GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (91)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The arguments of the renegade Martim de Melo took effect and “poet” Shaista Khan was instantly transformed into a fierce warrior. He immediately tried to put his son Ibrahim Khan (in the Portuguese texts called Inaiatulá Cã) at the head of the combat, regimenting a troop of one hundred and fifty thousand men armed with artillery and river boats. Note the large number! If it is true that, in view of the lyrical exaggerations of the time, we must maintain reservations regarding numbers whenever it is a question of the disparity of forces in a battlefield, the present case – we dare say it – reflects well the fear provoked by the Portuguese among the its enemies, and perhaps, of the very weakness of the Mogul army.

On June 26, the Mughals were only three miles from the city, which caused a huge commotion among the Portuguese community, caught by surprise. At nightfall the streets were already barricaded, muskets distributed to those who knew and could handle them, and Manuel de Azevedo took over the operations, appointing a series of other captains to help him in the defense preparations.

But before the confrontation, it was worth negotiating. A no was guaranteed, so nothing was lost. Our priest João Cabral was charged to face the difficult task. As soon as he met with the Mughal general, he heard his complaints about the support that the city was providing to the slave hunters of Dianga, and, above all, he reminded the priest of the growing suspicion of the involvement of the Hugli people in the case of the disappeared noble Mughal women.

Cabral refuted the accusations, considering them unfounded, guaranteeing that he could prove what he said.

If he could prove it – the Mughal retorted – then let him authorize him to search the city. If abducted bengalis were found there, that would be a proof of the illicit activities.

Now, in Hugli, there were actually a lot of these people. Former slaves bought from the local pirates, the so-called “mag,” and from the Portuguese rebels. However, in the meantime, all these people had been converted to the Christian Faith and, to a certain extent, freed, because in the shadow of the Church they took shelter. The logic was: as Christians they could not be abandoned. It should be borne in mind that these Bengalis, once “released,” would serve the Mughal occupiers, who in cultural and ethnic terms had nothing to do with that region, as their roots are in Persia and Mongolia.

Cabral hurried to convey the message to the Hugli authorities, who again were to instruct him to speak to the Mughal general, this time with the refusal message regarding the desired Mughal search. Shaista Khan’s son would have to trust the word given. But the latter, having failed to negotiate, he proceeded to charge on July 2, just at dawn, which is when the killings usually begin. He did so on two fronts: by land and by river. Hugli’s surroundings would soon fall into his possession but the well-grained city nucleus would resist. Cabral reports in his letter that six hundred men were lost on the enemy side and “our side, only six Portuguese and fifteen Indians died,”

And, as a way to conclude that first day of a siege that would extend over a month, he added: “The Moors were greatly discouraged by the losses. Some of them insisted with Inaiatulá to give up the enterprise,” because if the Portuguese got the better of it, “the whole Bengal, or at least all the adjacent regions would join them”.

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