History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2010: Q.6 (a)

Q.6 (a) Examine the increasing importance of maritime trade of India during thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. [2010, 30m]


Throughout the Sultanate era during 13th and 15th centuries, maritime trade was in a flourishing state.

India had an old tradition of trade with West Asia and extending through it to the Mediterranean world, as also to Central Asia, South-East Asia and China both by over-seas and over-land routes. The overland routes lay through the Bolan pass to Herat, and through the Khyber pass to Bokhara and Samarqand, and also by the Kashmir routes to Yarkand and Khotan for onward transmission to China. These trade routes were sometimes disrupted due to the Mongol onslaught during the 13th century-15th centuries. The rise and fall of empires also effected the safety of these trade routes. These factors increased the importance of maritime trade.

Maritime Overseas Trade

The Khalji annexation of Gujarat must have enlarged trade relations between the Delhi Sultanate with the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea as Gujarat was linked with the Persian Gulf as well as the Red Sea. Hormuz and Basra were the chief ports for the ships passing through the Persian Gulf, while the ports of Aden, Mocha and jedda beside the Red Sea were significant for Gujarat. Through these ports, commodities moved on to Damascus and Aleppo, on the one hand, and Alexandria on the other. Aleppo and Alexandria opened upto the Mediterranean Sea with linkages to Europe. Merchandise of Gujarat were also accepted towards the East – the port of Malacca situated at the Malacca straits and Bantam and Achin in the Indonesian archipelago.

A European traveller Tome Pires, who came to India in the first decade of the 16th century, comments on the trade of Cambay as follows:
“Cambay chiefly stretches out two arms: with her right arm she reaches out towards Aden with the other towards Malacca……Malacca cannot live without Cambay, nor Cambay without Malacca, if they are to be very rich and very wealthy. If Cambay were cut-off from trading with Malacca, it could not live, for it would have no outlet for its merchandise.”

The main export from Gujarat to Malacca was the colored cloths manufactured in Cambay and other Gujarat cities. In swap, the Gujarati merchants came back with spices grown there. This pattern of “spices for colored cloths” sustained even after the Portuguese advent in the Asian waters.

Varthema, an Italian traveller says that 300 ships of dissimilar countries come and go from Cambay and 400 Turkish merchants resided at Diu.
The Khanid court historian Wassaf reports that 10,000 horses were annually exported to Malabar and Cambay from Persia. The Broach coin- hoards containing the coins of the Delhi Sultans beside with the gold and silver coins of Egypt, Syria, Yeman, Persia, Genoa, Armenia and Venice further testifies to large-scale overseas trade.

The ports of Bengal had trading dealings with China, Malacca, and Distant East. Textiles, sugar, and silk fabrics were the mainly significant commodities exported from Bengal. Varthema noted that about fifty ships carried these commodities annually to several spaces, including Persia. Bengal imported salt from Hormuz and sea-shells from the Maldive islands. The latter were used as coins in Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar.

Sindh was yet another region from where seaborne trade was flourishing. Its main well-recognized port was Daibul. Sindh exported special cloths and dairy products. Smoked-fish, too, was its specialty.

Maritime Coastal Trade

The coastal trade flourished right from Sindh to Bengal, touching Gujarat, Malabar and Coromandel coasts in between. This provided an opportunity for swap of local products along the coastal line distinct from inland inter-regional trade.

Imports and Exports

Horses were always in demand for cavalry since superior horses were not bred in India and Indian climate was not well- suited to Arabian and Central Asian horses. They were primarily imported from Zofar (Yemen), Kis, Hormuz, Aden and Persia.

Valuable metals viz. gold and silver, especially silver that was not at all mined in India but for which there was a high demand not only for metallic currency but also for fashioning luxury things.

Brocade and silk stuffs were imported from Alexandria, Iraq and China. Gujarat was the major centre from where the luxury articles from Europe used to enter.

The Sultanate India mainly exported grain and textiles. Some of the Persian Gulf regions totally depended on India for their food supply. Indigo was exported to Persia beside with numerous other commodities. Valuable stones like agates were exported from Cambay.

There was a continuous export of slaves from India for whom the demand in the Islamic world (Central Asia) was quite considerable.

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