(Last Updated on : 03/11/2010)
Indian trade is closely related to the international income of the nation. From ancient times till the establishment of the British Empire, India was famed for her fabulous wealth. Even during the medieval period, i.e. roughly from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the country was prosperous despite the frequent political disturbances. A notable feature of Indian trade was the growth of towns in various parts of the country. This development was the result of the political and economic policies followed by the Muslim rulers. These towns entered Indian trade and industrial centers, which in turn led to the general prosperity.
During the Sultanate period, from the early 13th to the early 16th centuries, the economy of the towns flourished because of Indian trade. This was due to the establishment of a sound currency system based on the silver tanka and the copper dirham. Ibn Batuta the 14th century Moorish traveler visited India during the Sultanate period. He had described the teeming markets of the big cities in the Gangetic plains, Malwa, Gujarat and Southern India. The important centers of Indian trade and industry were Delhi, Lahore, Bombay, Ahmedabad, Sonargaon and Jaunpur. Coastal towns also developed into flourishing industrial centers with huge populations.
During the two hundred years of Mughal rule, from the 16th to the 18th centuries the Indian trade received a further impetus. The Mughal era witnessed the establishment of a stable center and a uniform provincial government. During this age of relative peace and security, trade and commerce flourished. The burgeoning foreign trade led to the development of market places not only in the towns but also in the villages. The production of handicrafts increased in order to keep up with the demand for them in foreign countries.
The prime urban centers of Indian trade during the Mughal era were Agra, Delhi, Multan, Lahore, Thatta and Srinagar in the north. The important cities in the west were Ahmedabad, Bombay (then known as Khambat), Surat, Ujjain and Patan (in Gujarat). The flourishing trade centers in the eastern part of the country were Dacca, Patna, Hoogli, Chitgaon and Murshidabad. The accounts of Indian trade contain descriptions of the wide variety of exquisite goods sold in the markets of those days. India was known widely for its textiles, which formed one of the chief items of export.
Hardwood furniture, embellished with inlay work is forever a popular item in Indian trade. The furniture is modelled on the European design but the expensive carvings and inlays are inspired by the elaborate Mughal style. The Indian artistry is one of the most eye-catching features in Indian trade. Indian arts and crafts have been patronised by Indian rulers. They were unmatched for their beauty and skill, were popular in the European countries, and still have its impact on Indian trade.
Indian trade at domestic level started in medieval India. Ibn Batuta had described Delhi as a major trade center in those days. The most superior quality rice and sugar from Kannauj, wheat from Punjab and betel leaves from Dhar in Madhya Pradesh found their way to the markets of Delhi. Well-maintained roads connecting various parts of the country facilitated domestic trade.
In the present day, Indian trade has reached its zenith with almost all the countries of the world and in regards to domestic trade as well. Different communities dominated Indian trade in various parts of the country. Multani and Punjabi merchants control the business in the north, while in Gujarat and Rajasthan it was in the hands of the Bhats. Foreign traders from Central Asia, known as Khorasanis engaged in this profession all over India. The Indian trade scenario has far exceeded her imports both in the number of items as well as in volume. Thus India had always enjoyed a favourable balance in her trade relations with other countries. Her earnings from the export of textiles, sugar, spices and indigo alone went up to crores of rupees.