Q.5 (c) Give a sketch of Indian trade with Europe during the Mughal period.
For centuries India had maintained trading relations with other countries. The pattern of trade and commodities underwent chainges over the period. During the Mughal period also India had a flourishing trade with a large number of foreign countries. The significant aspect, of foreign trade during this period is the corning of the Europeans. This increased India’s foreign trade manifold. Most of this trade was in the form of exports of Indian goods. The imports were very small.
Textiles, saltpetre and indigo formed the major share of Indian exports. Other important items were sugar, opium spices and other sundry commodities.
Textile production in India had reached new heights during this period. The increasing exports contributed to the increase in production. Before the coming of the Europeans, the main purchasers of Indian cotton textiles were the Mughals, Khorasanis, Iraqis and Armenians who carried them to Central Asia, Persia and Turkey. The Dutch and English concentrated on Indian textiles from the 17th century onward.
The main varieties of cotton fabrics were baftas, Samanis, Calico, Khairabadi and Dariabadi, Amberty and Qaimkhani and muslin and other cotton cloths. Later on, various varieties of cotton textiles from Eastern coast were also procured. Chintz or printed cotton textiles were the most favourite items of export. Carpets from Gujarat, Jaunpur and Bengal were also bought. Silk cloth from Gujarat and Bengal also occupied a prominent place.
Beside woven cloth, there was a demand for cotton and silk yarn also. Moreland estimates that the demand of the English Company alone was 200,000 pieces in 1625 and 1,50,000 pieces in 1628. The famines of Gujarat in the 1630’s affected the supply. After 1650, the east coast was also explored and the supply from Madras was around a lakh pieces or more per year. The Dutch demand was also more than 50,000 pieces a year. An account of 1661 estimates that the Armenians bought cotton textiles worth 10 lakh rupees to be sent to Persia.
Saltpetre, one of the important ingredients for making gunpowder was much in demand in Europe. There are no references to its export in the 16th century. In the 17th century, the Dutch started exporting it from Coromandal. Soon the English also followed. During the first half of 17th century, the Dutch and the English were exporting moderate quantities from Coromandal, Gujarat and Agra. In the second half of the 17th century, its trade from Bihar via Orissa and Bengal ports started. Soon Bihar became the most important supplier.
After 1658, the English were procuring more than 25,000 maunds of saltpetre per year from Bengal ports. The quantity increased after 1680. The Dutch demand was much higher (almost four times). The English demand for this commodity continued during the 18th century.
Indigo for blue dye was produced in most of northern India – Punjab, Sind and Gujarat. The indigo from Sarkhej (Gujarat) and Bayana (near Agra) was much in demand for exports. Prior to its supply to Europe, large quantities of this commodity were exported to the Persian Gulf from Gujarat, and to Aleppo markets from Lahore.
The Portuguese started its export around the last quarter of the 16th century. Europe’s demand was very large for dyeing woollen cloths. The Dutch and English started exporting it in the 17th century. Besides, merchants from Persia purchased it for Asiatic markets and Eastern Europe. The Armenians were also buying substantial quantities. In the 17th century, the Dutch, English, Persians, Mughals, and Armenians competed to procure the commodity. Around the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch and English were procuring around 25,009 or 30,000 maunds per annum. The demand continued to increase during the following years.
Apart from the commodities listed above, a large number of other commodities were exported from India.
- Opium was bought by the French, the Dutch and the English Companies. The main sources of supply were Bihar and Malwa.
- The Bengal sugar was also taken in bulk by the Dutch and English Companies.
- Ginger was exported to Europe by the Dutch.
- Turmeric, ginger and aniseed (saunf) were exported by the Armenians.
- Large scale trading operations were conducted between the ports of Gujarat and Indonesian archipelago. From here cotton textiles were taken in bulk to Indonesia and spices were brought in return.
- Brightly coloured cotton cloth and chintz from India were in great demand. A large part of this trade was later on taken by Coromandal from where textiles were exported to Indonesian islands and spices were imported from there.
As compared to exports from India, the imports were limited to only a few select commodities.
Silver was the main item of import as it was brought to finance the purchases of European Companies and other merchants from different parts of Europe and Asia. Copper, too, was imported in some quantity. Lead and mercury were other important commodities brought to India.
Silk and porcelain from China were imported into India by the English. Good quality wine, carpets and perfumes were brought from Persia. Some items like cut glass, watches, silver utensils, woollen cloths and small weapons from Europe were in demand by the aristocracy in India.
Besides, India had trade relations with its immediate neighbours in the hill kingdoms. Musk was brought from Nepal and Bhutan to India where it was bought by the Europeans. Borax was also imported from Tibet and Nepal. Iron and foodgrains were supplied in return to these hill regions.