Gujarat Misunderstood Through Portuguese Eyes

Gujarat. (Source.)


Duarte Barbosa (Ramusio). 1515.


Leaving the kingdom of Ulcinde, in the same direction, at a distance of fifty leagues, the traveller enters the first India, in the great kingdom of Guzarat, which kingdom had belonged to King Darius. And the Indians have long histories of him and of King Alexander. 

This kingdom has many cities and towns in the interior of the country, as well as ports along the sea; and very much shipping. It has many merchants and shipowners, both Moors and Gentiles.

The king, and the men-at-arms, and nobles of the country were all Gentiles formerly, and now they are Moors, since the Moors conquered the country in war, and hold the Gentiles subject to them, and molest them and treat them ill. 

There are three qualities of these Gentiles, that is to say, some are called Razbutes, and they, in the time that their king was a Gentile, were knights, the defenders of the kingdom, and governors of the country; they used to carry on war, and even now there remain some towns of them in the mountains, which have never chosen to pay obedience to the Moors, but, on the contrary, make war upon them; and the King of Cambaya is not sufficiently powerful to destroy them or subject them. 

They are very good knights and great archers, and they have many other kinds of arms with which they defend themselves from the Moors, without owning any king or lord to govern them. 

The others are called[51] Banians, and are merchants and traders. These live amongst the Moors, and trade with them in their goods. They are men who do not eat meat nor fish, nor anything that has life; neither do they kill anything, nor like to see it killed, because their idolatry forbids it them; and they observe this to such an extreme that it is something marvellous. 

For it often happens that the Moors bring them some worms or little birds alive, saying they intend to kill them in their presence; and they ransom them, and buy them to set them flying, and save their lives for more money than they are worth.

And in the same way, if the governor of the country has got a man to be executed, these Banians unite together and buy him from the officers of justice, that he may not die; and frequently they sell him to them. 

And in the same manner the Moors who beg for alms, when they want alms from these people, take great stones and strike themselves with them on the shoulders and the breast, and on their stomachs, as if they were going to kill themselves with them, and they receive alms not to do it, and to go away in peace. 

And others bring knives and stab themselves in the arms and legs before them, in order to extract alms; and others come to their doors to decapitate rats and snakes and other reptiles, and they give them money not to do it, so that they are very ill-treated by the Moors. 

If these people meet with a band of ants in the road, they hasten out of the road, and go and look for a place to pass without treading upon them. 

They likewise sup in the daytime because they do not light candles at night, in order that the mosquitoes and other insects may not come and die in the flame; and if of necessity they must have a candle, they keep them in lanterns of paper, or of stuff dipped in gum, so that no living thing can get there to suffer. 

If these people have lice they do not kill them, and if they worry them very much, they send to fetch some men whom they have amongst them, also Gentiles, whom they esteem of holy lives, like hermits, and who live in much abstinence[52] for the love of their idols, and these people pick out their insects, and all those that they extract they put in their own heads, and they nourish them on themselves and on their flesh for the service of their idols. 

And so this law of not killing anything is held in great observance. On the other hand, they are great usurers and falsifiers of weights and measures, and merchandise, and coin; and liars and cheats. 

These Gentiles are brown people, well built and of good proportions, smart in their dress, and delicate and temperate in their food. 

Their victuals are milk, butter, sugar, rice, preserves of many kinds, many fruits, bread, vegetables, and field herbs; they all have gardens and orchards wherever they live, and many pools of water where they bathe twice every day, both men and women; and having ended their washing, they hold the belief that they are pardoned for all the sins which they have committed up to that time. 

They wear the hair very long like the women in Spain, and they wear it gathered on the top of the head, and made into a band which is much adorned, and upon this a cap to fasten it; and they always wear many flowers stuck into their hair, and sweet smelling things. They also anoint themselves with white sandal mixed with saffron and other scents; they are much given to fall in love. 

They go bare, only covering themselves from the waist downwards with very rich silk stuffs; they wear embroidered shoes of very good leather, well worked, and some short silk skirts, and other short ones of cotton, with which they cover their bodies. 

They do not carry arms, only some small knives garnished with gold and silver, for two reasons: one because they are persons who make little use of arms, the other because the Moors forbid it to them. 

They use many ear-rings of gold and jewellery in the ears, and many rings, and belts of gold and jewellery upon the cloths with which they gird themselves. The women of these Gentiles have very pretty, delicate faces, and well made bodies, a little dark. 

Their dress is silk stuff like their husbands' as far as the feet, and jackets with narrow sleeves of silk stuff, open at the shoulders, and other silk cloths with which they cover themselves in the manner of morisco almalafas; their heads bare, the hair gathered up upon the head; they wear thick ankle rings of gold and silver on the legs, and rings on their toes, and large coral beads on their arms, with beads of gold filigree, and gold and silver bracelets; and round their necks, necklaces of gold and jewellery, fitting closely; they have large holes pierced in their ears, and in them rings of gold or silver large enough for an egg to pass through them. 

They are modest women, and when they go out of their houses they are much covered up with their wraps over their heads. 

The other set of people are called Bramans, and are priests and the persons who administer and direct the idolatry; they have very large houses of prayer, some of them with revenues, others are maintained by alms. In these they keep many idols: some of stone, some of wood, and other of copper. In these houses and monasteries they always perform many ceremonies to their gods; they make feasts for them magnificently, with instruments and songs, and with many lights of oil, and they have bells in our fashion. 

These Bramans have got images which represent the Holy Trinity: they pay much honour to the number three, and in trine make their adoration to God, whom they confess to be the true God, Creator, and Maker of all things, which are three things in one sole person; and they say that there are many other gods governed by him, in which they also believe. 

These Bramans, wherever they find our churches, enter willingly into them, and adore our images; and they always ask for Santa Maria, our Lady, like men who have some knowledge of her. And as they see our manner of honouring the churches, they say that there is no great difference between them and us. 

These Bramans go bare from the waist upwards; they wear upon their shoulder a thread of three threads, which is a sign by which they are known to be Bramans.

They are men who also do not eat anything which receives death, nor do they kill anything. They hold it to be a great ceremony to wash their bodies, and say that they wash on that account. 

These Bramans, and also the Banians, marry in our fashion, with one woman only, and only once. They make great feasts at their weddings, which last many days, and there are many people assembled at these very well dressed and decked out. These festivities are magnificent. 

For the most part they are married when very young, both men and women, and on the day of the betrothal, and of the wedding, the couple are both of them seated on a platform, very much bedizened with gold and jewellery and precious stones, and in front of them is a small table with an idol covered with flowers, and many lighted oil lamps all round it; and both of them have to remain there with their eyes fixed on that idol from the morning until the evening, without eating or drinking, or speaking to anybody during that time. 

The people make great rejoicings over them with their instruments and songs and dances; they let off many cannons, rockets and other fireworks to divert themselves.

 And if the husband dies the woman does not marry again, and so also does the husband should the wife die. And the children are his rightful heirs; and Bramans must be sons of Bramans, amongst whom there are some of a lower rank who serve as messengers and travellers, and they go in security to all parts without any one vexing them in any way. Even if there should be war or thieves, they always pass safely. These are called pater.



The King of Guzarat is a great lord, both in revenue and people, and extensive and rich territory. He is a Moor, as also are his men-at-arms, as has been said. He has a large court of many knights, and he is the lord of many horses and elephants, which are brought for sale to this kingdom from the country of Malabar and Ceylon. 

And with the horses and elephants he makes war upon the Gentiles of the kingdom of Guzarat who do not pay obedience to him, and upon some other kings with whom at times he is at war. And they make wooden castles on the top of the elephants, which hold four men, who carry bows and guns, and other weapons, and fight thence with the enemy. 

And the elephants are so well trained, that they know how to take part in the battle, and with their tusks wound the men and horses so severely, that in a very short time they put any array into confusion. 

But they are so timid, and subject to pain when wounded, that they take to flight at once, and put one another into confusion, and rout their own side. 

This king has four or five hundred of these at his residence, very large and fine. They buy them for one thousand five hundred ducats each, at the seaports where the Malabars bring them for sale. 

And they make war much with the horses bred in the country, for it has a wonderful quantity; and the Moors and Gentiles of this kingdom are bold riders, ride small saddles, and use whips. They carry very thick round shields, edged with silk, and two swords each man, a dagger, and a Turkish bow, with very good arrows; and some carry steel maces, and many of them coats of mail, and others tunics quilted with cotton. 

And the horses have housings and steel head pieces, and so they fight very well and are light in their movements; and they are so supple in[56] their saddles that they can play on horseback at the choga or at any other game. They have amongst them the game of the jerid, as in Spain. 

These Moors are white, and of many countries: both Turks and Mamelukes, Arabs, Persians, Khorasanys, Turkomans, and from the great kingdom of Dily, and others born in the country itself. 

These people come together there on account of the country being very rich, and well supplied; and the king gives good pay and rations, and regularly paid. 

These people are very well dressed, with very rich stuffs of gold, silk, cotton, and goats' wool, and all wear caps on their heads, and their clothes long, such as Morisco shirts and drawers, and leggings to the knee of good thick leather, worked with gold knots and embroidery; and their swords are borne in their girdles, or in the hands of their pages. They are richly ornamented with gold and silver. 

Their women are very white and pretty, also very richly decked out. They may marry as many as they like and are able to maintain, to honour the sect of Mahomed; and so there are many of them who have three or four or five wives, and of all of them they have sons and daughters. 

And these Moors of Cambay speak many languages, that is to say, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Guzaraty. 

They eat wheaten bread, rice, meat of all kinds, leaving aside pork, which is against their law. They are luxurious people, who live well and spend much money. 

They always go with their heads shaved, and the women with very fine hair. When they go out of their houses, they go on horses, or in cars, and so covered up that nobody can see them. 

They are very jealous men, and can unmarry themselves when they please, on paying to the wife a certain sum of money (which is promised when they marry them), if at any time they repent of it; and the women have also the same liberty.


This King of Cambay has been king since a short time only, and his father was called Sultan Mahomed, who was brought up from a child and nourished with poison, for his father desired that he should so be brought up in order that it should not be possible to kill him with poison; for the Moorish kings of these parts often have one another killed by poison. 

And this king began to eat it in such a small quantity that it could not do him any harm, and from that he went on increasing this kind of food in such manner that he could eat a great quantity of it; for which cause he became so poisonous that if a fly settled on his hand it swelled and immediately fell dead. 

And many wives with whom he slept died at once of his poison, which he was unable to leave off eating, for he feared if he did not use it, to die soon after; as we see by experience with the opium which the Indians eat, for if they leave off eating it they die immediately, that is, if they begin as children to eat it in such a small quantity that it can do them no harm, for some length of time, and then increasing the quantity by degrees until they remain accustomed to it. 

This amfion is cold in the fourth degree, and on account of being so cold it kills. We call it opio, and the women of India when they wish to kill themselves in any case of dishonour or of despair, eat it with oil of sesame, and so die sleeping without feeling death.


This King possesses great cities in his kingdom, and especially the city of Champaver, where he resides continually, with all his court. This city is to the north of Guzerat, eighty leagues inland. It is a very fertile country: of abundant provisions, wheat, barley, millet, rice, peas and other vegetables, and many cows, sheep, goats, and plenty of fruit, so that it is very full of all things; and it has in its neighbourhood many hunting grounds, and deer and[58] other animals, and winged game. And this country possesses dogs and falcons for the chase, and tame leopards for hunting all sorts of game. And the King for his pastime keeps many animals of all kinds, which they send to find and bring up. This King sent a Ganda to the King of Portugal, because they told him that he would be pleased to see her.


Leaving this city and going further inland there is another city called Andavat, which is larger than the said city of Champaver, and it is very rich, and well supplied. The former kings used always to reside in this city. These towns are walled, and embellished with good streets and squares, and houses of stone and whitewash, with roofs in our fashion; and they have large courts, and much water in wells and pools. They make use of horses, donkeys, mules, camels and carts, and have fine rivers, with plenty of fresh water fish, and many orchards and gardens. There are also in this kingdom, inland, many cities, towns and villages, in which the king keeps his governors and collectors of his revenue. If these commit a fault he summons them, and after having heard them he bids them drink a cup of poison, with which anyone dies immediately; and in this way he chastises them, so that they are in great fear of him.


The places which this king has on the sea coast are these. Firstly, leaving the kingdom of Ulcinde for India at a distance[59] of thirty-seven leagues, is a river, on the shore of which there is a great city called Patemxi, a good seaport, very rich, and of great trade. In this city many silk stuffs are made, coloured with much embroidery, which are used over the whole of India, Malacca, Bengal, and also many cotton stuffs. To this port come many Indian ships laden with cocoa nuts, sugar of palms which they call xagara, and from there they carry away a great quantity of cloth and much cotton, horses, wheat, and vegetables, by which much money is made. Their voyage, with the delays, is of four months.


Passing by this city, further on the coast to the east and south, at fifteen leagues distance, there is another town of commerce, which has a very good port, and is called Suratimangalor, where also many ships from Malabar touch, for horses, wheat, rice, cotton cloths, vegetables and other goods which are of use in India. And they bring cocoa nuts, hurraca (which is something to drink), emery, beeswax, cardamums, and all sorts of spices, in which trade and voyage great profit is made in a short time.

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