Wednesday, October 7, 2015


-- K R A Narasiah
With A System Of Merchant Guilds, Levies, Tamil Traders Did Roaring Business With Rome, Far East
N umismatic evidence shows that Roman-Tamil trade in ancient times thrived for centu ries without break, though now and then there was slackness. An important point is that intermodal transportation was well known then. Cargo came to the Indian west coast, moved to east coast by land and river, and left through the eastern ports. After emperor Nero's passing away in Rome there was a lull in sea trade, which recovered later though the currency changed from gold to silver and copper coins.History has it that Karur was at various times under Chera, Chola or Pandyas. But trade in the river port flourished irrespective of who ruled.Epigraphical, literary and numismatic evidence show that Karur was an emporium of trade. Ptolemy mentions it as early as 2nd century .
Apart from a strong merchant fleet and a sailing community, ancient Tamils had supporting organizations called by various names -largely independent of whoever was ruling at that point of time -but controlling the trade in an efficient manner.
The ruler of the day did not interfere with the trading communities.Merchant guilds known by various names such as “Anjuvannam“, “AinnuRRuvar“, “Manigramam“ and “Padinenvishayam“ had well established trade practices. They had their own methods of collecting levies for cargo imported and exported along with fees for port security and efficient cargo handling.
These traders created an atmosphere of goodwill among the local population by constructing water tanks and places of worship -a corporate social responsibility initiative of those days. This ensured that trade was smooth in spite of changing regimes. The rulers, however, did ensure safe transit of ships and provided various supporting facilities, in addition to collecting custom duties for imported articles.The classic case is that of Rajendra Chola who with one of the best known navies of the world ensured that traders were well protected and ensured easy passage for them.
According to well-known historians Noboru Karashima and Y Subbarayulu, Padinenvishayam was an organization of high order, which controlled other guilds such as Manigramam, Senamugam etc. These names have been found in various countries with whom the merchants of the Chola period carried on trade.
Padinenvishayam means eighteen countries. In a gloss on grammar treatise “Nannul“, Mayilainathar names the eighteen countries. Guilds must have operated as an organized network between various countries for good logistics support.
The craftsmen who went out in the ships to countries in the far east continued their profession there supported by the merchant guilds. A 3rd or 4th century inscription that says “Perumpatan Kal“ in Brahmi script, meaning “the touchstone of the chief goldsmith“, has been preserved in a Thailand museum. A tank was constructed and put under the protection of a merchant guild -Manigramam.
Karashima has observed two more Tamil inscriptions now kept in a Bud dhist temple and says one of them mentions the name of a donor “Dhanmasenapathi“ who made a grant to brahmins. In Pagan (Myanmar), a 13th century inscription shows a Vaishnavite mantra and also says that a hall was built by “Irayiran Kulasekhara Nambi“.
But the most amazing inscription is the one recorded by T N Subramaniam. This was from Quanzhou, a medieval port of south China. The text reveals that one Champanda Perumal, also known as Thava-Chakravarthigal, having got a grant of land from the then King Khan, built a temple there and called it ThiruKhaneeswaram after the Khan.
An inscription found in the Vishnu temple of Ponneri states that to make Mylapore a protected harbor levy was laid on goods imported and exported. A voluntary levy of the trade guilds was denoted by the term “Pattinapakudi“. Pakudi is a share for the betterment of the “pattinam“ (a port) given by the trade guilds.
(The author is a former marine chief engineer, Tamil writer and heritage enthusiast)

Source: Times of India  - 


Mr. K R A Narasiah

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