Economy

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The village during the Sultanate period remained as in the ancient period a self-contained unit of economic life. The cities flourished under the Sultans. The testimony of Ibn Battuta who visited the subcontinent in the first half of the fourteenth century shows that there were rich sea ports in Gujrat, Deccan and Bengal. There were also flourishing cities all over the subcontinent.

Agriculture: Throughout the sultanate period agriculture was in a prosperous condition. All the foreign travelers who visited the subcontinent during the period speak highly of the fertility of the soil which made it possible for the cultivators to grow two crops every year. Among grains and fruits wheat, barley, millet, peas, lentils, mangoes, jackfruits, black-berries, oranges, coconuts and bananas are mentionable. Malabar was noted for its spices, such as ginger and pepper. In Bengal Ibn Battuta passed through orchards which were similar to those along the banks of the Nile. Among the products of Bengal he mentions rice, millets, beans, ginger, mustard, onion, garlic, cucumber, egg-plant, coconut, betel nut, banana, jackfruit, pomegranate, sugarcane, and honey. There was also abundance of buffaloes, cows, sheep and domestic fowls.

Industries: The subcontinent was famous for various industries among which metal-work, sugar, indigo and paper were famous. The textile industry was the most flourishing as it is today although the variety of cloth was originally limited. Gujrat, Cambay, Malabar and Calicut were famous for their silk and cotton textiles which were exported to the Red Sea ports and Western Europe. Bengal was also famous for the volume and variety of fine textiles. Other factories included metal work industries and ivory products, etc. There were also several metal-work industries like sword-making and the manufacture of basins, cups, steel guns, knives and scissors.

Trade: The subcontinent had a long tradition of inland and foreign trade which was further developed after the arrival of the Muslims. The trading classes were Muslim in the north and banias of Gujrat. Foreign Muslim merchants called as Khurasanis also played an important role in handling the trade. Between the producers and traders there was a clan of brokers. There were also money-lenders and bankers known as mahajans who lent out money on interest. The imports consisted mainly of articles of luxury for the upper classes and supply of horses and mules. The exports on the other hand included numerous articles and commodities such as food, grains and clothes. Among agricultural products wheat, millet, rice, lentils, scents and medicinal herbs were exported in large quantities. From Bengal cotton and sugar were exported. Textiles both silk and cotton were important items of export.

Trade Relations: The area which depended most on supplies from the subcontinent included the islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Malayan islands and the east coast of Africa. Commodities from the subcontinent also reached European markets. The Arabs carried these articles to the Red Sea and thence to Damascus and Alexandria from where these were marketed in the Middle Eastern countries and Europe.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 03, 2005