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Maritime India (Trade, Religion and Polity in The Indian Ocean)

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Item Code: NAM109
Author: Pius Malekandathil
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9789380607832
Pages: 247
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 400 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This volume discusses the various socio-economic and political processes that evolved over centuries in the vast coastal fringes of India and out of the circuits of the Indian Ocean, ultimately giving the littoral zones the distinctive consciousness and identity of Maritime India.

This book dwells upon a wide range of issues, including the nature of maritime trade of the Sassanids with India; the impact of maritime trade on the political processes of Goa; the social processes linked with the settlements of foreign merchant groups in India; the nature of the Portuguese expansion in coastal India; and the nuances of political assertions over maritime centres of exchange and their hinterlands. The work also discusses in some detail the repercussions of the Ottoman expansion into the Indian Ocean, the impact of Portuguese commercial expansion on the traditional Muslim merchants of Kerala, the changing methods of information-networking between coastal India and the Mediterranean, the burgeoning of Portuguese power units in Bengal, and the role of private traders in the structure and the functioning of Estado da India.

These painstakingly researched and immensely erudite essays that make up the volume are essebtial reading for scholars and students for an understanding of Indian history in general and its maritime history in particular.


About the Author

Dr Pius Malekandathil is currently Associate Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Earlier, he was Reader in History at Goa University (2000-3) and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit at Kalady, kerala (2003-6). A recipient of fellowships from Instituto Camoes, Lisboa (1992-3), Comissao Nacional para as Comemoracoes dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Lisboa (1993-6) for doctoral research and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdients, Germany (1996-8) for post-doctoral research at the South Asian Institute of Heidelberg University, Dr Malekandathil has published numerous papers in national and international journals.

Some of Dr Pius Malekandathil’s Publications are: The Germans, the Portuguese and India (1999); Portuguese Cocbin and the Maritime Trade of India, 1500-1663 (2001); Jornada of D. Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar (2003); The Portuguese, Indian Ocean and European Bridgebead: Festschrift in Honour of Prof. K.S. Mathew jointly edited with T. Jamal Mohammed (2001); The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India: 1500-1800 jointly edited with K.S. Mathew and Teotonio R. De Souza (2001); The kerala Economy and European Trade jointly edited with K.S. Mathew (2003); Goa in the Twentieth Century: History and Culture jointly edited with Remy Dias (2008).



It is an honour for me to write a short foreword to introduce Pius Malekandathil’s collection of essays. Some of these are already published, but often in relatively obscure journals. They will be made more accessible by being presented in book form. This collection has a strong thematic unity, for all of the essays deal with the role of people and goods and ideas coming via the sea, and their influence on India. As he says in the Introduction, ‘it is a study of the impact that the circuits in the Indian Ocean exerted on the socioeconomic and political processes of India'. The author uses sources in many languages, and shows familiarity with broader historiographical trends.

Many readers will know of Malekandathil’s previous work. I would single out especially his book on Cochin (Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India, 1500-1663, New Delhi, 2001), which is an exemplary study of a port city. It stands out amongst the burgeoning port city literature because it deals in great detail with the immediate interior of Cochin, rather than simply concentrating on the city itself and its export trade. The author drew on his own kerala heritage to use indigenous sources, especially those in Malayalam.

Malekandathil uses sources from most of the major European languages, but Portuguese ones are most often found. Many of these chapters deal, at least in part, with the Portuguese presence in India. He represents a new and moderate trend in studies of the Portuguese in India. There used to be a pronounced dichotomy. Some wrote of the valiant Portuguese bringing civilization to India, and dominating the trade of the Indian Ocean. Others took a contrary view, claiming the Portuguese had very little impact on the broad sweep of Indian history, or condemning them for introducing a new and extreme form of violence into what had been a peaceful trading world. Malekandathil takes a much more nuanced and sophisticated view, one which neither glorifies nor denigrates the Portuguese.

Historians are increasingly trying to bring the ocean into their studies of India and other Indian Ocean countries. It used to be thought that the sea had little influence on the broad sweep of the history of India. All of its conquerors, until the British, came overland from the north-west. Hindus, we were told, were discouraged from travelling over the Black Water by caste pollution notions. For Muslims, power consisted of control over land and people, not over the sea. But we now know that the sea in fact contributed much more to the history of India than these accounts would allow. For example, Hindus did travel by sea, and settle in many Indian Ocean port cities. Muslim rulers encouraged bullion imports.

One of the greatest events in the whole history of India was the flood of bullion which came from the Americas from the mid-sixteenth century. Most of this came by sea, and more of it came under local auspices via the Red Sea than in European ships around the Cape of Good Hope. Nor was the influx by sea new in the sixteenth century. Najaf Haider has shown how this trade commenced some centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. The present collection reinforces these trends by showing that Indian rulers in fact were well aware of the potentialities of fostering and taxing trade in their realms. Chapter 2 shows a Deccan ruler encouraging sea trade, while in Chapter 3 another local ruler the migration of trading groups to his area, in this case Christians. The same theme is to be found in Chapter 5.

Most of these essays are to do with early modern trade and commerce in south India. However, there are some other themes represented. Chapter 1 goes to an earlier period to discuss Sassanian trade with India. The conclusion is that it had an influence only on the coast. Chapter 3 apart from trade includes a fascinating study of St. Thomas Christians. This was a time before the arrival of intolerant Counter Reformation Catholicism. This is excellent social history, showing mutual accommodation, and synthesis, between these Christians and other religious communities in Kerala. Two other chapters provide interesting comparisons between the activities of the Portuguese, and first the Chinese, and second the Ottomans. It would be interesting to know whether the Portuguese learnt anything from the activities of their predecessors, the Chinese. It is claimed that the arrival of the Ottomans, a formidable force indeed, made the Portuguese become more militaristic, as seen in their erecting more forts and building more war ships. Chapter 8 concerns something very much on the scholarly agenda today, that is the flow of information. Malekandathil shows how Muslims, and the Portuguese, tried to get faster and more reliable communications between the Indian Ocean region and the Mediterranean, the objective being to gain economic and political advantages.

I hope these essays will be widely read and discussed. They represent the work of an historian who now is in mid career, with a substantial body of work to his credit. We can hope that he continues to publish work which expands our knowledge of the role of maritime matters in the broader history of India.



Maritime India is a collection of ten research articles written at different time points, but within the larger frame of defining and understanding the historical trajectories and trails of that part of India which was shaped by the circuits in the Indian Ocean. The commonality of all the essays in this volume is that they address the larger question as to whether it is the collectivity of water which encircles its territorial land limits, or certain values emerging from the circuits in the water space of the Indian Ocean that constitute the consciousness of Maritime India. The circulatory cycles of commodities, men and ideas through the diverse channels of the Indian Ocean form the major focal themes of analysis in this book as to find out these values and to understand the meanings of powers and social processes evolving out of them on the coastal fringes of the subcontinent.

There has been all through history two Indias, viz., the inland, or terrestrial India, and Maritime India, yet each mutually supplementing and complementing the other. Maritime (deriving from the Latin word mare=sea) India is the sea-oriented segment and it represents the long stretch of littoral India, which stands remarkably unique and different from its landlocked counterpart in its social, economic and political processes. During the early medieval and medieval periods, because of the frequent movement of commodities, people and ideas from abroad, Maritime India was exposed to changes, novelties and foreign elements of different nature and categories, which necessitated it to be relatively much more accommodative, liberal and tolerant in contrast to the Inland India which was increasingly turning out to be inward looking, conservative and socially rigid in the process of feudalization and authority-fragmentation. However this cannot be viewed as a watertight division as they were mutually supplementing and complimenting each other, and the dividing lines were often blurred and foggy, making a mixture of features appear at the intermediate realms.

Obviously ecology and geography of the sea played a vital role in shaping the ethos and mentality of people living on its fringes during medieval times. The fury of the sea, as well as the oddities and adversities waiting for them behind fatal waves and winds, were so common that these people had to discipline their wills and shape their behaviour in ways very different from those of agrarian space or of urban space, where things used to happen considerably on the basis of certain rhythms and patterns. The ecology of the sea used to be such that people bordering its rim were perennially invited to shape certain behavioural patterns while fighting against the fury of the sea to tap its vast resources and sustain their livelihood. In this process of tapping the resources of the sea, a typical professional culture linked with fishing, salt-panning or a sea-borne trade, a food culture with rich ingredients of sea species, a religious culture where the sea becomes the central component of devotional practices an d rituals, a social networking,where bonds established by collective sea-faring evolved over years, were made to become the basic features of the coastal societies of India, as in the case of any other country. One may call it features of coastal societies rather than constituents of the consciousness of Maritime India, for identifying which one has to look beyond the coastal fringes into the areas and zones shaped by the values supplied by maritime space.

The consciousness of Maritime India was shaped, at least during early medieval and medieval India, not only by the ecology and the geography of the coast alone, but also by the type of circuits and the value-condensed activities that the residents of a given geographical space resorted to using the channels or resources of its sea waters. It is quite natural that sea-oriented perceptions became integral to a society, if its sustenance had become impossible without depending on any of the sea-related activities like fishing, salt-panning, sea-borne trade, shipping and navigation. The more dependent a region on space and its resources for its survival is, the more intense maritime consciousness its residents would maintain. If the economy of a region, particularly its activities of production and distribution are conditioned by sea-borne trade, the region would have a great amount of maritime consciousness, even if it is physically and geographically relatively distanced away from the coast. Hence it is not the mere physiology of the coast alone that creates this consciousness, but the value-based dependence on sea space. In such cases the ‘sea’ would get more into the economy and culture of these inland spaces, as the rupture lines are not purely geo-physical. In this connection it is worth recalling the attempts of M.N. Pearson to see how far inland the maritime frontiers could be extended. His perception is that the notion is functional and discusses under maritime theme ‘those land events which affect the ocean’.

It is to a great extent the intrinsic connectivities of a region with the circuits of maritime space that translate maritime consciousness to it, however big or small its geo-physical extent is. In that sense maritime consciousness is constituted out of a wide variety of activities like the economic linkages with the sea-borne trade, the political processes based on the gains from sea-borne commerce, the cultural and religious processes entering through the channels of seas, social formation based on maritime circulatory processes, etc. In this book are included a few aspects of economy, culture, society and polity from different maritime regions of early medieval and medieval India and analyzed as to show how a distinctive consciousness of Maritime India evolved over time out of the circuits in the Indian Ocean.

Something very much intrinsic to the consciousness of Maritime India was that its entire coastline was viewed as having uneven economic significance. A certain segment of its coastline was considered to be economically highly valued and hence politically highly coveted, while some other segments had fluctuating values and the others with less value. The value of a coastal segment was determined by the type of economic activity carried out over there, which also used to decide the nature of its social processes as well. During the medieval and early modern period, Maritime India did not mean the mere long stretch of sandy space located on the fringes of sea-space; it meant value-condensed segments in uneven forms scattered along the coastline and extending up to inland space where the economic activities of production and exchange, besides social and political processes, were shaped by the circuits in the Indian Ocean.




  Foreword by Michael N. Pearson vii
  Acknowledgements ix
  Introduction xi
Chapter One The Sassanids and the Maritime Trade of India during the Early Medieval Period 1
Chapter Two Maritime Trade and Political Economy of Goa, 800-1500 19
Chapter Three Dynamics of Economy, Social Processes and the pre-Portuguese Christians of India, 800-1500 38
Chapter Four Form the Trails of the Chinese to the Dominance of the Portuguese: An Overview of the Patterns of their Naval Voyages and the Maritime Policies in India 63
Chapter Five Maritime Polity and a Mercantile State: An Analysis of the Political Dynamics of Kerala,1500-1663 83
Chapter Six The Ottoman Expansion and the Portuguese Response in the Indian Ocean, 1500-1560 110
Chapter Seven From Merchant Capitalists to Corsairs: The Muslim Merchants of Malabar and their Responses to Portuguese Maritime Trade Expansion, 1498-1600 131
Chapter Eight Information Networking between India and the Mediterranean in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries 157
Chapter Nine Bengal and the Commercial Expansion of the Portuguese Casados, 1511-1632 169
Chapter Ten Mercantile Wealth and the Estado da India: The Changing Pattern of Portuguese Trade  
  with India, 1570-1663 193
  Index 213


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