Retail on wheels, a 1000 year old story (part 1)

Since mankind started to organise itself into tribes and started co-dwelling, we started what could be called the first retail format or bartering. The first retail shops were probably in people’s homes, imagine the convenience of stepping out and the entire store is there?

Hungry Wheels aims to bring the same unimaginable convenience to you, by bringing restaurants and retail experiences to your doorstep.

But before that, we would like to share with you the story of … trade and commerce in ancient India.


The Seleucid and the Ptolemaic dynasties controlled trade networks to India before the establishment of Roman Egypt. Kingdom of Ptolemy (purple) Kingdom of Seleucus (yellow)  (Map)

During ancient times Hindus were the masters of the seaborne trade of Europe, Asia and Africa. Till about the beginning of the 18th century almost every nation on earth obtained to a large extent its supplies of fine cotton and silk fabric, spices, indigo, sugar, drugs, precious stones and many curious works of art from India in exchange of gold and silver. This traditional prosperity of India began to vanish only at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the west.

In industrial production ancient India was far ahead in comparison with other countries of those times. According to Prof. Weber the skill of the Indians in the production of delicate woven fabrics, in the mixing of colours, the working of metals and precious stones, the preparation of essences and in all manner of technical art, has from early times enjoyed a world-wide celebrity. For instance surgical instruments of great delicacy and accuracy were manufactured in India and it was from Indians that the art of tempering steel was learnt by other people. Factors favouring India to emerge as the number one country in trade, commerce and manufacturing activities were-

  • The Hindu mercantile community was very enterprising and known for their entrepreneurship, trustworthiness and resilience.
  • Indian goods were known for its excellence. The skilled artisans of India manufactured varieties of goods which people in other parts of the world could not find elsewhere.
  • In the art of building ocean going huge ships ancient Hindus were far ahead of others. With the knowledge of sea routes, monsoon winds and other navigational aspects they were able to sail to distant corners of the earth with their goods.
  • Fairs were an important means for commercial activities and were held in every part of the country. Huge number of people assembled at these fairs for the purpose of exchanging merchandise as well as discussing religious and national topic.
  • The peace and prosperity that prevailed in the country gave a great impetus to inter-provincial and inter-state trade.

To facilitate trade and commerce royal roads were constructed all over the country from east to west and from north to south. These roads were provided with mile stones (a British word) and planted with trees. The river Ganga and its tributary were used for carrying goods. During the Mauryan times the Great Royal Highway more than 1600 kilometers in length connected the capital Patliputra with Taxila and the North-West Frontier. Another long road of great commercial importance ran through Kasi and Ujjain and linked the capital with the great sea-ports of Western India. Yet another road linked the capital with the port of Tamralipti. It was through this principal port in Bengal that India carried extensive trade with China, Ceylon, Java and Sumatra. Some of the important towns of trade were Arikamedu, Kaveripattanam, Madurai, Cranganore, Nagapattanam, Mahabalipuram, Calicut, Cochin, Mangalore, Tamralipti, Pataliputra, Vidisha, Ujjaini, Kausambi, Mathura, Taxila, Aihole, Paithan, Surat, Lothal, Sopara, Broach, Kalyan, etc.

Currency in Vogue
During the early period (Vedic age) the currency in circulation was a gold coin called Nishka. Its weight was 32 ratis, i.e. one third of a tola. Later we have reference to another gold coin, Suvarna equal to 80 ratis. There was also a silver Purana of 32 ratis. Karshapana mentioned by Panini was the name of a coin which was minted in gold, silver and copper and weighed 80 ratis. During the Mauryan period we come across punch marked coins. These coins were small pieces of flat silver and copper which were punched with symbols. The superintendent of the mint was known as Laksanadhyaksha and an officer known as Rupadarsaka used to check the coins so minted for purity and weight. In South India we come across gold coins like Varaha circulated during the Badami Chalukyan period, Kasu circulated during the Chola rule and Pagoda of the Vijayanagar period. The weights of the coins were based on the system laid down in Manu Samhita and its unit was the rati or gunja berry weighing approximately 1.83 grains or .118 grams.

Then, as communities grew and human settlements became large and across continents demand and supply increased. By then ships started taking products across seas, wheels took them to the last mile customers, and customers took a short walk to the ancient markets.

Mobility has been an integral part of convenience, retail and consumerism.

Trade during the Vedic times: (Continued in part 2 of this article

Source: Ithihas

Vikram Sood

Mobility architect, system designer, and ecosystem builder
Since 2012, he has developed various scalable vehicle platforms and solutions for retail, logistics, and defense. As a possibilist, futurist, and innovator, Vikram’s designs have powered the success of Food POD mobile kitchens at ITC, TAJ Hotels, Qmin, Manipal Group, and more.

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