Get complete information on the History of Medieval India (Mughal Period)


Get complete information on the History of Medieval India (Mughal Period)

Excellent cotton cloth was manufactured at Banaras, at Agra, in Malwa, the Deccan and Gujarat. Muslin of very fine quality, “the best and finest in all India”, was produced at Sonargaon in the Dacca District. Miscellaneous goods such as cotton carpets, coverlets, rugs, ropes, bed- tapes, etc., were manufactured everywhere. Moreland tells us that “The aggregate production of cotton goods was one of the great facts of the industrial world of the year 1600.

So much of cotton was produced. the country that after clothing the people of India, the same was exported to Africa, Arabia, Egypt, Burma, Malacca, the Straits and other Asiatic Markets. The demand for Indian Cotton Cloth was increased all the more by the activities of the English and Dutch Traders who carried the Indian Goods to European Markets.


It is rightly pointed out that the English Traders laid the foundation of the Gujarat Export trade in Calicos. Madras Calicoes were also sent to foreign countries. With the rise in demand, more and more of cotton cloth came to be produced in the country.

Metal work also developed considerably during the Mughal period. Indian swords and daggers won great popularity. Gold and silver were used for ornaments. Building industry also developed during this period. Precious stones were mined on a large scale and cut to different shapes.

Foreign Trade

There was a great increase in the Foreign Trade of the country. Akbar and Jahangir took great interest in the foreign sea-borne trade, although they took no steps to strengthen their navy in order to establish Mughal supremacy on the sea. Akbar himself took part in foreign trade and was anxious to make profits out of it. In the time of Akbar, the important outlets for foreign sea­borne trade were the ports of Cambay and Surat, Bengal (particularly Satgaon), the Coromondal Coast, the Malabar Coast and the Indus.


It appears that the Bengal Ports were not so much popular as the other ports. That was partly due to the constant wars an rebellions and also the presence of the pirates in the Hugli. On land, the export trade followed the routes from Lahore to Kabul and from Multan to Kandhar. The traffic was restricted and irregular. That was due to the fact that the goods were to be carried on pack-animals and there was always the danger of robbery and violence on the way.

In the time of Akbar, the chief items of export were textiles, pepper, indigo, opium, and other drugs and miscellaneous goods. What was imported from abroad was bullion, horses, metals, ivory, drugs, China goods, precious stones, coral, textiles including silk, velvet brocade and broadcloth, European wines and African Slaves. China goods were imported in large quantities as there was a great demand for them not only by the Emperor but also by the nobles.

The total foreign trade of India at the beginning of the 17th century was not very large. That was partly due to the fact that there was no market for European goods among the people of India on account of the high price of European goods. Moreover, the Indian traders demanded that they must be paid in gold or silver for the goods exported from India.

However, things changed a little after the death of Akbar as foreign merchants gradually opened new markets for Indian Calicoes, saltpetre, indigo, raw silk and other commodities and Europe had to find money for her agents in India to buy Indian goods. During the reigns of Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, the Dutch and the English set up direct trade between India and the West.


By 1625, the trade in indigo and Calicoes was established. Surat became the chief centre for European Imports and Exports. By 1650, the English and the Dutch were firmly established in all the important marts of the coast from Sindh to Bengal.

The calicoes of Madras, saltpetre of Bihar and the silk and sugar of Bengal were the important item of India’s trade with Europe during the time of Aurangzeb. It is interesting to note that Mughal emperors imported dogs from Europe. Terry tells us that two dogs were brought by Sir Thomas Roe for Jahangir and the Emperor asked him to send for another pair of dogs.

It is pointed out that Indian Merchants were as clever as their foreign counterparts. A reference in this connection can be made to Virji Vora who between 1619 and 1670 financed the transactions of the English Merchants and practically controlled the whole trade of Surat. He was supposed to be richest merchant in the world. However, Indian Merchants had to face certain dangers.

One such danger was the possibility of interference by the Local Mughal Governor or other high official who might appear in the market at any time as buyer or seller of practically any commodity. When that happened, competition was displaced by force. He could also set up a monopoly as was done by the Governor of Allahabad in 1647 in indigo.


He could form a “corner” or combine as the Governor of Surat did in foodgrains in 1632 although the district was suffering from famine at that time. He could even monopolise the whole trade of a port as was done at Hugli m 1635-36. He could indulge in wholsesale and lengthy commercial operations as was done by Mir Jumla.

The latter ordered in 1659 the doors of the English Factory of Kasim Bazar in Bengal to be closed. He ordered the Indian Merchants not to trade with the English. It is also pointed out that rich traders could be insulted or harassed at any time. We are told that in 1638, Virji Vora was put in prison and he suffered “most barbarous tyranny” under the orders of the Governor of Surat.

A wide gulf separated the producers from the consumers. While the agriculturists, the industrial workers and the traders were the producers, the consuming class consisted of the servants of the Government, the professional and religious classes and slaves and servants. It is pointed out that all the requirements of the state and the society could have been met by employing a very small number of persons.

A good bit of money could be saved by having a small well-trained army. A lot of income of the Mughal Administration was wasted on superfluous services and unfortunately; the cost of that extravagance had to be shouldered by the producing class. The nobles and the high officials who were mostly foreigners were highly paid by Akbar. Their emoluments were increased during the reigns of his successors.


As they had a lot, they spent the same lavishly. Moreover, the law of escheat by which all the property of a Mansabdar was confiscated by the State on the death of the Mansabdar also encouraged extravagance and waste. As every Mansabdar knew that whatever he saved would be taken away by the Government, he did not hesitate to spend all that he had. A good bit of the money was wasted on marriages in the form of dowries. Money was wasted on luxuries.

The rest of it was spent on raising monuments. Fruits were imported from Samarkand and other distant places and that involved a lot of waste. Too much was wasted on food. There was a lot of extravagance in the matter of dresses and jewellery. A lot was spent on elephants and horses. Wealth was also wasted on gambling and decorations.

The menial staff maintained by a Mansabdar could be counted in hundreds. The larger the number the better as the status of a man was judged from the number of the servants maintained by him. Bernier rightly points out that most of the nobles and high officials were in_debt. In order to help themselves, they oppressed as much as they could the common people.

The gulf between the rich and the poor was very wide. While the rich lived in luxury, the poor just managed to subsist. On account of the oppressions practiced by the officials and the nobles, there was no incentive to work hard. No wonder, the land was often tilled only under compulsion and there was continuous emigration to the territories of the Hindu Rajas by persons who were sick of the tyranny of the Mughal Bureaucracy. A contemporary account is that “so much is wrung from the peasants that even dry bread is scarcely left to them for their food.”

One cannot help observing that during the Mughal Period, there was inadequate production and faulty distribution. The distribution continued to deteriorate with the passage of time. It is rightly pointed out that the great evil was “administrative exploitation, which in Akbar’s time and from a much earlier period dominated and sterilized the energies of the population of India.”

The producers were always at the mercy of the bureaucracy and the nobility who were accustomed to a life of luxury and display and did not hesitate to exploit and harass the masses who contributed “half their gross income to the support of a relatively small number of economic parasites.” Mr. W.H. Moreland in his book entitled “From Akbar to Aurangzeb” has made the following observation with regard to the economic system during the major portion of the 17th century

“Weavers, naked themselves, toiled to clothe others. Peasants, themselves hungry, toiled to feed the towns and cities. India, taken as a unit, parted with useful commodities in exchange for gold and silver, or in other words, gave bread for stones. Men and women, living from season to season on the verge of hunger, could be contented so long as the supply of food held out when it failed.

As it so often did, their hope of salvation was the slave trader, and the alternatives were cannibalism, suicide, or starvation. The only way of escape from that system lay through an increase in production, coupled with a rising standard of life, but this road was barred effectively by the administrative methods in vogue, which penalized production and regarded every indication of increased consumption as a signal for fresh extortion.”

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