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Economy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: Trade and commerce

Economy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: Trade and commerce

  • During the Sultanat period, as during the earlier period, India remained the manufacturing workshop for the Asian world and adjacent areas of East Africa, with brisk and well -established domestic trade.
    • India’s position was based on highly productive agriculture, skilled craftsmen, strong manufacturing traditions, and a highly specialised and experienced class of traders and financers.
  • The growth of towns and a money nexus in north India following the Turkish centralisation which led to improved communications, a sound currency system based on the silver tanka and the copper dirham, and the reactivation of Indian trade, especially over-land trade with Central and West Asia.
  • Concept of ‘induced trade‘:
    • The trade resulting from the compulsions of land revenue system.
    • Factors conducive to the development of inland trade :
      • Growing practice of land revenue realization in cash. Development of cash-nexus.
      • The peasantry was forced to sell its surplus produce.
      • Merchants had a market in newly emerged towns for agricultural products.
      • The ruling class tended to claim almost the entire peasant surplus by attempting to reduce the share of rural intermediaries.

Inland Trade (Domestic Trade)

Inland trade may be divided into:

    • local trade between the villages, and with the mandis and district towns;
    • long distance trade between metropolitan towns and regions.
  • Trade between district and metropolitan towns fell between the two.

Village-town trade (Local trade):

  • The short distance trade in commodities of bulk, it was a natural consequence of the emergence of towns (needed food and raw material) and realization of land revenue in cash (So village needed cash).
  • The turnover of this trade was high in terms of volume but was low in terms of value.  
  • The commodities were food grains, that is wheat, rice. gram, sugarcane, etc. and raw material like cotton for – urban manufactures.
  • The peculiar nature of this trade was the one-way flow of commodities. Because villages were self by and large self-sufficient.
  • The sale of crops was primarily the responsibility of the village bania who also provided the peasants with such necessities as salt and spices, and raw iron for use by the village blacksmith.
  • Sometimes, the rich cultivators themselves took their surplus produce to the local mandis—a practice which Alauddin Khalji tried to encourage to prevent hoarding at the village level.
    • The mandis were supplemented by local fairs where animals were also sold, animals being a necessity for field operations, local transport, milk etc.
    • These played a vital role in the economic life of the country.
  • However, local trade did not generate enough wealth to make the traders engaged in it wealthy enough to lead a life of ease and plenty. Thus, the much reviled village bania probably did not have a standard of living higher than that of a rich peasant.

Inter-town trade (Long distance trade):

  • The long distance trade in high value goods.
  • This trade was mainly in luxury articles (thus high value trade) but also in bulk commodities.
  • The manufactures of one town were taken to another.
  • Trading activities of rich traders and financers, the sahs, modis and sarrafs were geared both to the movement of bulk commodities within the country, as well as to cater to the demand for luxury goods required by the nobility living in the big cities.
    • The bulk commodities included food-grains, oil, ghee, pulses, etc. with some regions having a surplus and some others a deficit.
      • Thus, rice and sugar which were surplus in Bengal and Bihar were carried by ships to Malabar and Gujarat.
      • Wheat which was surplus in modern east U.P. (Awadh, Kara/Allahabad) was transported to the Delhi region.
    • But transport of bulk commodities overland was expensive, and was carried on mainly by the banjaras, who moved with their families along with thousands of bullocks.
      • Perhaps, the operations of the banjaras were financed by the rich merchants, the sahs and the modis.
    • Expensive but bulky commodities, like fine quality textiles, were carried on the backs of horses or in bullock carts.
    • The movement of these good was in caravans or tandas, protected by hired soldiers because roads were unsafe on account of both wild animals and dacoits.
  • The building of the road from Delhi to Deogir by Muhammad bin Tughlaq illustrates the manner in which road communication were sought to be improved.
    • Thus, trees were planted on both sides of the road, and a halting station (sarai) was built every two miles (karoh) where food and drink was available.
    • In Bengal, an embankment was made so that a part of the road to Lakhnauti which had remained under water during rains could become passable.
  • Commodities:
    • Apart from the bulk commodities, textiles were the main item.
    • Barani:
      • Delhi received distilled wines from Kol (Aligarh) and Meerut, Muslin (fine cloth) from Devagiri and striped cloth from Lakhnauti (Bengal).
      • Wine was imported from abroad, and also produced at Meerut and Aligarh.
    • Ibn Battuta:
      • Ordinary cloth came from Awadh and betel-leaf from Malwa (twenty-four days journey from Delhi).
      • Candy sugar was supplied to Multan from Delhi and Lahor and ghi from Sirsa (in Haryana).
    • Horses, both foreign and domestic, were also an important item of import.
    • Indigo, spices, ungents, drugs, leather-goods were other important items.
    • Shawls and carpets from Kashmir were in demand at Delhi. So were dry fruits.
  • The long distance inter-town trade also carried goods coming from other countries from entry point town towns to other urban centers as well as the export goods to exit-points.
    • Multan was perhaps the great entrepot for overland foreign trade and served as a centre of re-export.
    • Gujarat port towns such as Broach and Cambay were exchange centres for overseas trade.
  • Finance:
    • The hundi system must have continued.
    • The modis and sarrafs were the main means of operating and financing the hundi system.
    • Although there was no system of banking as such, the village bania at the village level, and the modis and sarrafs at the national level were the main means of providing finance for agricultural operations and trade.
    • The interest charged on loans was 10 per cent per annum for big loans, and 20 per cent on small or petty sums.

Foreign Trade

  • Overland and overseas trade were 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.
  • Seaborne: 
    • Khalji annexation of Gujarat must have enlarged trade relations between the Delhi Sultanate and the Persian Gulf and 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 along the Red Sea were important for Gujarat.
    • Merchandise of Gujarat were also carried towards the East – the port of Malacca situated at the Malacca straits and Bantam (on java island) and Achin ( now Aceh) in the Indonesian archipelago.
      • The “spices for coloured cloths” pattern:
        • The main export from Gujarat to Malacca was the coloured cloths manufactured in Cambay and other Gujarat towns.
        • These cloths were in demand in these places.
        • In exchange, the Gujarati merchants came back with spices grown there.
        • This pattern continued even after the Portuguese advent in the Asian waters.
    • The foreign merchants, especially the Arabs, were more active in Gujarat and Malabar in overseas trades.
      • Indians, both Hindus (Agrawal and Maheshwari) and Jains and Bohras were also active in this trade, with colonies of Indian traders living in West and South-East Asia.
    • Evidences :
      • European traveller Tome Pires (came in  India in 1st decade of 16th cen):
        • “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 prosperous.”
      • Italian traveller Varthema (in India during 1st decade of 16th century):  says that about 300 ships of different countries come and go from Cambay.
        • He adds that about 400 “Turkish” merchants resided at Diu.
      • The IIKhanid court historian Wassaf reports : 10,000 horses were annually exported to Ma’bar and Cambay from Persia.
      • The Broach coin-hoards containing the coins of the Delhi Sultans along with the gold and silver coins of Egypt, Syria, Yeman, Persia, Genoa, Armenia and Venice further testifies to larger scale overseas trade.
    • The ports of Bengal had trading relations with China, Malacca, Far East, South-East Asia.
      • Textiles, sugar and silk fabrics were the most important commodities exported from Bengal.
      • Varthema noted that about fifty ships carried these commodities annually to many places, including Persia.
      • Bengal imported salt from Hormuz and sea-shells from the Maldive islands.
        • The sea-shells were used as coins in Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.
      • Bengal also imported silks, spices etc.
      • Ma Huan, who came to Bengal in the early part of the fifteenth century, mentions that “wealthy individuals who built ships and go to foreign countries to trade are quite numerous.”
    • Sindh was yet another region from where seaborne trade was carried on. Its most well-known port was Daibul.
      • This region had developed close commercial relations with the Persion Gulf ports more than the Red Sea zone.
      • Sindh exported special cloths, dairy products and Smoked-fish.
  • Coastal Trade:
    • It was natural for the coastal trade to flourish right from Sindh to Bengal, touching Gujarat, Malabar and Coromandal coasts in between.
    • This provided an opportunity for exchange of regional products along the’coastal line distinct from inland inter-regional trade.
  • Overland:
    • 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 outpouring of nomadic hordes from Central Asia, such as the Hun eruption during the 6th-7th centuries, and the Mongol onslaught during the 13th century.
    • India was connected to the Central Asia, Afghanistan and Persia through the Multan-Quetta route. 
      • Due to repeated Mongol turmoil in Central Asia and Persia this route was less preferred by merchants.
    • The rise and fall of empires also effected the safety of these trade routes. However, the traders proved to be extremely hardy and skillful in overcoming these obstacles.
      • Also, the nomads quickly realised the value of permitting trade to flow, and tax it to their benefit.
      • Thus, the Mongols not only permitted trade but, when not at war, themselves traded in camels and horses, arms, falcons, furs and musk.
      • Although Balban had difficulties in getting horses from Central Asia on account of the Mongols, this must have been temporary because Alauddin Khalji had no such difficulty.
      • With the establishment of the Mongol empires, and the security of roads, trade with China and West Asia became easier.
      • With the gradual assimilation of the Mongols to Islam, conditions for trade improved further during the 14th century.
    • Multan was the major trading centre for overland trade.
      • Lahore had been ruined by the Mongols in 1241, and was not able to regain itself till the reign of Muhammad Tughlaq.
      • Multan was also the entry point of all foreigners, including traders who were all called Khurasanis. In wealth they appear to be inferior to the Multanis.
    • Overland trade concentrated on commodities which were light weight but high value because of the high cost of transportation.
  • Imports and Exports:
    • Imports: The two principal items of import were :
      • Horses:
        • Horses were the most important commodity imported overland into India.
        • There was a steady demand for Arabi, Iraqi  and Central Asian horses in India for the needs of the army, the cavalary being the principal instrument of warfare. 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.
        • They were also valued for purposes of show and status.
      • Precious metals, 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 items.
    • Brocade and silk stuffs were imported from Alexandria, Iraq and China.
      • Tea and silk were imported from China, though silk was also imported from Persia, the mulberry tree and silk cocoons having been introduced there during the 13th and 14th century by the Mongols.
    • Gujarat was the major centre from where the luxury articles from Europe used to enter.
    • The other commodities imported into India included:
      • camels,
      • furs,
      • slaves,
      • velvet,
      • dry fruits
      • wines.
  • Exports :
    • The Sultanate India mainly exported grain and textiles.
      • Some of the Persian Gulf regions totally depended on India for their food supply food stuffs such as rice, sugar and spices.
    • Besides, slaves were exported to Central Asia and indigo to Persia along with numerous other commodities.
    • Precious stones like agates were exported from Cambay.
  • The Portuguese Advent:
    • In spite of brisk trading activities, Indian merchants’ share in the overseas trade was negligible. Only a small section of Gujarati Banias, Chettis of the South and domicile Indian Muslims used to take part in this large trading activity. Trade was mainly in the hands of the Arab Merchants.
    • With advent of the Portuguese, a new dimension was added to the Indian seaborne trade, that is, the ‘element of force’.
      • On account of better ships armed with cannons, the Portuguese soon imposed their commercial hegemony over the trading world of Asia, including the Indian seas, especially in Western part.
    • This curtailed the Arabs’ share of the Indian trade, though they survived in the Eastern part, especially at Malacca along with the Indian merchants.
    • The Portuguese took Goa in 1510 which became their headquarters, Malacca fell in them hands in 1511. Hormuz in 1515; and Bassein and Diu in 1534 and 1537 respectively.
      • Goa, under their patronage, soon developed as a major centre for import and export.
      • The Portuguese well understood the strategic importance of Goa, which in their opinion, was essential to the maintenance of their position in India.
    • Effect on other Western Indian ports : But the Portuguese possession of Goa was unfavourable to other Western Indian ports.
      • Tome Pires said : the Muslim rulers of the Deccan and Gujarat had “a bad neighbour in Goa”.
    • Many ports on the west coast fell into decay during the hundred years of the Portuguese domination In the Indian waters. This happened as a result of the aggressive policies of the Portuguese :
      • they controlled the sea-routes,
      • controlled the type and volume of cargo carried by other merchants, and
      • they introduced the system of issuing cartaz (from Persian qirta = paper sheet) which was a kind of permit to ply ships in the Asian waters without which the ships were liable to be confiscated and the cargo plundered.
      • A fee was charged for issuing a cartaz. All these policies adversely affected the seaborne carrying trade of the Indians as well as of the Arabs.

Commercial Classes: 

  • Two types of merchants are known :
    • Karwanis (nayaks) : 
      • merchants specialising in carrying grain were designated Karwani (by Barani) . It is a Persian word meaning those who moved together in large numbers.
      • The contemporary mystic, Nasiruddin (Chiragh Delhi) calls them nayaks and describes them as those “who bring food grains from different parts to the city (Delhi)
      • It can be said with a degree of certainty that these karwanis were the banjaras of succeeding centuries. As is clear from the Mughal sources, these were organised in groups and their headman called nayak.
    • Multanis : 
      • Barani says that the long distance trade was in the hands of these merchants.
        • They were engaged in usury and commerce (sud o sauda). It appears that the sahas and Multanis were rich enough to give loans even to nobles, who, according to Barani, were generally in need of cash.
        • The sahas and Multanis were generally Hindu, but at least some Muslims also were among the Multani merchants: for example, Hamiduddin Multani was called by Barani as malik ut tujjar (the great merchant).
  • Besides these well defined merchant groups, others who had so chosen could take to trade : thus a sufi (mystic) from Bihar became a slave-merchant trading between Delhi and Ghazni, and a number of pious men from Central Asia came to Delhi and became merchants.
  • Dallals  (brokers)Another important commercial class. They worked as a link between the buyer and the seller and took commission from both the parties.
    • Barani says that they were the ‘masters of market‘ (hakiman bazar) :
      • They were instrumental in raising prices in ihe market.
      • reference to ‘Chief brokers mihtran-i dallalan) by Barani also suggests a somewhat well established guild of brokers, though the details are lacking.
    • Alauddin Khalji used to consult them about the cost of production of every article in the market in order to fix prises.
      • However during Alauddin Khalji’s reign these ‘Chief brokers were severely dealt with.
    • Feroz Tughluq’s reign:
      • They seem to have regained their position.
      • Feroz Tughlu had abolished dallalat-i-bazarha. (a tax on broker’s licence; a cess on brokers). Besides, even if a deal between the buyer and t’he seller failed to materialize, the brokers were not supposed to return the commission money.
      • This also shows that during the Tughluqs ‘brokerage’ became a fairly well established institution.
  • Sarrafs:
    • As money changers, they were most sought after by the merchants, especially the foreign ones who came to India with their native coins. The sarrafs tested the metallic purity of the coins (indigenous and foreign) and established the exchange-ratio.
    • They also issued bills of exchange (Hindi: hundi: Persian: suftaja) or letters of credit, thereby qcting as “bankers”. The introduction of paper by the Turks into India accelerated the institution of bill of exchange.
    • For all these troubles, the sarraf naturally charged his commission.
  • Thus, both the brokers and the sarrafs occupied pivotal position in the commercial world of their period; they were the custodians of several basic economic institutions.Indeed, no merchant could have dispensed with their services.

Transport: 

  • It appears that the goods were transported both by pack animals and on bullock-carts. Perhaps the share of the pack animals was more than the latter.
  • Ibn Battuta
    • mentions 30,000 mans of grains being transported on the backs of 3,000 bullocks from Amroha to Delhi.
    • highways ran through the empire marked by minarets spaced at set distances.
  • Afif Bullock-carts were also used, for carrying passengers on payment.
  • The pack-oxen were of course a cheap mode of transport travelling slowly, grazing as they went and moving in large herds, thus reducing the cost of transport specially along the desert routes.
  • From account of Shahabuddin al Umari (author of the Masalik ul Absar) : we may infer that efforts were made to create conditions conducive to trade.
    • Inns were built at each stage (manzil).
    • In Bengal, Iwaz Khalji built long embankments to safeguard from floods.
  • Boats were employed for riverine routes to carry bulk goods, while large ships used for seabrone trade.

trade sultanate

map-silkroad

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