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Retail on wheels, a 1000 year old story (part 2)

Trade during the Vedic times
In vedic times this was fuelled by the Makers Of India. When urban culture flourished in cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro, India had established trade and commercial relations with Sumer, Egypt and Crete. Lothal in Gujarat was one of the biggest port towns of that period with a huge dockyard constructed out of brick. In the Old Testaments, we have reference to trade between India and Syrian coast dating back to 1400 B.C. According to the chronicles of the Jews, during the reign of King Solomon (c.800.B.C.), a navy equipped by Hiram, King of Tyre, undertook a triennial voyage to the eastern countries and brought back with it gold, silver, ivory, apes, peacocks, Almug trees, jewels and precious stones. Ophir was the port at which they loaded these goods in the ships and this Ophir have been identified with the port Abhir or Sopara on the western coast of India by scholars.

From 1st century A.D. commodities greatly in demand in Roman world from India were spices and perfumes, precious stones such beryl and silks, muslins and cotton. All these commodities were paid for in gold and silver by the Roman traders. Pliny in 77 A.D. lamented the wasteful expenditure on perfumes and personal ornaments which drained the Roman Empire, hundred million Sesterce a year. From Rome came gold, wine and perhaps Roman soldiers and women whose services were needed in the courts of South Indian kings. Indian items were sold 100 times their original price. After the accession of Augustus four embassies from India visited him. Roman coins of Augustus and Tiberius era are found in the Hazara district of Punjab and Coimbatore and Madura district of Tamilnadu. To guide ships to ports lighthouses were built. One such light house existed at the mouth of river Kaveri, built either of brick and mortar or a big Palmyra trunk carrying on the top of it a huge oil lamp.

Retail in the Mauryan age
During the Mauryan reign manufacturing activity was abuzz and Greek writers refer to the manufacture of chariots, wagons, arms and agricultural implements and building of ships. Strabo mentions richly embroidered dresses in gold duly adorned with precious stones and also flowered robes made of fine muslin. The fact that one committee of the municipal board of Patliputra was entrusted with the supervision of manufactured articles in the metropolis indicates the existence of good manufacturing industries in the Mauryan period.

There were considerable number of foreign residents in Patliputra and they were in all probability were traders. Sweet fine wines, pigments, glass-vessels, costly vessels of silver, singing boys and beautiful maidens for the harem and choicest ointment were some of the articles imported in India while India exported fine silks, muslin, spices, perfumes, medicinal herbs, indigo, sandalwood, pearls, ivory, iron, steel, etc.

Gupta and later period retail
While the Mauryans carried on their trade mainly with the east through the Kalinga ports, the Guptas not only increased their eastern trade effectively but opened up the western sea-borne trade and this led to unprecedented economic prosperity. In Bengal, Tamralipti was the principal port, while in Tamilnadu, Kaveripattanam and Tondai were the principal ports. In the Malbar coast Kottayam and Muziris (modern Crangnore) were the main ports through which brisk trade was carried with the Eastern Archipelago and China. The acquisition of the maritime province of Saurashtra by Chandragupta II opened up the western trade and the wealth of the Roman Empire began to pour in India through the ports of western coast like Broach, Sopara, Cambay and Kalyan. The Arabs used to visit the west coast to purchase goods like teak, drugs, perfumes, shoes, black salt, spices, indigo, textiles, muslin, etc., and Indian commodities were very popular in Arabian countries. Many of these Arabs settled in the west coast and the Hindu rulers allowed them to practice their religion and even proselytize. Ships from China, Sindh and the Persian Gulf used to anchor at Broach and merchandise from every country was found there and was sent from there to other countries.

In the 15th century Calicut became one of the busiest ports in the west coast and merchants from South Africa, Abyssinia, and Arabia brought their merchandise to this port for distribution in India. Many ships from Pegu and Malacca on their way to Red Sea halted at Calicut and carried Indian goods for distribution to various directions. The Arabs who till then had monopolized India’s overseas trade had to make way for the Portuguese. Some of the items exported were cloths, rice, iron, saltpeter, sugar and spices while pearls, copper, coral, mercury, vermilion, elephants and horses were imported.

Source: Ithihas

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