Towns, Traders, Craftspersons

Learning Goals:

The town of Masulipatnam or Machlipatnam is located on the delta of the Krishna river. The literal meaning of Masulipatnam is fish port town. It was a centre of intense activity in the 17th century. Since it soon became the most important port of Andhra Pradesh, both the Dutch and the English East India Companies attempted to control it. The fort of Masulipatnam was built by the Dutch.


Royal monopolies were imposed by the Qutb Shahi rulers of Golconda on the sale of textiles, spices and other items. It was done to prevent the trade from passing completely into the hands of the various East India Companies. There was cut-throat competition among various trading groups – the Golconda nobles, Persian merchants, Telugu Komati Chettis and the European traders. This competition made the city populous and prosperous.

As the Mughals started extending their control on Golconda, the governor of Golconda, Mir Jumla began to play off the Dutch and the English against each other. Mir Juma was a representative of the Mughals and also a merchant. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb annexed Golconda in 1686-87.

Decline of Masulipatnam

The Mughal occupation of Masulipatnam forced the European Companies to look for alternatives. A new policy of the East India Company said that it was not enough if a port had connections with the production centres of the hinterland. It was felt that the new Company trade centres should combine political, administrative and commercial roles. Masulipatnam lost both its merchants and prosperity and declined in the course of the 18th century as the Company traders moved to Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Today it is nothing more than a dilapidated little town.

New towns and traders

European countries were searching for spices and textiles which had gained popularity in Europe and West Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries. East India Companies were formed by the English, Dutch and French in order to expand their commercial activities in the east. They faced thick competition from great Indian traders like Mulla Abdul Ghafur and Virji Vora who owned large number of ships. However with their naval power, the European Companies gained control over the sea trade and forced Indian traders to work as agents. Thus, the English ultimately emerged as the most successful commercial and political power in the subcontinent.

The increase in the demand for goods like textiles led to a great expansion of the crafts of spinning, weaving, bleaching, dyeing etc. There was increased refinement in Indian textile designs.

Impact of the Europeans: There was a decline in the independence of the craftspersons. They began working on a system of advances. Under this system; they had to weave cloth that was already promised to European agents. They did not have the liberty to sell their own cloth or weave their own patterns. They were forced to reproduce the designs supplied by the Company agents.

Scenario in the eighteenth century: Bombay, Calcutta and Madras emerged as important cities during the 18th century. Merchants and artisans were moved into the Black Towns (established by the European companies) in these new cities. This resulted in major changes in crafts and commerce. The ‘white’ rulers lived in the superior residences of Fort St George in Madras or Fort St William in Calcutta.

European Sailors

The European sailors undertook unprecedented explorations of sea routes during the fifteenth century. Their main goal was to find ways of reaching the Indian subcontinent to obtain spices. Some such European sailors were:

Vasco da Gama: He was a Portuguese sailor. His first journey took more than a year. In 1498 he reached Calicut and returned to Lisbon the following year. In spite of losing ships and men during his journey, the routes that were opened up proved to be very highly profitable. The English, Dutch and French sailors followed suit.

Christopher Columnbus: He was an Italian who decided to sail westwards across the Atlantic Ocean to find a route to India (on the assumption that the earth was round). He landed in the West Indies in 1492. Sailors of Spain and Portugal followed him and occupied large parts of Central and South America, often destroying earlier settlements in the area.


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