Chapter 6. Towns, Traders & Craftspersons

• A traveller during his travels through a medieval town might find different types of centres. It could be an administrative centre or a port town or a commercial town. Most of these towns tend to have so many different types of plots such as temples and so much more.

Administrative Centres
• Thousand years ago, Thanjavur was one of administrative centres and it was capital of Cholas. The perennial river Kaveri flows near this beautiful town.
• The Rajarajeshvara temple of Shiva was built by King Rajaraja Chola. It was praised by everyone. Besides temple, there are palaces with mandapas or pavilions. Kings hold court in these mandapas, issuing orders to their subordinates. There are barracks for army.
• The town is bustling with markets selling grain, spices, cloth & jewellery. Water supply for town comes from wells and tanks. The Saliya weavers of Thanjavur and nearby town of Uraiyur are busy producing cloth for flags to be used in temple festival, fine cottons for king and nobility and coarse cotton for masses. Some distance away at Svamimalai, sthapatis or sculptors are making exquisite bronze idols and tall, ornamental bell metal lamps.

Temple Towns and Pilgrimage Centres
• Thanjavur is an example of a temple town. Temple towns represent a very important pattern of urbanisation, process by which cities develop. Temples were often central to economy and society. Rulers built temples to demonstrate their devotion to various deities.
• Temple authorities used their wealth to finance trade and banking. Gradually a large number of priests, workers, artisans, traders, etc. settled near temple to cater to its needs and those of pilgrims. Thus grew temple towns.
• Towns emerged around temples such as those of Bhillasvamin (Bhilsa or Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh) and Somnath in Gujarat. Other important temple towns included Kanchipuram and Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.
• Pilgrimage centres slowly developed into townships. Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh) and Tiruvannamalai (Tamil Nadu) are examples of two such towns.

A Network of Small Towns
• Small towns probably emerged from large villages. They generally had a mandapika (or mandi of later times) to which nearby villagers brought their produce to sell. They had market streets known as hatta (haat of later times) lined with shops.
• There were streets for different kinds of artisans such as potters, oil pressers, sugar makers, toddy makers, smiths, stonemasons, etc.
• Some traders lived in town, others travelled from town to town. Many came from far and near to these towns to buy local articles and sell products of distant places like horses, salt, camphor, saffron, betel nut & spices like pepper.
• Usually a samanta or, in later times, a zamindar built a fortified palace in or near these towns. They levied taxes on traders, artisans & articles of trade and sometimes ‘donated’ ‘right’ to collect these taxes to local temples, which had been built by themselves or by rich merchants. These ‘rights’ were recorded in inscriptions that have survived to this day.

Taxes on markets
• There were taxes in kind on: Sugar and jaggery, dyes, thread & cotton, on coconuts, salt, areca nuts, butter & sesame oil.
• Besides, there were taxes on traders, on those who sold metal goods, on distillers, on oil, on cattle fodder and on loads of grain.
• Some of these taxes were collected in kind, while others were collected in cash.

Traders Big and Small
• Several traders, especially horse traders, formed associations, with headmen who negotiated on their behalf with warriors who bought horses. Since traders had to pass through many kingdoms and forests, they generally travelled in caravans and formed guilds to protect their interests.
• The most famous guilds were Manigramam and Nanadesi. These guilds traded extensively both within peninsula and with Southeast Asia and China.
• There were other traders such as Chettiars, Marwari, Gujarati, Baniyas & Muslim Bohras. They used to trade with ports of Red Sea, Persian Gulf, East Africa, Southeast Asia and China. They sold textiles and spices in these ports and, in exchange, brought gold and ivory from Africa; and spices, tin, Chinese blue pottery and silver from Southeast Asia and China.
• Indian spices and cloth sold in Red Sea ports were purchased by Italian traders and eventually reached European markets, fetching very high profits.
• Spices grown in tropical climates (pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried ginger, etc.) became an important part of European cooking and cotton cloth was very attractive. This eventually drew European traders to India.

Crafts in Towns
• The craftspersons of Bidar were so famed for their inlay work in copper and silver that it came to be known as Bidri. The Panchalas or Vishwakarma community, consisting of goldsmiths, bronzesmiths, blacksmiths, masons & carpenters, were essential to building of temples. They played an important role in construction of palaces, big buildings, tanks & reservoirs.

The changing fortunes of towns
• Some towns like Ahmedabad (Gujarat) went on to become major commercial cities, but others like Thanjavur and Murshidabad shrank in size and importance over centuries and declined in course of century as weavers faced competition from cheap mill-made cloth from England.

A Closer Look: Hampi, Masulipatnam and Surat
• Hampi is located in Krishna-Tungabhadra basin, which formed nucleus of Vijayanagara Empire, founded in 1336. No mortar or cementing agent was used in construction of these walls and technique followed was to wedge them together by interlocking.
• The architecture of Hampi was distinctive. The buildings in royal complex had splendid arches, domes & pillared halls with niches for holding sculptures. They had well-planned orchards and pleasure gardens with sculptural motifs such as lotus and corbels.
• Temples were hub of cultural activities and devadasis (temple dancers) performed before deity, royalty & masses in many-pillared halls in Virupaksha (a form of Shiva) temple. The Mahanavami festival, known today as Navaratri in south, was one of most important festivals celebrated at Hampi.
• During their rule, Vijaynagara rulers took keen interest in building tanks and canals. The Anantraj Sagar Tank was built with a 1.37 km long earthern dam across Maldevi river. Krishnadeva Raya built a huge stone embankment between two hills to create a massive lake near Vijayanagara, from which water was carried through aqueducts and channels to irrigate fields and gardens.
• Hampi fell into ruin following defeat of Vijayanagara in 1565 by Deccani Sultans – rulers of Golconda, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Berar & Bidar.

A Gateway to West: Surat
• Surat in Gujarat was emporium of western trade during Mughal period along with Cambay (present day Khambat) and somewhat later, Ahmedabad. Surat was gateway for trade with West Asia via Gulf of Ormuz. Surat has been known as gate to Mecca because many pilgrim ships set sail from here.
• The city was cosmopolitan and people of all castes and creeds lived there. In seventeenth century Portuguese, Dutch & English had their factories and warehouses at Surat. According to English chronicler Ovington who wrote an account of port in 1689, on average a hundred ships of different countries could be found anchored at port at any given time.
• The textiles of Surat were famous for their gold lace borders (zari) and had a market in West Asia, Africa & Europe. The state built numerous rest-houses to take care of needs of people from all over world who came to city.
• The Kathiawad seths or mahajans (moneychangers) had huge banking houses at Surat. It is noteworthy that Surat hundis were honoured in far-off markets of Cairo in Egypt, Basra in Iraq and Antwerp in Belgium.
• Surat began to decline towards end of seventeenth century. This was because of many factors: loss of markets and productivity because of decline of Mughal Empire, control of sea routes by Portuguese and competition from Bombay (present-day Mumbai) where English East India Company shifted its headquarters in 1668.

Fishing in Troubled Waters: Masulipatnam
• The town of Masulipatnam or Machlipatnam (literally, fish port town) lay on delta of Krishna river. In seventeenth century it was a centre of intense activity.
• Both Dutch and English East India Companies attempted to control Masulipatnam as it became most important port on Andhra coast. The fort at Masulipatnam was built by Dutch.
• Fierce competition among various trading groups – Golconda nobles, Persian merchants, Telugu Komati Chettis and European traders – made city populous and prosperous.
• As Mughals began to extend their power to Golconda their representative, governor Mir Jumla who was a merchant, began to play off Dutch and English against each other. In 1686- 1687 Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb annexed Golconda.
• Then Company traders moved to Bombay, Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) and Madras (presentday Chennai), Masulipatnam lost both its merchants and prosperity and declined in course of eighteenth century, being today nothing more than a dilapidated little town.

New Towns and Traders
• The English, Dutch & French formed East India Companies in order to expand their commercial activities in east. Initially great Indian traders like Mulla Abdul Ghafur and Virji Vora who owned a large number of ships competed with them.
• However, European Companies used their naval power to gain control of sea trade and forced Indian traders to work as their agents. Ultimately, English emerged as most successful commercial and political power in subcontinent.
• The eighteenth century saw rise of Bombay, Calcutta & Madras, which are nodal cities today. Crafts and commerce underwent major changes as merchants and artisans (such as weavers) were moved into Black Towns established by European companies within these new cities.
• The ‘blacks’ or native traders and craftspersons were confined here while ‘white’ rulers occupied superior residencies of Fort St. George in Madras or Fort St. William in Calcutta.

Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus
• Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese sailor, sailed down African Coast, went round Cape of Good Hope and crossed over to Indian Ocean. His first journey took more than a year; he reached Calicut in 1498 and returned to Lisbon, capital of Portugal, following year.
• He lost two of his four ships and of 170 men at start of journey, only 54 survived. In spite of obvious hazards, routes that were opened up proved to be extremely profitable – and he was followed by English, Dutch & French sailors.
• The search for sea routes to India had another, unexpected fallout. On assumption that earth was round, Christopher Columbus, an Italian, decided to sail westwards across Atlantic Ocean to find a route to India.
• He landed in West Indies (which got their name because of this confusion) in 1492. He was followed by sailors and conquerors from Spain and Portugal, who occupied large parts of Central and South America, often destroying earlier settlements in area.

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