This unexpected presence of the Portuguese fleet disturbed the status quo and added a further dimension to his problems. It was impossible for the Zamorin to allow Vasco da Gama to set up a trading post in Calicut without upsetting the Arab traders. The Arabs were not going to give up their spice trade monopoly that easily. Besides they had other trading partners in East Africa, Egypt, the Gulf and in Venice. They all had a lot to lose if the existing arrangements were interfered with. Enormous pressure was exerted on the Zamorin to force him to deny the Portuguese any trading privileges in Calicut.

The Portuguese too did not provide him with any incentive to help the Zamorin to support them. Vasco da Gama's gifts to the ruler were infinitely poorer in quality and were even seen as offensive to be offered to a ruler who was accustomed to much more luxurious riches. The Arabs capitalized on this gross 'diplomatic' blunder by Vasco da Gama. The letter from King Manuel that Vasco da Gama brought along was just not effective in counteracting the stiff Arab opposition. It was an opposition Vasco da Gama had not really anticipated. He may have had the military means to fight off any pirates he encountered during the journey but he did not have the mustard to enforce an agreement with the Zamorin. However, he was 'allowed' to set up a small depot in Calicut and nothing more. This tiny depot would only be allowed to make token purchases.

Unable to do any better Vasco da Gama left Aires Correia and a few merchants in charge of this depot and decided to head back home. He  left Calicut on August 29, 1498. On their way back to Portugal, the fleet stopped over at Melindi. A fine reception was accorded to them by the Sultan. But the ordeal of the journey had taken its toll on the crew. There were many casualties. On January 13, 1499 the Sao Rafael was ordered burnt as there were insufficient crew members to man it. The flotilla then began the long journey back to Portugal. En route Paulo da Gama, Vasco's brother fell ill. Vasco da Gama allowed the others to proceed while he stopped over on the island of Terceira. This is where he laid Paulo to rest. He then proceed to Lisbon where he arrived on July 29, 1499, having spent over two years overseas .

The Portuguese saw this circumnavigation of Africa en route to India as a major achievement. And so it was. They also realized the commercial potential of this achievement. Now, Lisbon and not Venice would be the new spice capital of Europe. This would mean more wealth for the Portuguese and a significant shift in the balance of power and influence towards the Iberian peninsula. Accordingly, King Manuel notified as many European capitals as possible. The Vatican too was very interested in this new development. There was also this ' possibility ' that the Portuguese had finally located the Christians converted in the first century by the Apostle St. Thomas and even greater prospects of more conversions now.

It appears that in all this euphoria, the trials and tribulations of the exhausting journey were forgotten by those in power. There were few left to tell the story and fewer still with the time or inclination to listen. These were after all - exciting times ! That two-thirds of the crew which left Lisbon for this trip succumbed to scurvy and the various skirmishes sea. The fact that they did not return, somehow seemed unimportant. Emphasis was placed on the success of this mission and little thought given to the loss of life or the perils faced to achieve the goal .

Upon Vasco da Gama's return to Lisbon he was accorded high praise and honour.

In 1500 King Manuel sent Pedro Alvares Cabral to complete the job in India that Vasco da Gama had set out to do - to set up a trading post at Calicut. King Manuel was by now aware of the difficulties Vasco da Gama experienced in his mission in Calicut. Cabral set out with with an fleet of 13 appropriately armed ships. However, while in the mid Atlantic, he strayed a few hundred miles west of the Vasco da Gama course and landed in Brasil. Several ships were sent back to Lisbon with a message to the King of this new landing in Brasil. And Cabral proceeded to India with only 6 ships. Upon arrival in Calicut, Cabral learnt that Aires Correia and the other Portuguese merchants left behind by Vasco da Gama were massacred by agents of the Arab traders.

Cabral proceeded to to friendly Cochin where he was welcomed by the Raja. and set up a trading post there. He also set up a depot at Cannanore. The cordial relationship with the Portuguese was eventually beneficial to the Raja of Cochin. The Portuguese helped Cochin repel many an attack from Calicut.

Cabral returned to Portugal with the grim news of the Calicut massacre. The news disturbed the Royal Court and was most upsetting to Vasco da Gama. In 1502 he returned to to Calicut with the intention of avenging the cold blooded murders of Aires Correia and his men. Vasco da Gama ordered his heavily armed flotilla of 16 ships to unleash a massive and fierce bombing raid on Calicut. The damage inflicted by this bombardment was significant. The Zamorin realized very quickly that neither he nor the Arabs had the firepower to match that of the Vasco da Gama armada. The 2000 yard range guns of the Portuguese easily outclassed the Zamorin guns which had a range of only 500 yards. Beaten into submission and with his Arab masters overawed by the Portuguese strength, the Zamorin quickly signed a trade agreement with Vasco da Gama.

This was the beginning of the end of the Arab trade monopoly on the west coast of India. Soon thereafter, the hindu Raja of Vijaynagar, himself under threat from the muslim Sultan of Bijapur, would seek to forge an alliance with the Portuguese. Meanwhile Vasco da Gama began his return journey to Lisbon having accomplished his primary objective - to set up a trading post in Calicut. He had also avenged the cold-blooded massacre of his colleagues !

Vasco da Gama returned to Lisbon with a shipload of spices - this time to even greater riches, honours and accolades. But very little is known or heard of him for over two decades thereafter. This indicates that Vasco da Gama was not a very public person nor was he someone who aspired for public office. In 1524 his services were called upon by the King once again. This time to bring some semblance of order among the Portuguese administrators in India. News had travelled back to Lisbon that there was rampant corruption among the Portuguese officials in India. The Governor Eduardo de Menezes had lost all control of the administration. Vasco da Gama was appointed the second Portuguese Viceroy of India.

On April 9, 1524 Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon with a flotilla of 14 ships and 3000 men. His cousin Estevao da Gama followed a few days later with 15 ship. Estevao da Gama was particularly ruthless in his dealings with Arab ships and their crew which he encountered. He also exhibited an inordinate display of firepower at Calicut. Vasco da Gama meanwhile had anchored in Chaul having lost a couple of ships en route to his headquarters - Goa. It is in Goa that he took over charge of the Portuguese administration from Governor Menezes. At the end of September 1524 Vasco da Gama made a triumphant entry into Cochin, a kingdom friendly to the Portuguese. The reception is described as jubilant. However, Vasco da Gama was unable to truly complete the task at hand - bringing the delinquent Portuguese officials into line. With the cumulative effects of the arduous journeys and what is perhaps consistent with anthrax bacillary infection, Vasco da Gama died in Cochin on December 25, 1524.
Vasco da Gama served as Viceroy of India for only three months before his untimely death. He was 55 years old. His body lay buried in Cochin until 1539 when his remains were moved to be reburied in Vidigueira, Portugal. In 1880 the remains of Vasco da Gama were transferred once again, this time along with those of the poet Luis de Camões to the Monastery of Jeronimus.

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  • Updated:
    November 18, 2011