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Give an account of India’s maritime trade. How did Portuguese trade affect Indian overseas trade?

Give an account of Indias maritime trade. How did Portuguese trade affect Indian overseas trade?

IGNOU Assignment Questions

Course Code: MHI-101
Assignment Code: MHI-101/AST/ TMA/2023-24

July 2023 Session/ January 2024 Session Students

India has a long and storied history of maritime trade, dating back to the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley. The country’s strategic location, with a vast coastline and numerous ports, facilitated its involvement in international trade networks. Indian maritime trade flourished with regions as diverse as East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia, and even China. Over centuries, Indian ports became bustling centers for the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures.

Ancient and Medieval Maritime Trade

In ancient times, India’s maritime trade was largely conducted through the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The major ports included Lothal, Bharuch, and Sopara on the western coast, and Arikamedu, Kaveripattinam, and Tamralipti on the eastern coast. The trade routes were extensive, reaching the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and the South China Sea.

During the medieval period, the Chola dynasty played a significant role in expanding Indian maritime trade. The Cholas established naval supremacy in the Bay of Bengal and initiated extensive trade relations with Southeast Asia, especially with the kingdoms of Srivijaya and Majapahit. Indian merchants traded in spices, textiles, precious stones, and other goods, contributing to the economic prosperity of the region.

The Arrival of the Portuguese

The arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century marked a significant turning point in Indian maritime trade. Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India in 1498 opened up new avenues for direct trade between Europe and India, bypassing the traditional overland routes controlled by Middle Eastern and Central Asian intermediaries.

Portuguese Monopoly and Trade Dynamics

The Portuguese aimed to establish a monopoly over the lucrative spice trade, particularly in black pepper, which was in high demand in Europe. They set up strategic fortifications and trading posts along the Indian coast, with Goa becoming their primary base of operations. The Portuguese employed a combination of military prowess and diplomatic tactics to control key maritime routes and trading ports.

The Cartaz system was introduced, whereby all merchant ships in the Indian Ocean were required to purchase a license (cartaz) from the Portuguese authorities. This system allowed the Portuguese to regulate trade and extract revenues from Asian merchants, significantly altering the dynamics of Indian maritime trade.

Impact on Indian Merchants

The Portuguese monopoly disrupted traditional Indian maritime trade networks. Indian merchants, who had long enjoyed relatively free trade across the Indian Ocean, now faced increased restrictions and costs. The dominance of Portuguese naval power forced many Indian traders to operate under Portuguese licenses or face the threat of piracy and confiscation of goods.

Despite these challenges, Indian merchants adapted to the new realities. Some collaborated with the Portuguese, while others sought alternative routes and markets. The rise of other European powers, such as the Dutch and the British, in the subsequent centuries further diversified the trading landscape, gradually eroding the Portuguese monopoly.

Economic and Cultural Exchange

The Portuguese presence in India was not solely about trade and monopoly. It also led to significant cultural and technological exchanges. The introduction of new crops, such as maize, potatoes, and tobacco, had a lasting impact on Indian agriculture. The Portuguese brought new techniques in shipbuilding and navigation, which were gradually adopted by Indian craftsmen and sailors.

Furthermore, the Portuguese influence extended to architecture, cuisine, and religion. The establishment of Catholicism in parts of India, particularly Goa, created a unique cultural blend that persists to this day.

Long-term Consequences

In the long term, the Portuguese incursion into Indian maritime trade paved the way for other European colonial powers. The subsequent arrival of the Dutch, the British, and the French in the Indian Ocean region marked the beginning of a new era of global maritime trade and colonialism. These powers established their own trading companies, such as the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company, which eventually overshadowed Portuguese influence.

The Indian economy, which had been heavily reliant on traditional maritime trade, gradually came under the control of European colonial powers. This shift had profound implications for Indian society and economy, leading to the eventual colonization of the Indian subcontinent by the British.


India’s maritime trade has a rich history, characterized by extensive networks and cultural exchanges. The arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century marked a significant disruption in these trade networks, as they sought to monopolize the lucrative spice trade. Despite the challenges posed by Portuguese dominance, Indian merchants adapted and continued to thrive in a changing global trade environment. The Portuguese presence also facilitated cultural and technological exchanges, leaving a lasting legacy on Indian society. The long-term consequences of Portuguese trade paved the way for other European colonial powers, ultimately reshaping the Indian subcontinent’s economic and political landscape.

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