Trade between India and South-east Asia in the Early Modern Period

India had tradionally played a central role in the structure of the Indian Ocean trade in the early modern period. In part, this indeed was a function of the midway location of the subcontinent between west Asia on the one hand and southeast and east Asia on the other. But perhaps even more important was the subcontinent’s capacity to put on the market a wide range of tradable goods at highly competitive prices. These included agricultural goods, both food items such as rice, sugar and oil as well as raw materials such as cotton and indigo. While the bulk of the trade in these goods was coastal, the high-seas trade component was by no means insignificant. The real strength of the subcontinent, however, lay in the provision of large quantities of manufactured goods, the most important amongst which was textiles of various kinds. While these included high value varieties such as the legendary Dhaka muslins and the Gujarat silk embroideries, the really important component for the Asian market was the coarse cotton varieties manufactures primarily on the Coromandel coast and in Gujarat. There was a large scale demand for these varieties both in the eastern markets of Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand and Burma as well as in the markets of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and East Africa. While it is impossible to determine precisely what proportion of total domestic demand for mass consumption textiles in these societies was met by imports from India, the available evidence would seem to point in the direction of this not being altogether insignificant. India’s capacity to manufacture these textiles in large quantities and to put them on the market at highly competitive terms made it in some sense the ‘industrial’ hub of the region surrounded by west Asia on one side and southeast Asia on the other. This paper will deal in some detail with some aspects of the trade between India and southeast Asia in the early modern period.


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Presented by Professor Om Prakash
Om Prakash
( [email protected]) currently Editorial Fellow, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New Delhi, gained a BA in Economics at the University of Delhi, an MA in Economics at the Delhi School of Economics and a Ph.D. in Economic History at the Delhi School of Economics. He has since held a number of prestigious positions including most recently at the Delhi School of Economics: Head of the Department of Economics (1989-92), Director (2001-2) and Professor of Economic History. An internationally renowned scholar, Professor Prakash is an elected Member of the Executive Committee, International Economic History Association (2002-2009). He has been a permanent Foreign Fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands since 2000 and a permanent Foreign Member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Haarlem, The Netherlands since 1992. He was Associate Editor of the Indian Economic and Social History Review from 1965 to 1996.

Moderated by Sunil Amrith
Sunil Amrith is Senior Lecturer in History at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he has taught since 2006. His research focuses on the history of Asian migration, particularly in the Bay of Bengal region. He is the author of Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and of the forthcoming Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants (Harvard University Press, 2013). His work has appeared in a number of journals, including the American Historical Review, Past and Present, and Economic and Political Weekly. His earlier work was on the international history of public health: his first book was Decolonizing International Health: India and Southeast Asia, 1930-65 (Palgrave, 2006). Sunil was brought up in Singapore, and received his undergraduate and post-graduate education at the University of Cambridge.