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Duarte Barbosa

Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese factor at Cannanore and Cochin in between 1503 and (about) 1517 and had left behind an interesting account on trade and political events of the southeast including Bengal. His father Diogo Barbosa, a man of good family, was in the service of Duke of Braganca and sailed to India in 1501. Duarte Barbosa's uncle, Goncalo Gil Barbosa, had gone to India in 1503 with the fleet of Pedro Alvarez Cabral; and was left at Cochin as a factor. It is probable that Duarte had joined Cabral's fleet and remained with his uncle at Cochin. By 1503, he had learnt Malayalam to act as interpreter to Francisco D' Albuquerque on his visit to the King of Cannanore. From the published letter of Duarte, then writer at Cannanore, written on 12 January 1513 to the King of Portugal, it is clear that he did not get the coveted post of head writer and that the people of the country were up in arms against the Governor Diogo Correa. Duarte Barbosa returned to Portugal sometime after 1515 and finished his book by 1518. He had then joined his brother-in-law, Fernao de Magelhas and sailed with him in 1519 for the Philippines. Magelhas died on 21 April 1521 near the Isle of Sebu, whose King massacred the Spaniards, including Duarte Barbosa, on 1 May 1521.

We have an account of what Vijayanagara was like in A.D. 1504 - 14 in the narrative of Duarte Barbosa, who visited the city during that period.

Speaking of the "Kingdom of Narsinga," by which name the Vijayanagar territories were always known to the Portuguese, Barbosa writes: "It is very rich, and well supplied with provisions, and is very full of cities and large townships."

He describes the large trade of the seaport of Bhatkal on its western coast, the exports from which consisted of iron, spices, drugs, myrabolans, and the imports of horses and pearls; but as regards he last two items he says, "They now go to Goa, on account of the Portuguese." The governor of Bhatkal was a nephew of King Krishna Deva. "He lives in great state and calls himself king, but is in obedience to the king, his uncle."

Leaving the sea-coast and going inland, Barbosa passed upwards through the ghats.

"Forty-five leagues from these mountains there is a very large city which is called BIJANAGUER, very populous, and surrounded on one side by a very good wall, and on another by a river, and on the other by a mountain. This city is on level ground; the king of Narsinga (Vijayanagara) always resides in it. He has in this place very large and handsome palaces, with numerous courts.... There are also in this city many other palaces of great lords, who live there. And all the other houses of the place are covered with thatch, and the streets and squares are very wide. They are constantly filled with an innumerable crowd of all nations and creeds.... There is an infinite trade in this city.... In this city there are many jewels which are brought from Pegu and Celani (Ceylon/Sri Lanka), and in the country itself many diamonds are found, because there is a mine of them in the kingdom of Narsinga and another in the kingdom of Decani (Deccan). There are also many pearls and seed-pearls to be found there, which are brought from Ormuz and Cael ... also silk-brocades, scarlet cloth, and coral...."

"The king constantly resides in the before-mentioned palaces, and very seldom goes out of them...."

"All the attendance on the king is done by women, who wait upon him within doors; and amongst them are all the employments of the king's household; and all these women live and find room within these palaces, which contain apartments for all...."

"This king has a house in which he meets with the governors and his officers in council upon the affairs of the realm.... They come in very rich litters on men's shoulders.... Many litters and many horsemen always stand at the door of this palace, and the king keeps at all times nine hundred elephants and more than twenty thousand horses, all which elephants and horses are bought with his own money.... This king has more than a hundred thousand men, both horse and foot,
to whom he gives pay...."

"When the king dies four or five hundred women burn themselves with him.... The king of Narsinga (Vijayanagara) is frequently at war with the king of Dacani (Deccan), who has taken from him much of his land; and with another gentile king of the country of Otira (apparently Orissa), which is the country in the interior."

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