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SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC LIFE
Silk-weaving, limited in scope as compared with cotton manufacture, was also an important industry of a section of the people. Abul Fazl writes that it received a considerable impetus in the reign of Akbar due to the imperial patronage. Bengal was the premier centre of silk production and manufacture and supplied the demands of the Indian and European merchants from other parts of India, though silk-weaving was practised in Lahore, Agra, Fathpur Sikri and Gujarat. Moreland writes on the authority of Tavernier that, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the total production of silk in Bengal was “about 2.1/2 million pounds out of which one million pounds were worked up locally, I million were exported raw by the Dutch and I million distributed over India, most of it going to Gujarat, but some being taken by merchants from Central Asia “. Shawl and carpet weaving industries flourished under the patronage of Akbar; the former woven mainly from hair, having originated from Kashmir, was manufactured also at Lahore, and the latter at Lahore and Agra. Woollen goods, chiefly coarse blankets, were also woven. Though India had lost her old vigorous maritime activity, the shipbuilding industry did not die out at this time, and we have references to it from contemporary literature. Saltpetre, used chiefly as an ingredient for gunpowder in India and also exported outside by the Dutch and English traders, was manufactured in widely distributed parts of India during the seventeenth century, particularly in Peninsular India, Coromandel coast and the Bihar section of the Indo-Gangetic region. Bihar henceforth enjoyed a special reputation for the manufacture of this article till the first half of the nineteenth century, and it was in high demand by the Europeans for use in wars in their countries. Besides these major industries, we have testimony regarding various crafts during the Mughul period. Edward Terry noticed that ” many curious boxes, trunks, standishes (pen-cases), carpets, with other excellent manufactures, may be there had”. Pelsaert also writes that in Sind “ornamental desks, draught boards, writing-cases and similar goods are manufactured locally in large quantities; they are pretty, inlaid with ivory and ebony, and used to be exported in large quantities from Goa, and the coast towns”. Though the State encouraged manufacture, the weavers were directly financed in most cases by middlemen, who must have exploited them greatly. Further, as both Bernier and Pelsaert tell us, they suffered from harsh treatment at the hands of the nobles and officers, who forced them to sell goods at low prices and exacted from them forbidden abwabs. This deprived the weavers and craftsmen of the benefit of economic profit from their occupations, though the taste of the nobles for high-class manufactures kept up the tradition of their quality.
We learn from Abul Fazl, and some other writers, that the prices of articles, especially those of common consumption like rice, vegetables, spices, meat, livestock and milk, were very low. Edward Terry observes that “the plenty of provisions was very great throughout the whole country; . . . and everyone there may eat bread without scarceness”. Smith writes that “the hired landless labourer in the time of Akbar and Jahangir probably had more to eat than he has now “, but Moreland is of opinion that ” “speaking generally the masses lived on the same economic plane as now “. It is certain that there was no golden age of opulence for the common people under the Mughuls, because though the prices of articles were cheap, their average income was proportionately low or perhaps lower. They did not, how ever, grovel in misery and smart under discontent, as their needs were few and the problems of life were not so complicated so as those of the present day.
Mints and Currency
Akbar, like Sher Shah, tried to regulate the currency of the State. Towards the end of 1577 he appointed Khwaja ‘Abdus Samaj of Shiraz master of the imperial mint at Delhi, and one important officer was placed over each of the chief provincial mints in Bengal, Lahore, Jaunpur, Ahmadabad and Patna. During the reign of Shah Jahan, one of the most important mints was at Surat. Akbar issued gold, silver and copper coins, the first having no less than twenty-six varieties of different weights and value. In Akbar’s time, the silver rupee of about 175 grains was equivalent in value to 2s. 3d. sterling. Akbar also issued a square silver rupee known as the jalali. As in Sher Shah’s currency, the chief copper coin of Akbar’s time was the dam, also called paisa or fulus, which weighed 323.5 grains, formed the ready money for both the rich and the poor, and was divided into twenty-five parts, known as jitals, for purposes of account. Mercantile affairs of the Empire during the reigns of Akbar and his successors were transacted in round gold mohurs, rupees and dams. The coins of the Mughul State, especially those of Akbar, “were excellent in respect of purity of metal, fullness of weight, and artistic-execution”. The rupee was equivalent in value to forty dams up to 1616 and thirty dams, or a little more or less, from 1627 onwards. But there was no great alteration in currency after Akbar, though in 1659 the English merchants wrote to the authorities in England that “the new king, Oran Zeeb (Aurangzeb), hath raised his coine (silver) to 5/3 per sent finer than formerly; which hath caused much trouble and contention between the merchants of Surat and Governor”.
India had an active and considerable foreign trade, during the greater part of the Mughul period, with different countries of Asia and Europe. The chief imports of the country were bullion, raw silk, horses, metals, ivory, coral, amber, precious stones, velvets, brocades, broadcloth, perfumes, drugs, Chinese porcelain and African slaves, and her exports were various textiles, pepper, indigo, opium and other drugs, saltpetre and miscellaneous goods. There were two main land routes for export trade on the north-west —from Lahore to Kabul and from Multan to Qandahar, while there were a few more in other parts. But the traffic along these routes was restricted and insecure. The sea and the rivers were more advantageous for commercial purposes. The chief ports of India were Lahori Bandar in Sind; the group of Gujarat ports like Surat, Broach and Cambay; Bassein; Chaul; Dabul (modern Dabhol) in the Ratnagiri district; Goa and Bhatkal; Malabar ports, the most important of which were Calicut and Cochin; Negapatam, Masulipatam and a few minor ones on the east coast; and Satgaon, Sripur, Chittagong and Sonargaon in Bengal. The customs duties, fixed by the State, were not very high; for example, at Surat these were 3.1/2 per cent on all imports and exports of goods, and 2 per cent on money either gold or silver.