Chapter 9. Traders, Kings & Pilgrims

About Trade and Traders
• Traders travel from place to place and carry goods such as pottery, gold, pepper, etc. with them to trade. Traders used to carry these goods to Rome in ships, across sea and by land in caravans.
• Pepper was particularly valued in Roman Empire, it was called black gold in Rome. There must have been quite a lot of trade as many Roman gold coins have been found in south India.
• Traders explored several sea routes, some of them in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, where sailors took advantage of monsoon winds to cross seas more quickly.

New kingdoms along coasts
• The southern half of subcontinent is marked by a long coastline and with hills, plateaus & river valleys. Amongst river valleys, that of Kaveri is most fertile.
• Chiefs and kings who controlled river valleys and coasts became rich and powerful.
• In Sangam poems ‘muvendar’, means three chiefs, used for heads of three ruling families, Cholas, Cheras & Pandyas, who became powerful in south India around 2300 years ago.
• Each of three chiefs had two centres of power: one inland and one on coast. Kaveripattinam, port of Cholas and Madurai, capital of Pandyas were most important centres.
• The chiefs received gifts from people in form of taxes and went on military expeditions. The chief’s wealth was distributed among his family, followers, poets & soldiers.
• 200 years later Satavahanas dynasty became powerful in western India, Gautamiputra Shri Satakarni was most powerful ruler of Satavahanas. He took this name after his mother, Gautmi Balashri and it is through her writings that we come to know of him from.
Dakshinapatha: The Satavahanas were called lords of Dakshinapatha. The term Dakshinapatha literally means ‘route leading to south’.

The story of Silk Route
• Silk is a rich, glossy, smooth & highly valued fabric. Raw silk has to be extracted from cocoons of silkworms, spun into thread and then woven into cloth.
• Techniques of making silk were first invented in China around 7000 years ago. Traders from China travel from a distant place to sell silk. The paths they followed came to be called Silk Route.
• Chinese rulers used to send gifts of silk to rulers in Iran and West Asia and from there, knowledge of silk spread further west. Around 2000 years ago, wearing silk became fashion in rich people.
• Silk route was controlled by some kings, they collected taxes from traders and in return protected them from robbers.
• Kushanas ruled over central Asia and northwest India around 2000 years ago. They were best known who controlling Silk Route.
• Their two major centres of power were Peshawar and Mathura. Taxila was included in their kingdom. They extended Silk Route from Central Asia down to seaports at mouth of river Indus, from where silk was shipped westwards to Roman Empire.
• The Kushanas were amongst earliest rulers of subcontinent to issue gold coins. These were used by traders along Silk Route.

The spread of Buddhism
• The most famous Kushana ruler was Kanishka, who ruled around 1900 years ago. He organised a Buddhist council, where scholars met and discussed important matters.
• The Buddhacharita, a biography of Buddha, was written by Ashvaghosha, he was a court poet of Kanishka. Ashvaghosha and other Buddhist scholars now began writing in Sanskrit.
Mahayana Buddhism: A new form of Buddhism, developed, which had two distinct features. Earlier, Buddha’s presence was shown in sculpture by using certain signs. For instance, his attainment of enlightenment was shown by sculptures of peepal tree. Later, statues of Buddha were made in Mathura and in Taxila.
Boddhisatva: They were supposed to be persons who had attained enlightenment and after attaining enlightenment, they could live in complete isolation and meditate in peace. But they remained in world to teach and help other people. The worship of Bodhisattvas became very popular and spread throughout Central Asia, China & later to Korea and Japan.
• Buddhism spread to western and southern India, where dozens of caves were hollowed out of hills for monks to live in. Some of these caves were made on orders of kings and queens and were often located near passes through Western Ghats.
Theravada Buddhism: Buddhism spread southeastwards, to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand & other parts of Southeast Asia including Indonesia. The older form of Buddhism, called Theravada Buddhism was more popular in these areas.
• The main difference between Mahayana and Theravada is that Mahayana refers to various Buddhist traditions, texts, practices & philosophies while Theravada refers to oldest existing school of Buddhism.

The Quest of Pilgrims
• Pilgrims are men and women who travel to holy places to offer worship to their deities. They generally travel with traders.
• Various pilgrims came to subcontinent from China such as Fa Xian, Xuan Zang & I-Qing, they came to visit places associated with life of Buddha.
• Pilgrims left behind a narrative of their journey that included dangers, adventures and stories about countries and monasteries they visited.
• Xuan Zang took land route back to China carried back with him statues of Buddha made of gold, silver & sandalwood and over 600 manuscripts loaded on backs of 20 horses. He spent rest of his life translating remaining manuscripts from Sanskrit into Chinese.

Nalanda – A unique centre of Buddhist learning
• Nalanda was most famous Buddhist monastery of that period. It is located in Rajgir in state of Bihar, India. Xuan Zang and other pilgrims spent time studying in Nalanda.

The Beginning of Bhakti
• Bhakti means a person’s devotion to his or her chosen deity. During that time, worship of certain deities Siva, Vishnu & goddesses such as Durga, gained importance in Hinduism. Anybody, whether rich or poor, belonging to so-called ‘high’ or ‘low’ castes, man or woman, could follow path of Bhakti.
• The idea of Bhakti is present in Bhagavad Gita. In this Krishna God, asked Arjuna, his devotee and friend, to abandon all dharmas and take refuge in him, as only he can set Arjuna free from every evil. This form of worship widely spread to different parts of country.
• According to this system of belief, if a devotee worships chosen deity with a pure heart, deity will appear in form in which he or she may desire. It could be thought of as a human being, lion, tree or any other form.
Hindu: The word ‘Hindu’, like term ‘India’ is derived from river Indus. It was used by Arabs and Iranians to refer to people who lived to east of river and to their cultural practices, including religious beliefs.
Jesus Christ: About 2000 years ago, Christianity emerged in West Asia. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which was then part of Roman Empire. He was Saviour of world. He taught people to treat others with love and trust others, just as they themselves wanted to be treated.

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