Academic journal article Researchers World


Academic journal article Researchers World


Article excerpt


Sea-ports constituted an important part in Indian sea trade. Ports were instrumental in attracting sea traffic. Ports occupied cosmopolitan space owning to the confluence and presence of foreign and indigenous merchants. The state had to tread a cautious path because atrocities and misgovernment might result in exodus of merchants to a new place. No modern work has managed to study the chief characteristics of main ports (Trading emporiums), between c. 1000-c. 1500, which could be identified throughout India irrespective of time and space gap. Even the contemporary accounts of Ibn Battuta, Duarte Barbosa and Tome Pires distinctly recorded the emergence of trading emporiums. Security, Justice, availability of raw materials and mercantile autonomy resulted in enhanced socio-economic activities which necessitated gradual transformation of a simple port into a 'Trading Emporium'. Prominent politico-economic regions of India like Sind, Gujarat, Konkan, Malabar, the Coromandel, Orissa and Bengal have been taken into account with help of both primary and secondary sources to identify main ports (Chief Trading Emporiums). The research paper also aims to study the basic principles which help these ports to attract such a large volume of sea traffic.

Keywords: Indian Ocean, Sea Trade, Ports, Trading Emporium.


In the simplest of definitions, a port stands for a place alongside the navigable ocean, sea or river. It had provisions for the loading and unloading of cargoes. Merchandize was collected and distributed into the hinterlands from the ports. However, there were many factors at play in transforming a small town alongside navigable river or sea into a busy seaport. It was expected to have ample storage for merchandize. Better connectivity with hinterlands was an added advantage. Security from pirates and justice had to be firmly established if a town aspired to become an important port. Ports represented a cosmopolitan culture. Many foreigners visited these places to undertake commercial activities. The rulers were thus forced to ensure the neutrality of ports. Ruling elites even provided autonomy and protection to the foreign nationals to promote their harbours. Religious freedom was extended to the merchants. Rulers benefited a lot in return. Increased commercial activities at their ports brought revenues and filled their coffers.

Nature has endowed India with a long coastline. With the Arabian Sea to its west, the Bay of Bengal to its east and the Indian Ocean to its south, it has been dotted with several ports since antiquity. But the point to remember is that all of these ports did not hold the same importance for the sea merchants. Some ports attracted more sea traffic than others for a long span of time. The same was true about the period between c.1000- c.1500. Some ports were successful in attracting a sizeable inflow of the mercantile trade, whereas others could only dream of such activity. For example, no port in Gujarat could rival the supremacy of Cambay, which remained a flourishing trade emporium till the sixteenth century. On his visit to Alexandria, Ibn Battuta remarked, "It has also the magnificent port, and among all the ports in the world I have seen none equal to it, except the ports of Kawlam (Quilon) and Qaliqut (Calicut) in India"(H.A.R. Gibb,I: 19). Thus, even the contemporary writers could identify ports that were suitable for maritime trade. These ports could easily be termed as trading emporiums, which were on the list of every merchant who operated in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately no modern work right from R.K Mookerji, Indian Shipping: A History of Seaborne Trade and Maritime Activities of the Indian from the earliest Times (1912), Kenneth Mcpherson, The Indian Ocean : A History of People and the Sea (1973), K.N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the India Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750, (1985) and K.S Behra, ed., Maritime Heritage of India (1999) has attempted to underline the general characteristics which played an key role in transforming a simple port into 'Trading and Emporium. …

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