Essay on the nature of Industries & Trade in Mauryan period


The Mauryan period and even earlier, there was irrevocable linkage between various industries trade. The location of the industries expended on two factors, namely, the availability f raw materials and manpower. Some of the important industries and trade of the period are cussed below.


The manufacture of textiles seems to average been in the same flourishing condition as the Mauryas. The enumeration of textile (abrics in the Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain of this period is almost as extensive as in utilya’s Arthashastra.


The list comprises stuffs of cotton, linen (kshauma), dukula (made from the fibres of that plant), silk (from the cocoons of iiUtworms),/7flrra/7ia (washed silk?) sheep’s wool and the hair of other animals, as well as clothes broidered with patterns or with gold thread, even hear of cloth woven wholly of gold ead.

Very fine varieties of cottons, linens and liens are mentioned. A pair of cotton gar- ents worth one thousand karshapanas is men­tioned in a story. In the Ramayana, the Mahab- harata and other works, linen and woollen gar­ments often figure as highly prized objects, while hemp held the lowest place in the list of textiles.

In Kautilya’s time Vanga (East Bengal) was famous for its fabrics of dukula, linen, and cotton; Pundra (North Bengal) for dukula and patrorna; Banaras for linen and cotton; and Magadha for patrorna; while Madhura (the capital of the Pan- dya kingdom), Aparanta (Konkan), Kalinga, Vatsa (the territory around Kausambi), and Mahisha (Mysore?) were other renowned centres of the cotton industry.

Kautilya likewise mentions two varieties of rain-proof woollens as products of Nepal, while the Jatakas refer to the wool of Kotumbara in the Punjab. References in the Mahabharata, the Milindapanho, the Divyavadana and other works prove that the lower Ganga basin, Varanasi, Kotumbara, and Aparan­ta, as also the Tamil kingdoms in the far south, were still famous for the production of textiles of different kinds.


The Periplus mentions several seats of cotton manufactures which agree in part with Kautilya’s list. Thus we learn that muslins of the finest sort (of Vanga and Pundra?) were called Gangetic. Muslins in large quantities were produced in the region of Masalia (Kalinga?).

Argaru (Uraiyur, the old Chola capital) gave its name to a local variety of muslin. Muslins, coarse dyed cloth (‘molochine’ or ‘mallow cloth’) and much ordinary cloth (for stuffing) were carried to the great marts of Ujjaini (from Vatsa) and Tagara (from Mahisha) for export abroad. Ariaca produced great quantities of cotton cloth out of its coarse variety of raw cotton, also for foreign ex­port. Some cotton cloth appears to have been manufactured in the Upper Indus basin for export by way of the Indus.

Mining & Metallurgy:

Compared to the wealth of material available in the Arthashastra, we have only the scantiest information about the condition of the mining and metallurgical industries during this period. Still Pliny observed that India had neither brass nor lead, but exchanged precious stones and pearls for them.


It was no doubt be­cause of this scarcity that copper, tin and lead had to be imported into Barygaza and the Malabar ports in the latter half of the first century A.D. On the other hand, according to the testimony of the Periplus, the manufacture of Indian iron and steel was so advanced in quality and quantity that they were exported from Ariaca (Kathiawar and the adjoining inland country) to East Africa. Indian gold was almost as scarce as copper, tin, and lead.

Following Tarn’s plausible interpretation of the parallel passage from Megasthenes, we may sup­pose that the ant-gold of the epic was likewise nothing but Siberian gold, of which the source was concealed by the middle-men engaged in the trade. Source was concealed by the middle-men engaged in the trade. Source of gold supply from Eastern India is suggested by certain references in the Mahabliarata and an equally vague statement in the Periplus.

Almost certainly this supply was obtained from the countries beyond India’s east­ern frontier (Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, etc.) which were significantly known by the titles of Suvarnadvipa and Suvarnabhumi. Some gold, however, may have been obtained then, as in later times, from the river-washings of the Chotanagapur plateau and Assam.

In the light of these facts we may easily explain the huge im­ports of gold coins in the first and second centuries A.D., attested alike by contemporary Roman writers and the surviving specimens, especially those from South India. Gold bullion was ex­ported, according to the Periplus, from the Persian Gulf by way of Eastern Arabia to Western India. Metal-work of all types, including the manufac­ture of precious metals, was pursued during these times with energy and success.


Tongue-scrapers, as we learn from the medical work of Charaka, were made of gold, silver, lead, copper, and bronze or bell-metal; surgical instruments, says Susruta, should be of damasked steel (saikyayasa). The Acharanga Sutra mentions bowls made of iron, tin, lead, and brass.

The manufacture of metals was, according to the Smritis of this period as in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the subject of state regulation. In the descriptions of cities, the literary works of this period invariably mention goldsmiths, silversmiths and other workers in me­tals as an element of the population.

Contem­porary specimens of metalware intended for everyday use and of ornaments have b recovered from various sites, the former us being made of iron, copper, brass, and the la of bronze, gold, and silver.

Gems and Jewellery:


In the first centuries Christ, the phenomenal increase in the Ro demand for India’s pearls and gems was facility by the direct voyages of the Western merchan India. In the first century A.D., according to author of the Periplus, pearl-fisheries operated off Colchi’ (Korkai on the Tamrap’ river in the Pandya kingdom) and off the country’ (i.e. Cholamandalam), which correspond respectively to the Gulf of Manner and the P Strait. Both were evidently state monopolies, while the former was worked by condemn criminals, the output of the latter was required be sold only at the state capital.

Another site of pearl-fisheries mentioned’1 the Periplus lay in the lower Ganga. Pearls, we told, were brought down the Ganga river thro a great port on its banks to the South. Corrobo: tive references to pearl-fisheries of the extra South are found in Ptolemy and in Tamil works the period. The lower Ganga fisheries are by indirect references in the Mahabha” A third pearl-fishery is located by Pliny Perimula (Semylla, modern Chaul on the w coast).

Pliny also gives a long list of Indian precious stones and calls India the great producer of t! Most costly gems this list, of which several are obscure or ambiguous, includes diamond beryl (and its imitation), opal, sardonyx, on carbuncle, carnelian, amethyst, hyacinth, and agate.

Beryl’s, says Pliny, were rarely found outside India, while Ptolemy in the following center specifically mentions Pounnata, an inland city in the South, as their source. Diamonds, according to Ptolemy, were obtained from the town of Kosa, from the territory of the Sabarai and from the mouth of the river Adamas.

These places have been respectively identified with the Berar territory extending to the river Varada, the region of Sambalpur and the Sank branch of the Vaitarani River. According to the Periplus, agate and car­nelian were worked from the rocks for export to the West. Ptolemy records that Sardonyx (i.e. the Satpura range) was the place where the precious stone of that name was und.

When so many gems were of Indian origin, it as natural that the gem industry should reach a igh level. Indeed the enumeration of gems in the works of this period is remarkab’/long and varied. The list of beads and other articles of precious and scmi-precious stones found on sites belonging to this period is equally varied. The science of testing gems is recognised in a Divyavadana story as part of the regular training of merchants’ sons, and included by Vatsyayana in a list of sixty-four fine arts (angavidyas).

The skill of the Indian gem-cutter is exhibited in the surviving specimens of pure­ly Indian art belonging to the Kushana and later periods. The Tamil literature of the Sangam age bears witness to the flourishing condition of the gem industry and the jeweler’s trade in South India at this time. This was doubtless partly due to the great stimulus imparted by the foreign demand in the early centuries of the Christian era. Not without reason did Pliny give the epithet ‘gem- bearing’ to India and her rivers.

Wood Crafts:

Carpentry was a long-established trade, and the Jatakas make many references to woodwork, including shipbuilding, house-build­ing and the making of carts, chariots, and machines of various types.

India has always been famous for its fragrant woods, and Kautilya men­tions five kinds, namely chandana, agani, tailaparnika, bhadrasri and kaleyaka, each including varieties distinguished by their place of origin, colour or other characteristics. Kamarupa, the Himalayan regions, and Sri Lanka and South India furnished most of these varieties according to the commentator on Kautilya.

Amis & Armaments:

It is not necessary to go into the details of other crafts mentioned in the literary works of the time, such as the manufacture of dyes, gums, drugs, perfumes and so on, as well as of pottery. But a word may be said on the making of implements and weapons of war.

The Arthashastra notices bows, bow-strings, and ar­rows and arrowheads of different materials such as palmyra, bamboo, bone, and horn. Swords of different types with handles made of the horn of the rhinoceros or buffalo, and of wood, ivory or the root of the bamboo; axes, discuses and other sharp-edged razor-like (kshura-kalpalx) weapons; armours of different varieties made of iron, skins, or other materials and other equipment were manufactured.

Animal Products:

Indirect references in the Mahabharata suggest that the preparation of cost­ly skins and furs was, as in the time of Kautilya, a valued industry in the north-western Himalayas as well as Eastern India. In the Mahabharata, ivory products of Eastern India are also mentioned.

At the time of the Periplus, Dasarna (Eastern Malwa) gave its name to a species of ivory well known to the Greek traders of the west coast. Earlier, the ivory-workers of Vidisha, the capital of East Malwa, recorded their donation on a gateway of the Great Stupa at Sanchi. Ivory was used for making hair-combs, dice, and other small objects as well as ornamental sword-hilts, armour and the like.

Interest, Profits and Wages the Smriti law of this period deals with the topics of interest, profits and wages which are charac­teristic of an advanced economy. Loans were either secured or unsecured by pledges, and were given either in cash or in kind, while the debtors included merchants traversing forests or the high seas for gain. The law relating to interest shows an interesting development.

Manu, while repeating the legal rate of 1per cent per month allowed by Gautama and Vashishtha, alternatively sanc­tions 2 per cent, in general or 2,3,4 and 5 per cent, for Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra debtors respectively. Yajnavalkya repeats Manu’s schedule of rates and reconciles their patent in­consistency by confining the 11 per cent rate to loans secured by pledges.

The legal rates of inter­est thus reach the high figure of 24 per cent per annum without counting the (probably hypotheti­cal) increased rates in the case of non-Brahmins. To the above, moreover, Yajnavalkya adds still higher rates of interest to cover specific risks, namely 10 per cent and 20 per cent (per mensem) for debtors (merchants) traversing forests and the high seas respectively.

Again, he sanctions, despite Manu’s distinct prohibition, interest by agreement in exccss of the legal rate. These clauses point to the relatively short supply of capi­tal in comparison with the demand. The scarcity of capital is also reflected in the laws against usury.

In accord with Gautama and Vishnu, Manu lays down the general rule that the interest accruing at any time must not exceed the principal. But this is subject to the provision for maximum interest at special rates in the case of selected articles.

The maxima are declared to be five times the principal amount in case of grain, fruit, wool, and beasts of burden (Manu), or twice, thrice, four and eight times for gold, grains, clothes and fluids respec­tively (Yajnavalkya). We have no confirmation of these rules in the historical records of our period.

On the contrary, we learn from the inscription of the Saka Ushavadata that two weavers’ guilds at Govardhana (Nasik) stipulated to pay interest at only 1 per cent, and 3/4 per cent per month (i.e. 12 per cent and 9 per cent per annum).

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