ocean”.

The Tamil poet Mamulnar (AD 300) called Mangalore Kudala or Kodi-Aluve, meaning “the region where the river meets the sea”. One part of Mangalore still carries the name Kodialbail (“Kodial town”). The modern name Mangalore stems from the Mangala Devi Temple situated in Mangalore proper.

Mangalore has always been a refuge for people fleeing tyrannical rule in their homelands. In fact Mangalore has small Iranian and Iraqi communities who fled Darius of Persia and the Baghdadi rulers. There are numerous communities in Mangalore, many of which trace their ancestry to Tamil Nadu, Orissa, and even Tripura!


Enter Hyder Ali

January 1763 ushered in a traumatic era for the Kanara Christians. Hyder Ali had taken control of Kanara through the Wodeyars of Mysore. Hyder was a tough warrior and brave, and like Shivaji, an astute leader. He conquered Bednur, and renamed the capital to Hyder Nagar, today shortened to Nagar. His loot was an estimated 18 million dollars in those days! He also captured all the gold mines, the iron mines, the diamond industry, the pepper, coral, sandalwood and ivory trades.

The Mangalorean Christians had achieved a very high standing by this time. Most Mangaloreans owned vast paddy fields and estates in the mountains. They controlled the diamond and gold mines. They earned this the hard way. Being industrious by nature, they soon controlled much of the Government at Mangalore, and were even appointed advisors to the Wodeyar Dynasty at Mysore.

Hyder Ali appointed many Christians to high office in his domain. This would be a vital opportunity for the Portuguese, who were having a hard time up north protecting Goa from the Marathas and the Mughals, to consolidate their bases in the south.

But once again the Portuguese displayed their shortsighted priority of instant greed over empire. They promised to fight with Hyder Ali against the English who were fast establishing dominance over India. However, when the English actually confronted Hyder Ali, the Portuguese reneged on the treaty so that Hyder would be left vulnerable. Hyder Ali lost to the British, and took his anger out on the Mangalorean Christians and whatever Portuguese were remaining in the Kanara region. His fury was devastating.

Let Kamama-I-Haideri relate it in his own words:

“Wherever he turned he found no opponent, nor even any human creature. Every inhabited place was forsaken, and the poor inhabitants who fled to the woods and mountains in the most inclement weather had the anguish to behold their houses in flames, their fruit trees cut down, their churches burnt. The unhappy people were hanged without mercy and their wives and children reduced to slavery.”

Of the 15,675 Christians who were taken prisoners to Mysore, only 204 survived! All the rest were killed, died on the way, or converted to Islam.

Toward the end of 1768, when the English decimated Hyder’s navy and captured 2 of his ships, Hyder again requested the Factor, Francisco Alexandre da Cunha Gusmao, to intervene. But the Portuguese instead sided with the British in the hope that they would take over Hyder’s trading concessions and control the Kanara coast. Unfortunately, Hyder prevailed over the English and defeated them, and he now turned against the Kanara Christians once again, the Ferangi as they were called.

Nearly the whole Mangalorean Christian community of 100,000 took refuge in the fort at Mangalore, expecting the Portuguese from Goa to send in forces to protect them, but this help never came.

The British captured the fort at Mangalore from the Portuguese on 1st March 1768, and sent the Factor packing home to Goa. With Portuguese power declining and orders from the King of Portugal taking so long to come in, the game would now be played by 2 remaining players: Hyder Ali and the British, with the hapless Sarasvats being used as pawns.

Hyder Ali with 3,000 veterans and 1,200 cavalry, accompanied by his young 18-year old son Tipu with 3,000 cavalry, advanced on Mangalore from Bangalore. Tipu’s hot blood and aggressive tactics took the town of Mangalore from the British and re-captured Mangalore fort.

Tipu’s victory is one of the most embarrassing defeats in British India. His father Hyder, in another brilliant tactical maneuver took the battle into British territory, arriving outside Madras on March 29th, 1769, forcing the British into a humiliating peace treaty.

Now the Portuguese stepped in, proclaiming loyalty to Hyder Ali, and in return were given back their fort at Mangalore. Father Alexio Lobo took charge of the fort and factory from Hyder Ali’s representative Sheik Ali on 16th September 1769.

But over the next 5 years Hyder Ali decided that the treacherousness of the Portuguese was too much, and took over the fort in 1774. The Portuguese flag was lowered and the Portuguese departed, never to return to Mangalore.

In 1779, the English sent a German missionary as their representative to Hyder Ali’s court.

This is what Schwartz had to report:

“Hyder’s court is open and efficient. Here reigns no pomp, but the utmost regularity and dispatch. The principle motive is fear. Not a day passes when numbers are not flogged. Freedom of religion is granted to all. What religion people profess or whether they profess any at all, that is perfectly indifferent to him. He has none himself and leaves everyone to his choice. Without the fort were some hundred Europeans commanded by a Frenchman, and a squadron of Hussars under a German, and a number of Malabar Christians.”


Hyder’s treatment of the Mangalorean Catholics was abominable by any standards. But in due justice to the man, he was known for keeping his word. His slaughtering of the Mangalorean Catholics is primarily because he listened to his advisors who constantly used every tactic to take over the properties of the prosperous Catholics. It was his advisors who blamed the Sarasvats for betraying the Muslims to the British, but history proves this is not so.


Tipu’s ascendancy

The tide against the Mangalorean Catholics began to turn for the worse upon Hyder Ali’s death in December 1782. Tipu took over. Now began the hardest times our Mangaloreans ancestors had to endure.

The English, sensing weakness caused by Hyder’s death, attacked. They overtook Ananthpur, where the revengeful English committed atrocities that are still shrouded in silence because of the heinous acts committed by the soldiers against the population. The men were killed outright; the women were raped, stripped of their jewelry, and then herded to a large tank to be drowned. The English army then advanced on the Mangalore fort and captured it.

Tipu reacted swiftly. With 12,000 men and aided by the French he advanced and re-took Bednur and Anantpur. General Matthews was captured and sent to Seringapatam (Srirangapatana), where he eventually died in irons.

On 20th May 1783, Tipu laid siege on the Mangalore fort, since he was unable to capture it from the British. His 30,000 soldiers and carpetbaggers camped all around the fort. Nothing was allowed inside or out. In the fort were the English soldiers and 80,000 Mangalorean Christians. This siege lasted for 18 months.

The tribulations of the inhabitants trapped inside is described:

“Such an extreme of famine was suffered by the garrison, that the most disgusting means were had recourse to for the allaying of hunger and thirst. Animals and reptiles not usually eaten were sold for prices beyond credibility. The defense was effectual however, for the place was not given up until the end of the war, when it was surrendered on honorable terms, and was found little more than a heap of ruins.”

After 18 months of siege, the fort was finally delivered to Tipu in an armistice. But Tipu was not to be calmed down. After the British left, the remaining foreigners and “Eurasians” or “mesticos” (half Europeans, half Indians) were killed, the rest escaping to Mumbai Island. Tipu now turned his rage to the local inhabitants of the fort, the Mangalorean Christians. Those condemned by Tipu Sultan for treachery were hanged instantly, the gibbets being weighed down by the number of bodies they carried. In one single day 5,600 Mangalorean Christians were killed. The Netravati River was so putrid with the stench of dying bodies, that the local residents were forced to leave their riverside homes.

After this point Tipu displayed open hatred for the Christians. Some accounts say that Tipu received reports that the Christians had earlier paid Rs 30,000 to the British at Bombay to send troops to save the Christians in the fort, but these accounts have never been substantiated. But even if they did so, this was not lack of patriotism, because in my view, both the British and the Muslims were foreigners, and the Christians were just hedging their bets!

Whatever the reason, Tipu now decided that the time had come to exterminate the Mangalorean Christians off the face of the earth. The Europeans were beyond his grasp, but the Mangalorean Christians would do for now.


The capture of Mangalorean Christians

In an operation that closely resembles the German treatment of the Jews during World War II, Tipu sent a secret note to all his generals instructing them on how to capture the Christians of Kanara. In one massive swift move he aimed to throw a net across his complete domain, capture all the Christians, and exterminate them. The operation was well planned and carried out with military precision against an unsuspecting population:

“A swift punitive action would allow a total uprooting, transportation and induction of the community into the followers of the Prophet, to be sealed by the eternal proselytizing blade of Islam.”

Kirkpatrick’s Collection of Letters contain an account:

“We instantly directed the Divan of the Havur Kutchery to prepare a list of houses occupied by Christians, taking care not to omit a single habitation. After a detailed plan was made, we stationed an officer and soldiers in every place inhabited by Christians, signifying to them that at certain time they would receive orders that they would carry out in full effect… On the morning of a specific day, (Ash Wednesday February 24, 1784) at the hour of Morning Prayer, let all Christians be made prisoner and dispatched to our presence. Accordingly all orders were everywhere opened at the same moment and at the same hour, namely that of the Morning Prayer.”

Acting in concert, Tipu’s armies rounded up the Christians from Mangalore region and other parts of Kanara, in preparation for the horrendous journey overland to Srirangapatna, the capital of Tipu’s domain.


The 340 kilometre journey to Srirangapatna

Nineteen separate accounts relate the darkness that befell the Mangalorean Christians. Nearly all of them give figures of Mangaloreans taken captive by Tipu Sultan as 60,000 to 80,000. The figure generally accepted is 60,000. This amounted to 92% of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community!

The Bakur Manuscript records the grisly details of the capture and transportation. The Christians were herded in the hot sweltering sun, awaiting other captives from various regions to arrive. They then started the long hard march to Srirangapatna.

The hapless people were forced to climb 4,000 feet through the jungle of the Western Ghats. At night they were given no shelter, but had to sleep huddled together in the open. One can only imagine the effect that the insects, the animals, the lack of privacy to perform ablutions and the fear of the unknown had over them. After the harrowing climb over the Ghats, the journey was not over. The multitude of prisoners had to pass over the parched, dry Deccan plateau.



Those of us who live on the Deccan Plateau can easily visualize the cloudless hot skies, the desert-like prickly plants that abound there, and the lack of water. Thirst-quenching rains were still three months away. Many of those captured were prosperous merchants and rich owners of estates. To be reduced to this savage state must have been too much to bear.

The distance to Srirangapatna was 210 miles, and the Christians suffered many hardships along the way:

“While travelling in this manner, pregnant women were often confined on the road, and the babies had to be borne bundled about them, to be hung from branches of trees as they rested. They were not given any rations, and when the time to march came, those who had not finished cooking had to leave behind their rice and the cooking pots as they stood over the fire.”

Untrained and unprepared, burdened by the aged and infants, carrying whatever household items that could be salvaged, underfed and thoroughly demoralized, encountering death and possible burial along the way, it is estimated that the trip took 6 weeks to cover.

Government records show that an astounding 20,000 prisoners perished on the long march to Srirangapatna!

There were no priests among the captives. Together with Fr Miranda, all the arrested priests, (21 as per the Memorial to the Holy See of 1860, kept in Rome), were issued orders of expulsion to Goa, fined Rs 2 lakhs, and threatened death by hanging if they ever returned.


Some of those who escaped

Of the 7,000 or so Christians who escaped initial capture, many were actively assisted by the Hindus. The Coelhos (Porobs) and Saldanhas (Kamats) were spared because of their expertise in cultivation of the betel leaf, a necessity for Tipu’s soldiers.

At Urwa, the Pais and Rego families were required to work for the Mopla landowners, to feed the Muslim troops.

Diego Fernandes at Kallianpur was similarly excused, after representation by Hindu landowners.

At Chitrap, local Hindus frustrated Tipu’s efforts by hiding the Aranhas in haystacks.

In Kirem a young Saldanha boy was hidden and brought up by a Bunt family. He and his progeny came to be known as the Shettys.

Some families have earned the name kolegar, because they escaped by hiding under a heap of kole or dried leaves. The term Koleo Akkai is still fondly used in Mangalore for favorite aunts.

Many other accounts exist among the Mangaloreans of their daring escapes, but they are too numerous to describe here.


Destruction of churches

With the Christians out of the way, Tipu now set about eradicating Christianity completely. All churches were ordered razed to the ground. Buchanan reports that “in Tuluva, the Christians had 27 churches, (the Memorial to the Holy See records 29) all beautifully carved with statues depicting various saints. Every one was razed to the ground”. Other churches that were spared were converted to storehouses, offices, or homes for wealthy Muslims.

Down they came, all the imposing structures so dear to the Mangaloreans:

-the Church of Nossa Senhora de Rosario Milagres at Mangalore,

-Fr Miranda’s Seminary at Monte Mariano,

-the Church of Jesu Marie Jose at Omzoor,

-the Chapel at Bolar, and the Church of Merces at Ullal…

The list goes on… Immaculata Conceiciao at Mulki, San Jose at Perar, Nossa Senhora dos Remedios at Kirem, Sao Lawrence at Karkal, Rosario at Barkur, Immaculata Conceciao at Baidnur…

The bell of the church at Patrie found its way to the Shankar Narayan temple at Hosangadi, an 1860-lb specimen. Many other bells dot the temples and museums of Kanara.

All land owned by the captured Christians was taken over by Tipu and distributed among his favorites.


The cruelties at Srirangapatna and the struggle for faith

“All Musalmans should unite together, and considering the annihilation of infidels as a sacred duty, labor to the utmost of their power, to accomplish that subject.”

These words ordered by Tipu Sultan echoed in the ears of the hapless Mangalorean Christians as he set about with serious intent to carry out his exhortation at Srirangapatna.

Srirangapatna is a small island 3 miles long and 2 miles wide, on the banks of the Kaveri River. It is a granite island, with water on 3 sides, the fourth side having a large moat, with a drawbridge. It was an almost impregnable fortress, which the British had a very hard time capturing.

After arriving at Srirangapatna, this is what happened to the survivors of the long march:

-All those who embraced Islam were freed.

-The young men who did not give up Christianity were thrown into the dungeons, then marked conspicuously in some way (like cutting off their noses, or ears, or a hand), and then made to perform the lowest tasks of the community.

-Every single young woman and girl were forcibly made wives and slaves of the Muslims living there, and their descendants are now fully Islamic.

-The old women were made to embrace Islam, and those who refused were thrown over the fort and dashed on the rocks below.

-The old men were made to perform scavenge work and attend to the toilets. They were pushed into the untouchable class.


Many young men fought brave and hard to prevent their mothers and sisters from being taken by the army officers to join the harems, but the punishment was swift and brutal.

An English prisoner relates:

“Two risalas were sent daily to Srirangapatna to select girls that they could take as prizes to join their harems. Often, when they seized the girls, their young men would offer resistance and smash their dhoolies. The officers would capture the men and administer five hundred strokes with whips and canes, from the effects of which many men died.

The Jemadars and Subedars meted out more ignominious punishment by slitting off their ears and noses. One of these, a certain Babli Anton, made the following speech to the Sultan: “You have disfigured my features by cutting off my ears and nose. May God behold this” and raising his eyes to Heaven he appealed to God, expressed contrition and expired. Severing the ears and noses of the youth who resisted the Sultan was a common occurrence. Many were made to carry baskets filled with gobra (cowdung) for three days as a public display of warning to others.

Bowring reports:

“Tipu demanded the surrender of the daughters of some of these Christians in order to have them placed in his seraglio, and that, on the refusal of their parents, the latter had their noses, ears and upper lips cut off, and were paraded through the streets on asses, with their faces towards the tails of the animals.”

But enough of that. By now you have got an idea of the tribulations and humiliations faced by the ancestors of today’s remaining Mangalorean Catholics.

What about the young men?

The Bakur Manuscript records:

“On four occasions the young able-bodied Christian men were thus drafted for the Army… One hundred men were formed into one company, four companies into a risala, four risalas into a sufedar, and four sufedars were placed under a bakshi. Out of every company twenty-five men were taken and circumcised at the end of every month. When the wounds were healed, another twenty-five were taken and circumcised, and so on, until the whole company was initiated into Islamism.”

These young men formed the Ahmedy Corps, and were placed as a front-line defense against the Marathas and the British.

One poor youth writes of how his soul screamed to God, on seeing his mother and sisters all converted to Islam, married to Muslim men, his nephews and nieces being brought up as Muslims. More poignant, both his mother and sister were pregnant. In their wombs were being carried a new generation of Muslims. He writes that when he passed his mother and sisters in the street, their eyes would meet, and he could see the pain and suffering in their tormented souls.

As the Christians settled down in their new existence of slavery in Srirangapatna, they re-organized themselves under the Council of Ten, a secret group to help keep their faith. Tipu specifically banned any political gathering of the existing Christians.

Another manuscript records:

“The Christians believing that this tribulation came upon them for their neglect of the Law of God and their religious duties, began to read the Purana with fervor, and to expound it to the illiterate. Some Mohammedans coming to know of this, destroyed the books, but the Christians constructed subterranean refuges to perform religious duties, read the books and strengthened their faith.”

Domingo Pinto arranged escapes for money, the rate being Rs 32 for a male and Rs 16 for a female. He however had to fall back on his own skills, when Tipu’s guards found him out.

Salu (Salvadore) Pinto was appointed Tipu’s Deputy Vizier. Anthony Saldanha was his House Chamberlain. Cajetan (Caitan) Coelho Porob made his escape within a year at Srirangapatna. His brother Dakterob soon followed.

The stubborn Christians were given the most menial tasks, and made to work in the paddy fields, They were underfed, and whenever they got into a fight were immediately imprisoned. The men were completely isolated from any women, the idea being that they would die of old age without creating any new progeny.

Here is one story to illustrate the hardships they bore:

“I am narrating to you what my grand-father told me in almost the same words. There were seven brothers and one sister. The sister died at an early age. All seven brothers were imprisoned. They suffered much because they were not given much food. If they were given one handful of ragi, they were not given salt or anything else. There was nothing to dress, and nothing to cover in the night. With such afflictions six brothers died. My grandfather survived by eating leaves and pieces of leather if available, because he could not sustain the pangs of hunger. But he used to recite the rosary daily, with the rosary in hand.”

The Christians suffered this humiliating and subsistence way of life for fifteen long years.


Deliverance at last!

By 1799 the English were consolidating their strengths and were now stationed outside Srirangapatna.

On 4th May 1799, they stormed the fortress, and after a bitter battle, finally breached the town. The battle lasted all day, through the evening and until the fading hours of twilight.

In the oncoming darkness, a lantern was brought out, and Raja Khan, Tipu’s servant pointed out the fallen body of Tipu Sultan, sword in hand. His eyes lay open, the body rent by four wounds. The body was still warm. The English took Tipu’s body on a palanquin to rest in the palace.

That terrible battle was described by Colonel Wellesley:

“Nothing could have exceeded what was done on 4th May. Scarcely a house escaped plunder (by the English and Indian soldiers). In the camp bazaars, jewels of the greatest value, bars of gold and numerous articles of value were offered for sale by the soldiers.



In the moats and in the streets over eleven thousand bodies of the slain lay stiffening in the grips of rigor mortis.”

To the Kanara Christians this was the deliverance they prayed for. They were finally freed by the British, and could leave.


The survivors

The holocaust began for the Mangalorean Christians on 24th February 1784, and ended on 4th May 1799. 15 years of torture and ridicule and abject degradation by the Muslim hordes of Tipu Sultan.

In those 15 terrible years the population of the Mangalorean Christians was almost totally extinguished. Of the 60,000 Mangaloreans taken captive, only 11,000 made it out alive as Christians. The rest were either dead (20,000 died on the march to Srirangapatna), 21,000 women (married or single) were converted to Islam, 9,000 young men were circumcised and converted, and the old men and women perished or naturally passed away. At the time of deliverance in 1799, the entire Mangalorean Christian community was reduced to a mere 11,000 persons.

The next year, 1800, the British took a census of the country. Out of a total of 396,672 people living in Mangalore, the Christian population was 10,877, residing in 2,545 homes.

Of the entire population of the empire of Tipu Sultan, stretching from south of Goa down to Wypeen (Cochin), the total Christians numbered 21,854 souls.

The Archbishop of Goa wrote in 1800:

“It is notoriously known in all Asia and all other parts of the globe of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the Christians in the Dominion of the King of Kanara, during the usurpation of that country by Tipu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity.”

But where to go? All their belongings had disappeared. Their houses were confiscated. Their families were gone. Others cultivated their paddy fields. But at least they were alive! And they would start all over again.

By 1830, the Mangaloreans had re-established themselves. Wrote J. Stokes, Government Commissioner:

“The native Christians of Kanara are a very respectable class. Many of them are men of good family and considerable property. In natural acuteness they are fully equal to the Brahmins, and they are superior to them in morals and enlightenment.”

Iron can never become steel except through fire. Mangaloreans have the ability to come through hardship stronger than ever. Perhaps that is what makes them so broad-minded, and ready to adapt to an ever-changing world.

50% of the Mangalorean Christians today live in Mangalore, 30% have moved to other parts of India, and 20% have left India for greener pastures abroad.

The history of the Mangaloreans has been one of hardship and torment, but they never harbor enmity for the Muslims for their discrimination, or the Marathas for their harassment, or the Portuguese for their ‘gift’ of the Inquisition. The poignant wounds will always remain in their hearts, but they bear no malice.

Joe Lobo is President of the Goan Catholic Association in Florida, USA.













































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EPHESIANS-511.NET- A Roman Catholic Ministry Exposing Errors in the Indian Church

Michael Prabhu, METAMORPHOSE, #12,Dawn Apartments, 22,Leith Castle South Street, Chennai - 600 028, Tamilnadu, India. Phone: +91 (44) 24611606 E-mail:,

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