Essays in Ancient Indian Economic History is part of a three-volume set focusing on the developments in the economic history
of India during the last millennium.
The essays in this volume provide an outline of the change in the status and orientation of early Indian economic history and in
the approach to the economic features of ancient Indian history. The essays traverse diverse subjects such as the function of
property, family and caste, the origin of the state in early India; agriculture, surplus appropriation and distribution, and labour;
the role of crafts and craftsmen in the economy of early India; and trade and trade organizations, and coinage. In doing so, the
volume attempts to provide a chronological and spatial view of early Indian economy.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays are
accompanied by a new Preface and a Introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphases, shifting focus and
methodologies and projections of research both encouraged and documented under the aegis of the Indian History
B.D. Chattopadhyaya was formerly Professor, Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His
publications include The Making of Early Medieval India; Representing the Other?; Studying Early India: Archaeology, Texts,
and Historical Issues; Recent Perspectives of Early Indian History and; an edited volume Combined Methods inIndology and
THE INDIAN History Congress has emerged as a representative organization for a large section of historians in India, providing
its members with a forum to present their unpublished research work, using data from across the country. The annual sessions
of the Indian History
Congress are invariably attended by senior historians, who provide guidance to young researchers in their endeavours. In its
multi-pronged activities, the Congress is perhaps one of the few organizations in India to provide a research and publication
forum. To this end, it brings out an edited volume containing selection of the research articles presented at various sessions. In
fact, it is the meticulous selection of essays and rigorous editing of the volumes that has given cause for the University Grants
Commission to recognize these Proceedings to the level of a referred journal for the purposes of granting Promotion to college
and university teachers under the Career Advancement scheme.
During its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1987, the Indian History Congress decided to publish three thematic volumes
focusing on the Economic history of India. This three-volume set, entitled Indian History Congress golden Jubilee Year
Publication Series together contained over a hundred essays, with an introduction by eminent historians. The series met with
much success, as it provided a panoramic view of 50 years of changing focuses and emphases of scholars on art, religion, and
society and issues related to the historical roots of economic backwardness and the resultant economic under-development in
India's colonial past.
These volumes on economic history were also important from another
perspective. While inaugurating the first session of the Indian History Congress 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad Khan remarked that,
'economic history is almost virgin field: In the years following 1935, research in this area gathered depth and pace. In the
subsequent decade and, in particular after Independence, considerable literature too was produced on the various aspects of the
economic history of India. A nationalistic critique of colonialism during the process of decolonization was a major factor in
developing interest in this topic. Meanwhile, since the mid-1950s the Marxist approach too gathered acceptance in the academic
world of historians as an important factor in the explication of Historical development. Together, the twin discourses of
nationalist critique and Marxist approach became important contributory factors for a heightened interest in the economic
aspects of India's historical past.
In challenging the imperialist historiography, Indian historians evolved
Considerable interest in studying society, religion, and art. They posited that Indian cultural past was essentially composite in
nature and different
communities lived side by side in a spirit of syncretism. In doing so, historians also examined the nature of religious identities
and their role in shaping the contours of societal developments in our past.
Prints of the 1987 three-volume set were soon exhausted. Keeping in view their usefulness and steady demand among scholars
as well as students, the Executive Committee of the 71st Session of the Indian History Congress, at University of Gour Banga,
Malda, West Bengal, decided to reprint the three volumes, possibly with a new introduction by their respective editors. To this
end, I am grateful to Professor Satish Chandra, Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, and Professor B.D. Chattopadhyaya for
contributing substantial pieces for the new editions. And, it is indeed a pleasure to have these volumes released as a part of the
preparations for the celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee Session of the Congress.
THE ESSAYS in this collection on different aspects of the economic history of ancient India were, originally presented at the
annual sessions of the Indian History Congress and have been published in the Proceedings of the Congress. The volume was
put together by scrutinizing carefully the Proceedings of the Congress during the first fifty years of its existence. The publication
of this four-volume series in 1987 of which Essays in Ancient Indian Economic History was the first, was intended to mark the
Golden Jubilee Anniversary of the Congress, in 1987.
It is little more than two and a half decades since. By now, this collection
and its companion volumes have all gone out of print, but it seems there is still a demand for them. Ideally, this new edition
should have been updated by including new essays published in the Proceedings of the Congress in the last twenty-five years,
and by locating them within the global trend of economic history writing during this period. It would indeed have been
interesting to have considered the general state of economic history after its heyday in the sixties and seventies of the last
century and the nature of historiographical drifts towards social formation oriented studies, and further, to examine how these
drifts are reflected in the contributions at the Congress. That task, one hopes, will be taken up soon, at least in the centenary year
or Platinum Jubilee
of the Congress. All that needs to be stated here is that all the issues which are represented in this collection continue to be of
relevance to serious historical studies.
I thank the secretary of the Indian History Congress for asking me for a
new Introduction to the re-issue of the collection, and I shall look forward to its post publication reception.
Essays in Medieval Indian Economic History is part of a four-volume set,
comprising representative articles of Indian History Congress Proceedings (1935-85). In their analysis of the economic history of
India during the thirteenth-eighteenth centuries, the essays in this volume delineate a shift from the studies of policies to the
working of the revenue system, and its impact on the lives of the Indian people. Further, they highlight patterns and trends of
agricultural production, the role of Madadd-i-ma'ash holders, and institutions involved in agricultural expansion and
improvement, and the incidence of rural taxes. The scholarship also marks growing interest in urban studies, and in the
structure and role of the business community in India, in relation to the growth of the economy in India, and its relationship to
the State. Several articles
deal with subjects as diverse as coinage and mints, and the international debate on the impact of the European trading
companies and their system of armed trade and monopoly on the Indian economy and
the Indian business community.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays in
this volume are accompanied by a new preface and an introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphasis, shifting
focus/es and methodologies and
projections of research, held under the aegis of the Indian History Congress.
Satish Chandra, former Professor of Economic History of Medieval India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, also served as
Vice-Chairman and Chairman of University Grants Commission. His publication, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court,
1707-1740 broke new ground in Mughal studies. On behalf of the Indian History Congress, of which he has been General (1977)
and Secretary (1971-3), he has been responsible for the preparation and publication of several volumes of A Comprehensive
History of India.
THIS COLLECTION of articles on economic history during the Medieval
period from the thirteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth
century, extracted from the articles printed in the Proceedings of the
Indian History Congress, between 1935 and 1986, was prepared more than a quarter century ago. These articles still remain
relevant, but are not easily accessible to serious students of history. Hence this present edition. However in the Introduction I
have tried to highlight the main trends of economic history of Medieval India during the period, that is from 1986 to date.
It is evident that during the period the study of economic history has
broadened and deepened. Papers, articles and books carry forward some of the earlier assumptions or postulates on economic
development, but also question some of them. Also, they are often posed in the context of social structures. Cultural
developments have also been studied in an economic context .... Thus, a holistic picture has begun to emerge.
In the field of agrarian history of India, focus has shifted from the study
of administrative methods adopted by the central government for assessing and collecting land revenue, to how these measures
operated at the local level, and their impact on different segments of village society. This has led to a deeper study of the
structure of village societies, and the economic and social position and role of different sections there. Segmentation of village
society has been worked out in some areas such as east Rajasthan. It has also been postulated that the economically stronger
sections in village society-the zamindars and khud-kasht, played a definite role in expanding and improving cultivation. The
richer section of the khud-kasht, were actively engaged in expanding cash crops and superior crops (jins-i-kamil) and
introducing new crops. However, these
sections also largely appropriated the fruits of development in the area.
In this context, it has been noted that the sharecroppers (muzarian) and
the landless that formed together the majority of village population lived at the marginal or subsistence level. Among them,
there was a process of rural migrations in search for better prospects. Some of these pahis or landless which specially included
the scheduled castes, did manage to get land in some areas, such as south Rajasthan. Elsewhere, when the state undertook
bringing new land under cultivation, some of it was sometimes given to scheduled castes as a reward for their labour Thus, rural
society was not totally unchanging.
Study on the role of towns, including small towns (qasbas) has shown that in many of the qasbas, specially those on or near
major roads, artisans and traders formed a considerable section. Growth of qasbas reflected growth of rural society because
some of the richer peasants also lived there. Both Indian and foreign scholars have engaged themselves in the study of the
structure of the state, and its role in the national economy. While the earlier assumption that the Medieval Indian state was
inhibitive of economic development' was discarded quite sometime back, according to some scholars it still remained a major
obstacle to economic development. According to them, the state demand of revenue was so heavy, and its appropriation among
the stakeholders was so lopsided, that it left little room for economic expansion.
This view has been countered by another group of scholars. They consider the Medieval state, particularly the Mughal state, as
being basically mercantilist in nature, with the feudal bureaucracy and the royal elements being commerce minded. Hence a
fairly close nexus existed between them and the rising class of wholesale traders and financiers (shroffs). According to them,
this was reflected in the large-scale use of the hundi-not only for trade but for financial transactions of the state, including land
This debate is carried forward to the eighteenth century: whether the
economy continued to grow during the period, following the decline and fall of the Mughal Empire, or there was a setback in the
process of developments, specially during the second half of the century:' One view was that, development received a big set
back with the East India Company's domination of Bengal and south India. Another view has been that despite some set backs
the economic growth continued, largely till the early part of the nineteenth century. Apart from this controversy, study of
economic developments of specific regions, such as Awadh and Bengal, Poona, etc., has been carried forward.
The discussion on the nature of the state and its role in economy has led
to a study of (a) prices during the seventeenth century (sharp rise or stable); (b) role of the rupee nationally and internationally;
and (c) mints and their role in the growth of trade and economy.
Discussion about the role and character of the Mughal state-patrimonial
bureaucratic or feudal bureaucratic, and the function and role has also raised questions about the nature and consequences of
the concept of an agrarian crisis in the Mughal empire. It has been shown that agricultural production, or the extent of land
under cultivation, did not decline. Nor was there any mass migration of peasants. Hence, the agrarian crisis been seen in the
context of a developing social crisis whereby the rising class of zamindars and the khud kasht tried to assert themselves, and
sharply opposed Mughal revenue and administrative measures, leading to revolt against it in some areas. It has, however, been
noted that while these revolts put pressure on the Mughal state, they were not able to open any new avenues of growth or change
the existing system.
There has been emphasis on the study of the artisans-both those engaged
in quality and export production, and those working at the local and village levels.
A new aspect which has opened up is women's studies. While a major focus of women's studies has been on their social
position, and their cultural role, the position of women artisans, and women workers among the weaker section has received
some attention. The position of better off women with respect to their property rights-housing, shops, land, etc., has also
received some notice.
Another new field of study which has opened up is the study of mentalities. Such studies go forward from subaltern studies to a
deeper study of the position and role of marginal sections, including tribals. Recent studies on mentalities have largely
concentrated on the attitude and perceptions of the Mughal ruling class towards religious values, the ruler, and the lower
classes. Study on trade and economy has been furthered by the study of the role, structure and composition of the Indian
trading classes: overland up to south Russia, and the sea up to Levant. The domination of the sea by foreign traders- Portuguese,
French, Dutch, and their role in the economic, social and cultural developments of the country including boat-building has
received attention. However, it has been noted that Indian traders remained active, either individually or in partnership of the
Europeans. There were shipowners and large merchants among them. Hence they cannot be called peddlers.
Large-scale study of documents in various libraries is still a lacuna which,
when made good, would further deepen and broaden the study of economic history of Medieval India.
Essays in Modern Indian Economic History is part of a four-volume set, comprising representative articles of Indian History
Congress Proceedings (1935-85). The essays in this volume provide an overview of the continuities and changes in the historians'
approach to the economic
aspects of 'modern' Indian history. In the agenda of economic historians, the problems uppermost have been the policies of the
colonial state, the impact of metropolitan capitalism on colonial trade and industry, and in particular the evolution of land
revenue systems in various regions. At the same time, many of the continuities from the pre-colonial period to the so-called
modern period in terms of social institutions, political structures, and organization of production have engaged historians. This
collection indicates how historical research in modern economic history has pushed beyond the study of colonial economic
policies per se, into the processes internal to the economy and society under the impact of these policies-resulting in the
development of a culturally and socially sensitive economic history.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays in
this volume are accompanied by a new preface and an introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphasis, shifting
focus/es and methodologies and projections of research, held under the aegis of the Indian History Congress.
Sabysachi Bhattacharya, former Professor of Indian Economic History, jawaharlal Nehru University (1975-2003), vice
Chancellor, Visva-Bharati University, and Chairman, Indian Council of Historical research, is currently Tagore National fellow,
Ministry of Culture, Government of
India. His publications include The Foundations of the British Raj: Ideas and Interests in the Reconstruction of indian Public
Finance 1858-1872, and Vande Mataram: The Biography of a Song. He has been a general editor of Towards freedom, the
Cambridge Economic History India, vol. 2 and has also edited rethinking 1857. He was General president, Indian History
Congress in 2004.
WHEN i was requested to write a Introduction to the second edition of the Essays in Modern Indian Economic History which I
had edited twenty-five years ago, my first reaction was that it would be better to put together a new volume of selected papers
submitted at the History Congress since 1985. However, as there is continuing demand for this volume, covers the period 1935 to
1985, I have decided to say a few words about recent research by way of an Introduction to the present volume. I must add,
however, that the Introduction I wrote for the earlier edition of this volume needs to be read along with the few pages I am now
persuaded to add.
The question I want to address here is the following: Has there been a decline in scholarly interest in economic history? This
complaint, or you may call it a lament, has often been heard over the last decade or two. In the decades preceding 1985, there
was a huge spate of research in Indian economic history. It was then a new specialization. When, in 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad, in
his Presidential Address at the founding session of the Indian History Congress said that 'economic history is almost a virgin
field; he was referring to an area of research that has begun to attract many young researchers. Several factors were responsible
for promoting an interest in economic history. In late colonial India the Nationalist intellectuals, R.C. Dutt and Dadabhai
Naoroji onwards, had focused upon the economic exploitation of India. That critique of colonialism was, by and large, limited to
the nationalist public spokesmen, and it filtered down to the groves of academe only much later. One sees it in academic
research in the post-independence years. An altogether new interest
an economic history was generated when, after 1947, researchers began to address themselves to the issues raised by Naoroji or
Dutt or M.G. Ranade. you may also recall a global trend that emerged in the process of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s in
Asia and Africa. There was heightened interest in the issue of economic under-development-which led to a search for the
historical roots of economic backwardness. In post-independence India, specially during the Nehruvian regime, an additional
factor was the intense discourse on economic growth and national level planning and policy taking, Further, the Marxist
approach, with its emphasis on economic factors 1 the explication of historical development, began to be accepted in the
academic world-quite contrary to the earlier trend when the Marxian approach was, more often than not, ignored as a 'politically
inspired' and artisan approach. There was, thus, an unusually high level of engagement in research in economic history between
the 1950s and the 1980s. Thereafter it was but natural that the high quantum of research in a specialization should level off; that
is not necessarily evidence of decline.
Perhaps a more important reason is that in recent years the agenda of
economic history has changed. The staple tools of the trade of economic
historians used to be histories of public finance, domestic and foreign trade and balance of payments; principles of land revenue
collection and tenurial relations; growth of railways and factories; banking and monetary history; sectoral distribution of the
working population, and so forth. These are things which matter and justifiably continue to be subjects of study, but there are
also other themes which have acquired a new importance. To mention just a few of: agro-ecology and environmental history
affecting in the long-term primary sector activities in cultivation, forest and water resource exploitation; demographic factors
bearing upon the 'carrying capacity' of land from the stage of hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture; the expansion of
the agrarian frontier with the enlargement of cultivated land area along with population; mortality, morbidity, life expectancy,
family structure, etc. affecting the economically active population; the social traditions determining certain rights such as forest
rights, or rights of pasturage, or use of the village commons; the influence of caste not only in obvious ways such as agrestic
servitude or bondage, but in other ways as well, as in the transmission of artisanal skills or modes of operation of merchant
communities; social and cultural aspects of the life of the urban working class, not only as labouring men but also as part of
social networks in their habitation sites; the socio-political movements which formed a part of peasant resistance to economic
exploitation and social exclusion. Thus, various .non-economic factors bearing upon economic life in the broadest sense of the
term have been focused upon in recent studies. That is not to say that these factors were not important in earlier literature but
research in recent years was much more focused on these aspects. It would have been useful to discuss the works of research
which instantiates and illustrates these trends. In my Introduction to the expanded Indian edition (2005) of the Cambridge
Economic History of India, vol. II, edited by Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai, I have reviewed this literature with
bibliographic details. Readers who are interested may consult that review of literature. It is neither necessary nor possible to
repeat that exercise here.
It was perhaps not fortuitous that while new aspects of economic life in
the past began to be examined, many economists began to look beyond things 'purely' economic. This change was reflected in
the new emphasis on the 'quality of life' which is now commonly used as an index of development, side by side with
conventional growth indices like the GDP. This change in approach was also reflected in the discourse of 'development' as
distinct from economic growth. As Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have said in their recent work, An Uncertain Glory: India and its
Contradictions (2013), 'the relationship between growth and development-their difference as well as their complementarity' has
become a central theme with contemporary economists. Hence, Sen and
Dreze recommend the inclusion, in the economists' agenda of research, social institutions, formation of knowledge and skills
through education, level of nutrition, access to health care and its demographic consequences, and even political systems such
as democracy or its antipodal alternatives. Parallel with this expansion in the ambit of economic thinking, one can see an
expansion of the domain of economic history in recent times. Arguably, this new turn in economic history was implicitly
anticipated by economic historians who made the study of the Political Economy their agenda. Or again, when Marc Bloch spoke
of total history; he was beyond doubt pointing to the interconnectedness
which the new agenda of research seeks to reveal in relation to economic life.Thus, the endeavours we have referred to are in
part new, but also, in part a return to an old tradition of looking at the past.
To sum it up, the frontiers of the discipline of economic history have
expanded in recent years. That is not a sign of the 'decline' of economic history, but a challenge to which the practitioners of that
discipline must respond. Failure to do so might have been the signal of a decline; there is no evidence of such a failure in the
publications since the late 1980s.
I am happy that the early explorations in economic history, of which some Fragments are collected in this volume, are again
being presented to a new generation of historians on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the
Indian History Congress.
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