The Northern Black Polished Ware discussed in the previous chapter talks about fine pottery, like bowls and plates, that were found at various archaeological sites across the subcontinent. But do you wonder how these pieces reached these places? The answer is Traders. There is a considerable possibility that traders might have carried them from the source places, to sell them at other places. South India was famous for gold, spices (like pepper), and precious stones. Pepper was most valued in the Roman Empire and was known as black gold. So, traders carried many of these goods in ships to Rome, across the sea, and in caravans, by land. There must have been a lot of trade as many Roman gold coins have been found in Southern India. Can you think about how and why these reached India?
Trade and Traders have always been hand in hand. Traders explored several sea routes. While some of these followed the coasts, there were other routes across the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, where sailors crossed the sea quickly taking advantage of the monsoon winds. Sturdy ships helped them for these long journeys.
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Traders, Kings and Pilgrims Revision Notes
New Kingdoms Along the Coasts
The southern half of the Indian subcontinent is marked with a long coastline, and with hills, plateaus, and river valleys in abundance. Amongst the river valleys, Kaveri is the most fertile. This helped Chiefs and kings become rich, as they controlled the river valleys and the coasts. Sangam poems mention the muvendar, which is a Tamil word meaning three chiefs which are used for three ruling family's heads: the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas. They became powerful in South India around 2300 years ago. All three chiefs had two centers of power: one inland, & one on the coast. Of these six cities, two were most important: Puhar or Kaveripattinam, the port of the Cholas, and Madurai (the capital of the Pandyas). The chiefs did not collect regular taxes. They instead demanded and received gifts from people. They also went on military expeditions and gathered tribute from neighboring areas. While they kept some of the wealth, they distributed the rest amongst their supporters which included members of their family, poets, and soldiers—many poets composed poems in praise of chiefs. The compositions of these poets are found in the Sangam collection. They were often rewarded with precious stones, horses, gold, elephants, fine cloth, and chariots. About 200 years later, a dynasty "Satavahanas" became mighty in western India. Gautamiputra Shri Satakarni was the prime leader of the Satavahanas. This fact is known through an inscription composed on behalf of his mother, Gautami Balashri. Gautamiputra Shri Satakarni and other Satavahana rulers were known as lords of the dakshinapatha, which meant the route leading to the south, and was also used as a name for the entire southern region. He also sent his army to the eastern, western, and southern coasts.
The Story of the Silk Route
Silk is considered a high-valued fabric in many societies due to its rich, glossy colors, and smooth texture. But making silk is an intricate process. Raw silk is taken out from the cocoons of silkworms, then spun into thread, and finally woven into cloth. Silk-making techniques were first invented around 7000 years ago in China. While the methods remained secret for thousands of years, some people from China carried silk with them. This path is called the Silk Route. Sometimes, Chinese rulers sent silk gifts to rulers in Iran and West Asia. This helped in spreading knowledge about silk further west. Around 2000 years ago, wearing silk became the style statement amongst rulers and wealthy people in Rome. Since it has to be brought from China, silk was costly, as it had to be obtained from China, along dangerous roads, through mountains and deserts. People living along this route often demanded payments for letting traders pass through. Some kings tried to control large areas of the route because they could take advantage of taxes, gifts, and tributes that were brought by traders traveling along the way. In return of this, they often guarded the traders, from the attack of robbers, who passed through their kingdoms.
The best set of rulers who controlled the Silk Route were the Kushanas. They ruled over central Asia and North-West India around 2000 years ago. Their two critical centers of power were Peshawar and Mathura. Taxila was also included in their kingdom. During their reign, a division of the Silk Route was extended from Central Asia. This was extended down to seaports at the Indus river-mouth, from where silk was shipped westwards to the Roman Empire. The Kushanas were amongst the first rulers of this subcontinent to issue gold coins. The traders used these coins all along the Silk Route.
The Spread of Buddhism
The most famous Kushana ruler was Kanishka. He ruled around 1900 years ago. They arranged a Buddhist council, where scholars met and discussed all essential matters. Ashvaghosha lived in his court who is a poet and composed a biography of the Buddha. This was when Ashvaghosha and other Buddhist scholars started writing in the Sanskrit language. Now Buddhism took a new form called Mahayana Buddhism. It had two distinct features. Earlier, the presence of Buddha was shown in sculpture through sure signs. For example, Buddha's attainment of enlightenment was depicted by sculptures made of peepal trees. Now, Buddha's statues were made. While most of these were made in Mathura, the others were made in Taxila. The second change came in the belief in Bodhisattvas, who were the persons who had attained enlightenment. After acquiring enlightenment, they could live in complete isolation and carry meditation in peace. However, they remained in the world to teach and help other people. The worship of Bodhisattvas became popular and spread throughout Central Asia, China, and later to Korea and Japan. Buddhism also expanded to western and southern parts of India, where dozens of caves were hollowed out of hills for monks where they could live. Some of these caves were made with the orders of kings and queens, others by merchants and farmers. These were often located near passes through the Western Ghats. Roads connecting prosperous ports on the coast with cities in the Deccan ran through these passes. Traders probably halted in these cave monasteries during their travels. Buddhism also spread southeast awards, to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Theravada Buddhism, which is the older form of Buddhism, was more prevalent in these areas.
The Quest of the Pilgrims
As traders traveled to distant lands in caravans and ships, pilgrims often journeyed with them. Who are Pilgrims? They are men/ women who undertake journeys to holy places to offer worship. The popular ones of these are the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Fa Xian(who came to the subcontinent around 1600 years ago), Xuan Zang(who arrived about 1400 years ago), and I-Qing(who reached 50 years after Xuan Zang). They visited places along with famous monasteries associated with the Buddha's life. These pilgrims left an account of his journey and wrote about the dangers they encountered along their long travels (which even took years) of the countries and the monasteries they visited, and the books they carried back with them.
Xuan Zang, who traveled the land route to China (through north-west and Central Asia) carried with him Buddha's statues made of gold, silver, and sandalwood, and over 600 manuscripts loaded on the backs of 20 horses. However, over 50 manuscripts were lost when the boat capsized while he was crossing the Indus. Due to this, he spent the rest of his life translating the remaining manuscripts to Chinese from Sanskrit.
The Beginning of Bhakti
This was also the time when worshipping certain deities (Shiva, Vishnu, and goddesses such as Durga) gained importance. These deities were worshipped through Bhakti. This idea of worshipping became popular and is generally understood as a person's devotion to his or her chosen deity. Any person (rich/ poor, belonging to high/ low castes, man/ woman) could follow the path of Bhakti. The Bhakti idea is also present in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a sacred book of the Hindus and which is also included in the Mahabharata. In this, God Krishna asked Arjuna to abandon all the dharmas and hide in him, since he can only set Arjuna free from all the evils. Arjuna was his devotee as well as a friend. This worship form eventually gained popularity in different parts of the country. Those who followed the Bhakti system emphasized devotion and individual worship of a god or goddess, rather than elaborate sacrifices. According to this belief, if a devotee worships the chosen deity with a pure heart, the deity will appear in the desired form. So, the deity could be imagined as a human being, tree, lion, or any other form. As this idea gained acceptance, artists made beautiful images of these deities. For example, Vishnu as Varaha — an image from Eran, Madhya Pradesh. This magnificent statue is a special form of Vishnu, the Varaha or boar. According to the Puranas. Vishnu took the shape of a boar to rescue the earth, which had sunk into the water. Here the earth is depicted as a woman.
Because the deities were special, these deity images were often placed within special homes, places that we call temples. Thus, Bhakti inspired some of the best expressions in art through sculpture, poetry, and architecture.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Why did Kings Choose to Control the Silk Route?
Ans: With this, the kings could collect taxes, and have an additional source of revenue. Apart from this, gifts and tributes were given to the kings by traders.
2. What Evidence do Historians Use to Find Trade and Trade Routes?
Ans: The historians found evidence through multiple sources.
Through the literature of the concerned period.
Pottery, bowls, and plates.
3. Give Reasons Why the Chinese Pilgrims Came to India.
Ans: Chinese pilgrims visited places in India that are associated with the life of Lord Buddha as well as several famous monasteries. They spent time studying in Nalanda.