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History of Crafts, Manufacturing and Trade in the Indian Subcontinent


Several sources point to a thriving system of international trade that linked the ports of Southern India with those of Ancient Rome. The  Roman writer Pliny (AD 23-79) complained of the cost of these and other luxury commodities that were imported from India. "Not a year passed in which India did not take fifty million sesterces away from Rome", wrote Pliny. Textiles comprised an important component of India's exports, and archaeological evidence from Mohenjo-Daro, establishes that the complex technology of mordant dyeing had been known in the subcontinent from at least the  second millennium B C. The use of printing blocks in India may go as far back as 3000 B.C, and some historians are of the view that India may have been the original home of textile printing. Marco Polo recorded the exports of Indian textiles to China and South East Asia from the Masulipattinam (Andhra) and Coromandel (Tamil) coasts in the "largest ships" then known.  There are also extensive records of textile exports from various Indian ports to the Europe and the Arab world. According to texts dating from the Buddhist era, woolen carpets were known in India as early as 500 B.C., however, Indian carpets of the Mughal period have been slowly gaining recognition  as the most technically accomplished classical carpets of all times. Indian courts of the medieval era were especially renowned for their patronage of workshops that produced exquisite artifacts such as fine jewelry, carved rock crystals, colored glass-wares, papier mache and decorative pottery. Indians metallurgical skills were particularly advanced  leading Thomas Holland, (chairman of the Indian Industrial Commission of 1916-18) to remark: "The high quality of the native made iron, the early anticipation of the process now employed in Europe for the manufacture of high-class steels, and the artistic products in copper and bronze gave India a prominent position in the metallurgical world." India also seems to have been the first country of the Indian Ocean to possess a real Navy. However, protectionist barriers in Europe, European monopolization of India's external trade, unfair trade practices, and the subsequent colonization led to a precipitous decline in both trade and manufacturing after the 18th century. 


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Last update: Feb 11, 2002