ECONOMIC LIFE OF JAINS IN MEDIEVAL TIMES
– Surendra Gopal
The economic life of Jains in medieval times can be reconstructed from a host of indigenous and European language sources. The indigenous language sources are mostly in Gujarati, Rajasthani, Hindi, Sanskrit, etc., while the European language sources are primarily in Portuguese, English, Dutch, French, etc. However at the outset, certain important characteristics of the two types of sources should be noted.
Most of the indigenous language sources lack quantitative data. The contemporary literature in Gujarati, Rajasthani, Hindi and Sanskrit, etc., speak of the ‘affluence’ and ‘prosperity’ of individual Jains and of the community in different places but they seldom give any significant statistical data. We are left to deduce their economic clout from desriptions of grand reception accorded to the monks or the money or goods distributed in charities on religious or social occasions or by the number of idols installed or the number of temples built or organization of pilgrim parties of the community members to Jain holy places.
On the other hand, the European language sources, especially the documents of the various European trading companies such as the Portguese, the English, the Dutch, the French etc., describe their dealings with Jain traders as with others on the Indian soil in concrete terms. They mention the quantum and types of goods sold or purchased as also their prices. They discuss the comparative status of Jain traders as compared to others in a place by writing about the extent of their trade contacts, the variety of commodities dealt by them, their command over liquid capital, their participation in banking operations, etc. The information becomes more copious from the seventeenth century onwards when the English and the Dutch and following them, the French extended their operations into the internal parts of India and their activities covered the whole of the north Indian plains, the western coast from Sindh to Kerala and the eastern Cormondal coast. In other words, it is from these documents that we can deduce the almost pan-Indian character of Jain economic activities and their dispersal in different parts of India.
The documents of the English and the Dutch East India Companies enable us to trace the all India trade net-work operated by Virji Vora, the Jain trader of Surat, the greatest in India in the seventeenth century. The English documents underline his first appearance on the commercial scence in 1619. Again the English and the Dutch documents trace the evolution of the House of Jagat Seth in eastern India and its journey on way to becoming the greatest trading and banking firm in India in the opening decades of the eighteenth century. The career of Virji Vora is well traced in W. Foster’s edited thirteen volumes of the documents of the English East India Company1. Till Virji Vora faded from the pages of history in 1670s, he had intimate relations with the English Company and we get a detailed account of his business activities.
A collection of the document of the Dutch East India Company, edited by Coolhas2 also deserves mention because the Dutch Company also had extensive business dealings with him. He was also Company’s most important credit supplier and also the purchaser of their imported goods.
The French traveller Thevenot who visited India in 1660s, struck friendship with Virji Vora in Surat. He speaks of the monetary loss the great merchant suffered as a result of the attack of Shivaji on Surat in 16643. His information enables us to form an idea of the capital at the command of Virji Vora and his capacity to withstand enormous losses.
Our sources make it clear that the Jains cutting across their sectarian divisions primarily continued to be connected with trade and allied activities such as money lending, money changing, banking, insurance, etc. The profits generated through trade enabled them to function as bankers, moneychangers, etc., The profits were again ploughed back into commercial pursuits and contributed to their material prosperity and economic and political clout.
Our evidence also shows that a section functioned as petty traders, saw ups and downs in their business career and just managed to keep their body and soul together. Some Jains also took up jobs in the government, especially in the revenue department, where literacy and knowledge of accounting were required. In the employment of the government some rose to high posts. But the proportion of Jains working as administrative functionaries was small.
As traders, bankers and moneychangers, Jains were found in all the principal ports and commercial marts of north Indian plains and western India. They were also found in the important villages and small towns, especially in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The description in regional languages of the journeys performed by Jain monks and the reception accorded to them in various villages, small and big towns shows the presence of Jain population in these place. It is all obvious that they were numerically small but their economic influence far exceeded their numbers.
The Jains have been famous traders since ancient times. In medieval times they persisted in the profession and prospered. Jagdu of Gujarat was the most famous Jain trader of the thirteenth century in Gujarat and his affluence was well known.4
The Jains were engaged in trade at all levels. Some were big traders, who were concerned with wholesale and long distance trade, inter-regional as well as foreign. Other participated in inter-regional commerce and were fairly affluent. They were both whole-salers as well as retailers. A section, not so affluent, earned its living through retail trade. Many were moneylenders and bankers.
Oftentimes, the medium and small traders also acted as brokers; they were the vital links between the big trader and the primary producer. This profession received a boost in the seventeenth century when the European trading companies started operating in the inland trading marts and established direct contact with the primary producers in order to purchase goods at cheap prices. Inability to speak the local dialect and unfamiliarity with the local conditions, forced the Europeans to depend more and more on brokers. Along with other Indian brokers (who came from the Hindu Vaishya community or the Parsi or Muslim communities), the Jains also took advantage of this opportunity.
The Jains as other Indian traders profited from this expansion of trading activities. This explains their strong presence in Agra5, the entrepot of north Indian trade. Besides, they were well-represented in two other important trade marts of north India, Lahore6 and Multan7. One would not be wrong in assuming that from Lahore and Multan, the Jains took part in India’s overland trade with Afghanistan, Iran and trans-Oxus region of Central Asia. From these places sometimes they moved on to the Russian empire.7a
The Jains utillized the capital which they commanded in many other activities allied to trade. They became moneylanders, advancing huge sums to traders as well as to rulers and officers of the state. Since the European trading companies in the seventeenth century were generally short of liquid capital they turned to Indian moneylanders, among them the Jains, to finance their purchases on the Indian soil. This, brought additional profits to Jains and other Indian merchants.
Along with other Indian traders, the Jains then branched out into the business of issuing Hundis, i.e., the transfer of money from one place to another. A part of the reason for their success in this enterprise was the family and/or the community net-work, which encompassed several commercial centres. The profits earned from commission which they charged on Hundis further enriched them, helped them to expand business by consolidating or developing new areas of trade.
With plently of business expertise and capital at their disposal the Jains had no problem in taking up the highly flourishing business of the exchange of coins coming into India form different parts of the world on account of India’s favourable balance of payment position. The multiplicity of coins prevalent in India also required this facility to keep up business operations.
The multidimensionality of Jain business enterprise can be very well appreciated when we take a look at the career of some leading Jain merchants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Among these Jain merchants, Virji Vora of Surat in Gujarat is preeminent.
Virji Vora was the greatest merchant of India in the seventeenth contury. Prof. Kamdar on the basis of some Jain documents has described him as a Sthanakvasi Jain of the Lonkagacchiya group.8
He enters the pages of history when the documents of the English East India mention him for the first time9 on 22 March, 1619. For the next half-a-century Virji Vora remained in the lime light on the economic scene in Surat. The English records mention him for the last time in 1670.10
Virji Vora had extensive dealings with both the English and the Dutch East India Companies and later on with the French East India Company and other traders of note in the port town.11
He combined in himself the role of a trader, a money-lender, banker, etc.
As a trader, Virji Vora dealt in commodities in bulk, both imported as well as those destined for export. A Dutch author notes “[He was] usually buying or selling such varied commodities as cotton, opium, spices, ivory, coral, lead, silver and gold, practically everything which changed hands in the wholesale market of Surat”11
From the English he bought coral and ivory.13 From the Dutch in 1648 he bought cloves and in 1650 tea (20 maunds)14.
Sometimes he along with some other principal merchants in Surat purchased entire cargoes valued from 5 to 10 lakhs of rupees15. In 1650 in alliance with the Dutch broker Mohandas Parekh, Virji Vora purchased all the goods brought by the Dutch to Surat.16
He was also able to purchase Indian commodities in bulk and sometimes was the only person in a position to meet the demands of the European companies for these goods. In 1625 English had to purchase Rs. 10,000 worth of pepper from him since he alone could supply the quantaum needed by them. The English were forced to pay the price he charged. When additional quantity of pepper reached Surat, the English tried to purchase it but Virji Vora outbid the English and secured the entire stock. The English tried to escape from Virji Vora’s monopolistic tendencies and sent their agents to the Deccan to purchase pepper. Virji Vora countered the English move by instructing his men there to offer higher prices and prevented the former from obtaining the commodity. The English were finally forced to secure their supplies form him.17 Virji Vora had become the monopolist of Malabar pepper. Everyone needing the commodity had to turn to him.18 This is but one instance of the dominance exercised by Virji Vora in the Surat market.
Virji Vora could dictate terms to the European trading companies and also compel his Indian competitors to refrain from annoying him because he had built up a net-work of his agents in different trading marts of India and abroad. They were stationed in Broach, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Agra, Burhanpur, Golkonda, in the trading centres on the north Malabar and the Coromandel coasts, etc.19 He had his men in the trade marts of the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Iran, Java, etc. He used European shipping for sending or bringing goods20. Such positioning of agents enabled him to buy commodities at the source of their production at much cheaper prices and hence, could afford to outbid others in pricing these commodities. He owned ships as well21. The reason he could create such an extensive trading organization was the enormous capital at his disposal. An idea of his wealth can be had from the fact that in 1664 Shivaji sacked Surat and looted his residence and ware-houses. A Dutch eye-witness reported that he carried six barrels of gold, money, pearls, gems and other precious commodities.22 Foster computes Virji Vora lost £ 50,00023. A Dutch Chaplain at Surat in 1664 called him the richest merchant in the world.24 His fortune was estimated at eight million rupees25. Such was Virji Vora’s vitality that he soon recovered and was once again functioning as the prime trader of Surat.
The availability of so much cash enabled Virji Vora to function as the most important moneylender of Surat. All the European trading companies at one time or another were indebted to him and for that reason were afraid to alienate or displease him. He would compel the Europeans to sell to him imported commodities at prices he fixed. No Indian or any other trader in Surat would venture to purchase these for fear of offending him. The Europeans were left without an option; they had to accept the terms laid down by Virji Vora. Of course, this was highly unpalatable to them. The English disgust with Virji Vora is apparent when he is called as the’…most injurious man’26 to their trade. In spite of such hard feelings the English East India Company continued to deal with him because of three reasons: he was an important buyer of goods brought by them;27 he was the most reliable provider of Indian goods needed by them for exports; finally, he lent them money whenever they needed it to arrange cargo for their ships.
Probably his ability to supply liquid capital required by Europeans was the most decisive factor which forced them to comply with his directives. The foreigners were often short of ready money and on such occasions, he was their invariable saviour.
A look at the sums advanced by Virji Vora to the Europeans is instructive.
Apart from such small sums as Rs. 20,000 in 1635, Rs. 30,000 in 1636, he lent heavy sums such as Rs. 2 lakhs in 1636 and Rs.1,00,000 in 1642 in Ahmedabad. When the English borrowed Rs. 4,00,000 in 1669 in Surat from a group of creditors, Virji Vora was an important member of the group.
It should be noted that Virji Vora was capable of lending money not only in Surat but also in most of the important commercial centres where the Europeans were operating.
The abve story was repeated in case of the Dutch Compay V.O.C. as well.
Virji Vora’s capacity to advance loans in places other than Surat made him invaluable to the English and the Dutch; both borrowed from the agents of Viri Vora outside Surat.
On one occasion at Agra, Kalidas Mega, agent of Virji Vora lent Rs. 43,000/- to the Dutch at 11 p.c. In 1634 at Agra another agent of Virji provided the Dutch with Rs. 16,000 out of Rs. 44,000 which they had borrowed.28
The English also borrowed from Virji Vora Rs. 50,000/- at Agra in 1630. In 1650, the agent of Virji Vora in Golconda advanced a loan of 10,000 old Pagodas to the English East India Company.29 The amount financed the Company’s voyage to Pegu in Burma. On this occasion he charged interest of the rate of 11/2 per cent month.30 The rate of interest charged by Virji Vora varied according to the exigencies of the situation.
Of course, for all these loans, he charged a heavy amount of interest. The English paid him though they disliked him for the exorbitant interest they had to pay. They were helpless; they agreed because it made sound business sense.
Besides, being a purchaser and provider of goods and also being a creditor, Virji Vora also rendered other services to them. Both the English and the Dutch found it convenient to transfer money from one place to another through the agency of the firm of Virji Vora.
The VOC always remitted money from Surat through the agency of Virji Vora.31 The English in 1630 sent Rs. 15,000/- through a Bill of Exchange from Surat to Agra through Virji Vora.32
The business relationship between Virji Vora and the Europeans could develop because it was highly advantageous to the latter in many ways.
A Dutch author has conceded that much of the early success of the Dutch Company was due to services rendered by Virji Vora.33
In short, Virji Vora, so long as he was active, remained the most important trader in Surat; this was accepted on all hands by the contemporaries.
An Armenian Khwaja Minaz, who was himself a prominent merchant of Surat from 1660s onwards purchased broad cloth on behalf of Virji Vora34. Minaz was financing voyages to Manila.34a
The preeminent position of Virji Vora in the economic life of Surat was recognised by the imperial Mughal authorities. They sought his advice and consulted him whenever any problem cropped up between the government and the traders.35 Similarly, traders, both Indians and foreigners sought his goods offices for the redressal of their grievances against the government. There are numerous instances when the Mughal authorities sought his assistance to resolve a crisis situation.
The Governor of Surat formed a committee in 1636 to inquire into the looting of two ships belonging to Surat merchants by English pirates. Virji Vora was made a member of the committee.36
After the sack of Surat by Shivaji in 1664, the local Mughal governor sent Virji Vora and Haji Zahid Beg another important merchant to the imperial court to plead for the fortfication of town as a measure of sucurity against future attacks.37
It seems that around 1670 Virji Vora renounced the world, entrusted the business to his family members and retired to a monastery.37a
Like his early life, we hardly have details about his last days.
From 1619 to 1670 Virji Vora dominated the business scene in Surat, the premier port of India. He had successfully competed against the Indian and Asian merchants and also the Europeans. The later were a formidable foe since they did not mind using their fire-power on the high seas to enforce their demands. But Virji Vora by his economic acumen and clout ensured that the Europeans complied with his wishes and did not resort to extra-economic coercion. Virji Vora’s top position remained unchallenged.
What is remarkable is that Virji Vora had achieved this distinction without any political support.
Unfortunately, neither the European nor the indigenous sources give us any idea of his life-style. But we do learn that he tried to discharge his social responsibility. During the severe famine of 1630-32, he distributed grain and cooked food to the hungry and needy.37b Like other Jains of his age, he lavishly contributed to the socio-religious functions of his community.
Most of the Jain traders in medieval times, the big, the medium and the ordinary, generally traded in precious stones diamonds, rubies, pearls, etc. They also sold ornaments, which are always in demand in the Indian society, cutting across caste, class and religion. The Jains took advantage of this persisting demand.
It appears that investment in jewels and jewellery was a form of earning high profit and a form of hoarding wealth in troubled medieval times. These could be easily hidden and transported whenever the local condition became troublesome. Unfortunately this was not rare.38
Jain jewellers were to be found in places where there was a concentration of nobility, administrative functionaries and businessmen.39
Ahmedabad was a reputed mart for jewellery and precious stones. The English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe and the French traveller Tavernier, both mention this40. Shantidas was the most prominent trader in jewels. For obtaining diamonds he used to visit Bijapur, a centre of diamond mining and trade.41 Since the Mughal rulers were fond of jewels, they kept in touch with prominent jewellers. This was an important reason why Shah Jahan used to address Shantidas as ‘Mama’ or Uncle.42 Jahangir had appointed him as his jeweller and it was expected that “(he) should offer gifts and present and every kind of jewellery” to the emperor.43 He sold jewels to Asaf Khan, the brother of Nur Jahan and father-in-law of Emperor Shah Jahan44. Prince Dara Shikoh also bought jewels from him.45
His wealth was well-known to the royal family and this made him an object of extortion. During the war of succession following the serious illness of Shah Jahan, Prince Murad forcibly extracted from Shantidas and his family a sum of Rs. 5.50 lakhs.46 It was a measure of his usefulness to the Mughal court that when Murad lost the war, Aurangzeb, who became the Emperor ordered Rahmat Khan to return one lakh rupees from the royal treasury as a part payment towards the loan incurred by his deceased brother.47
Aurangzeb sought to derive political mileage out of his magnamity and issued to Shantidas another firman asking him to convey to the “merchants and the mahajans and to all the inhabitants”, his ” goodwill towards them”.48
Shantidas like Virji Vora was consulted by the Mughal authorities on matters affecting the state of economy in the city. The other traders also accepted him as their spokesman and he was definitely ‘the first’ among them. He interceded on their behalf with the imperial authorities. Like other Jain traders, Shantidas had several business interests. He also participated in long distance sea trade. This is evident from the fact that an English ship which was captured by pirates had goods belonging to Shantidas. According to one version his loss amounted to 10,000 rupees and according to another, to 35,000 rupees.49
Since many other Gujarati traders had also suffered losses, Shantidas organised the Ahmedabad mahajan to put pressure on the English East India Company to make good their losses. When the Englishmen dallied, he prevailed on the local authorities to punish the Englishmen, who were put behind bars. Ultimately, the English relented and Shantidas was paid the amount he was claiming.50
Another reason for Shantidas’s influence was his capacity to advance loans to the Europeans. This was a source of income as well as influence. Shantidas regularly lent money to the European East India Companies. In 1627 the English borrowed from him 10,000 rupees at 1 p.c. interest per month.51
Like Virji Vora, Shantidas also exercised great influence over the local trading community. The English complained that in 1640, there was a great shortage of money in Ahmdedabad and all small merchants were unwilling to lend because Shantidas was holding his money.52 The local traders considered him as their role model.
Shantidas became the Nagar Seth of Ahmedabad. Subsequently a number of his discendants became Nagar Seth of the city.52a
Such vast economic power and influence, however, did not insulate both these merchants from local bureaucratic tyranny. The political master always remained supreme and the merchants either had to toe their line or to persuade the to accept their view. This created a highly unfavourable situation for he merchants, who had to contend with political uncertainties along with ups and downs in business.
Hakim Sadra (Masih-uz-Zaman) who became the governor of Surat in 1638, was personally interested in trade. He wanted to corner all supplies of pepper and extorted money form the merchants of Surat. To terrorise the trading community, he even imprisoned Virji Vora. When the matter came to the knowledge of Shah Jahan, he ordered his release.53 In order of soothe his feelings to Shah Jahan invited him to the imperial court.
Shantidas incurred the wrath of Prince Aurangzeb, while he was the governor of Gujarat. The latter ordered the defilement of the temple of Chintamani Parsvanath which Shantidas had constructed in the Saraspur suburb of Ahmedabad. When Shah Jahan came to know of it, he ordered its restoration to Shantidas and some compensation was also paid to him.54
The above two incidents are highly revealing.
The fact comes out that in Gujarat the Jain traders, despite enjoying economic dominance, could not escape bureaucratic tyranny. Normally they seldom got involved in politics. They adopted a neutral stance. They reacted when their collective economic interests were threatened or when the tyranny became unbearable. This is illustrated by the following example. The Hindu and Jain merchants of Surat enmasse left the city to protest against the behavious of the local Qazi55 who was trying to force them to accept Islam. The emperor intervened when he realized that the economic life of the city would be disrupted and the state exchequer would be adversely affected. The Qazi was recalled and the traders returned to Surat.
While political neutrality was the hall-mark of traders in Western India, the story is differnt when we take up the fortunes of another Jain trading concern, the House of Jagat Seth which emerged in eastern India in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.
The founder of the House of Jagat Seth was Hiranand Shah, an Oswal Jain from Nagaur in Marwar who came down to Patna in 1652.56 He started as a banker and a trader of saltpetre57. Saltpetre from Bihar was then the most sought after commodity by the Europeans58 and he soon prospered. He advanced loans to Europeans and discounted bills of exchange, they received from other places.
Hiranand Sha’s eldest son, Manikchand moved to Dacca, the capital of Bengal and a famous centre for producing the finest muslin in the world. Banking business which entailed supply of liquid moeny to Europeans and Indian merchants was thriving in the seventeenth century as business flourished in Bihar and Bengal in the second half of the seventeenth century after the Dutch and the English systematically started exploring its markets for cotton textiles, silk, opium, saltpetre, etc. Bengal and Bihar were the most important entrepot for the European and Asian merchants, where they obtained goods for export to European and Asian markets. Manikchand was financing even the private trade of Josiah Chitty, an employee of the English East India Company.59
Manik Chand developed cordial relations with Murshid Quli Khan, ‘the Supreme head of financial administration in the province’.60 When the capital of Bengal was shifted to Murshidabad from Dacca, Manik Chand also moved over to the new city; the establishment at Dacca was not closed since Dacca remained a mint town of the Mughal empire and a flourishing trade centre.61
Under the direction of Manik Chand, the banking operations expanded and soon he had brancehs all over Bengal and north India under different names. When Farrukh Siyar declared himself the Mughal emperor in Patna in 1712 he borrowed money from local bankers. Manikchand was his chief creditor.62 He had became a close confidant of Murshid Quli Khan and received from the Emperor the title of Nagar Seth.63 The nearness of The House to the Bengal Governor and the Emperor was a crucial factor in the economic progress of the family.
After Manik Chand’s death in 1714, his nephew Fateh Chand succeeded him. He was also a favourite of Murshid Quli Khan. Under him the House reached its zenith. His influence over the money market of the Mughal empire was dominant. In this he differed from both Virji Vora and Shantidas. The Mughal Emperor made him the ‘Treasurer General of Bengal’ and Emperor Muhammad Shah conferred upon him the designation of Jagat Seth as a hereditary distinction.64 It is said that before making this recommendation to the Emperor, Murshid Quli Khan forced Fateh Chand to pay him five lakh rupees.65 The Central Office of the House at Dacca was styled as ‘Manik Chand Jagat Seth Fateh Chandji’.
Fateh Chand’s nearness to the political supremos in Delhi and Murshidabad gradually led to his involvement in the politics of the period. The European companies courted him for his word carried great weight with the Nawab and the Mughal Emperor. Whenever they needed some favour from the Nawab or the Emperor, they routed their request through the House of Jagat Seth.
The English and Dutch companies requested Jagat Seth Fateh Chand not to interede on behalf of the Ostend Company with the Nawab when it pleaded for the issuance of a firman permitting them to trade. Finally, when the Ostend Company struck a deal with the Nawab,66 it deposited Rs. 70,000/- in the bank of Jagat Seth. The money was to be handed over to the Nawab after the Ostenders received the imperial firman.67
Fateh Chand’s and his successor Mahtab Rai, held that the right to the minting of coins in Bengal exclusively belonged to them even though the English East India Company had obtained an imperial rescript to use the imperial mint for coining gold and silver coins. The Bengal Nawab agreed with the views of the Jagat Seths.68 This privilege made the Seths the biggest buyer of silver in Bengal.69 Another author describes the House as the ‘biggest purchaser of all the bullion imported to Bengal.’70
In 1751 the Nawab of Bengal ordered the Dutch, the English and the French East India Companies to ‘send all money whether Bullion or Rupees to the Mint at Muxadvad (Murshidabad) to be coined there into siccas or disposed of to Jugut seat (Jagat Seth) and forbidding the Europeans to pay away any Money to their Merchants but the new Siccas’.71
The right to mint coins was a source of great profit to the Jagat Seths since it enabled them to exercise dominant control over the money market. Secondly, since Bengal was an important trade mart, coins of various countries were brought here as Bengals’s exports always exceeded her imports. They were sometimes reminted and this gave the Jagat Seths great profit because they could decide and charge the batta i.e. the relative exchange rate. Also they exchanged the various coins and received commission for this sevice. According to one estimate, the House ‘coined 5 million rupees a year and the profit n this account amounted to 0.35 million rupees’.72
An author has graphically described the reasons for the tremendous influence wielded by the House of Jagat Seth. “The major sources of the huge income, tremendous power and great prestige of the house of Jagat Seth were derived from their farms of Murshidabad and Dacca mints, two-thirds of the province’s revenue collection, their control over rates of exchange, interest rates, bill-broking and the provision of credit’.73
The economic importance of the House received impetus when it was called upon to remit the annual tribute of the Subah to Delhi.74
The existence of branches of the House in all the important trade centres in eastern, northern and western India, enabled the House to carry on the work of transmission of money through hundis.75 This was a very important segment of their activities. A contemporary author noted that a darshani hundi between rupees fifty lakhs and one crore could be drawn in the time of Seth Fateh Chand.76 The prosperity of the House was so well established that even when the Marathas in 1742 looted Rupees two crores from the House of Jagat Seth, its liquidity was not impaired. In 1747 the Chief of the Dacca Factory of the English East India Company received Rs. one lakh by means of a hundi sent from Kasimbazar and discounted by the House of Jagat Seth.
The command over so much cash enabled the House to advance large sums as credits, commercial or otherwise.
All the European trading companies were dependent upon the House in times of need. The House was playing the same role which Virji Vora played in Surat in the seventeenth century.
In 1732 when the English East India Company sent Rs. 1,50,000 to Patna, they borrowed the amount from the House of Jagat Seth.78 At Kasim Bazar, the servants or the Comapany borrowed Rs. 2,00,000 from the House79. The Company was irritated but had to admit that if they were to trade in Bengal.80 “Futteh Chand must be satisfied” and “the house must be kept in temper”.
In 1747 the English Factory at Dacca had borrowed heavily from the House of Jagat Seth and others and was not in a position to pay the interest.81
The Dutch and the French companies were equally obliged to the House for credits.
In 1756, the Dutch borrowed 4 lakhs at 9 per cent from the House of Jagat Seth. A little earlier, the French company owed one and half millon rupees to the House.82
The representative of the House stood surety for the Amirs of Delhi when Ahmad Shah invaded Delhi in 1757 and was extorting money from the Mughal nobles.83
The House advanced loans to European companies, the government and private European merchants, nobles as well as Indian businessmen.
Of course, a part of the reason for their success was the close nexus they had forged with the Nawabs of Bengal right from the days of Murshid Quli Khan till the English became ascendant after the battle of Plassey in 1757. Their relations were equally cordial with the Mughal rulers in Delhi.
But after the battle of Plassey the political scenario underwent a change. Nawab Sirajuddaula distrusted them and Nawab Mir Kasim killed Jagat Seth Mahtab Rai and Maharaja Swarup Chand and held their family members as hostage.
The English East India Company and its servants gained immense booty after their victory at Plassey. The grant of Diwani by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam further reduced the need of the Company to look for money for commercial investments. The dependence on the House of Jagat Seth for capital was gone and this heralded their decline. Within a decade their economic prosperity had suffered a great setback. This is evident from the following instance.
In the famine of 1770, Jagat Seth Khushal Chand donated only 5000/- rupees while an ordinary trader Gopi Mondal gave 50,000/- rupees.84
Such an affluent family as that of the Jagat Seth had a lavish life-style despite the Jain emphasts on austerity. For example, Mahtab Rai and Swarup Chand were purchasing Rs. 1,50,000/- worth of Dacca muslin in 1747 for household use. The Bengal Nawab purchased muslin worth Rs. 3,00,000 an year.85 Even when the House was economically declining and in ‘dire economic strait’, Jagat Seth Khushal Chand declined a pension of Rs. three lakhs an year offered by Robert Clive because he claimed that his household expenses were Rs. one lakh per month.86
The House of Jagat Seth whose capital in early sixties was calculated at 7 crore rupees was now inexorably sliding to its decline.87
Clive during his second stay in Bengal offered Jagat Seth Khushal Chand a pension of Rs. three lakhs an year but the latter declined. The fortune of the House of the Jagat Seth could not be retrieved. In 1844 Jagat Seth Gobindchand sought a pension from the Company and was granted a sum of Rs.1200/- per month.88
To sum up, the fortunes of Virji Vora were based on long distance foreign and internal trade; the prosperity of Shantidas depended upon internal trade and diamond trade; the wealth of the House of Jagat Seth resulted from a combination of banking and internal trade. It dabbled in politics, enjoyed enormous influence at the court of the Mughal Emperor and the Bengal Nawab. The political revolution of 1757 in Bengal changed the political-administrative scene to the detriment of the interest of the House. Soon it faded into background.
Besides, these three top merchants who were at the top in their time, there were several other Jains, who achieved varied degree of success.
Karma Shah, the well-known cloth trader of Chittor, earned so much money that he advanced a loan of one lakh rupees to Bahadur Shah, the prince of Gujarat. When Bahadur Shah became the ruler in 1526 A.D. Karmashah visited him in Ahmedabad. Bahadur Shah returned the money and also permitted him to repair Jain temples on the Satrunjay hill.89
Another important Jain merchant of Mewar in the sixteenth century was Bhama Shah, who earned eternal gratitude of the Sisodia ruling house and carved a name for himself in history by helping Rana pratap during his fight against the Mughal ruler, Akbar.90
In the sixteenth century, two Gujarati brothers Rajia and Vajiya belonging to Cambay became prominent traders in the portuguese held port of Goa. Their affluence is attested to by the grandeur of their shop which was adorned with an inverted gold vessel at the top. They got a person released from the Portuguese captivity in the port town of Goa by paying a huge ransom. When the person after his release once sught to kill twenty-two thieves, the latter protested saying that the particular day was sacred to Shah Rajiya. The person immediately released them saying that Rajiya brothers were not only his great friends but also had saved his life. He could not think of hurting their feeling.91
Another important trader of the port of Diu was Abhayraj, who owned four sea-going vessels and was very rich.92
I have already pointed out that the members of the Jain community in spite of being small in members were widely distributed in the country. Most of them were either small or medium businessmen, active in important villages, small towns and important urban administrative and commercial centres.
This is best illustrated by the history of the family of the famous Jain Hindi poet, Banarsidas who lived during the reigns of three Mughal Emperors, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
After Muldas’ death in Narwar (near Gwalior), his son Kharagsen (Banarsidas’s father) left the place along with his mother and arrived in Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh) where the latter’s brother Madan Singh was a jeweller dealing in precious stones.93
Trade in precious stones was an important profession of Jains; traders like Shantidas of Ahmedabad supplied gems to the royal Mughal household. Besides these, there were a host of others, in small as well in medium category, who catered to the vast clientele for earning their livelihood. Also it was not unusual for the same person to try his hand at several businesses.
Kharagsen, as he was growing up, moved on to Agra in 1569 and in association with relatives, took up shroffage, i,.e. exchange of coins of different varieties,94 a very populat business in medieval times.
After some time he came back to Jaunpur and in partnership with Ramdas Agrawal continued with the business of shroffage. Side by side, he also sold pearls and precious stones.95
Since the local governor Qulich Khan tyrannised over the jewellers, because they failed to satisfy his demand for precious stones, Kharagsen and other jewellers fled Jaunpur. Kharagsen left his family at the village of Shajadpur along with his son Banarsidas and himself went to Allahabad to earn a living.96
In the absence of his father, Banarsidas tried to earn some money by selling Cowries.97 It was his first foray in business and his grandmother celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets out of the first profit made by Banarsidas. Business was the basic profession, the Jains took up. It did not matter even if the beginning was an humble one.
Banarsidas’s father decided to take a hand in training his son in the art of business. He took him along to Allahabad, kept him as his under study and familiarised Banarsidas with the profession of usury and pawning commodities98. Generally, by participating in family business and by gaining practical experience, the scions of Jains learnt the art of business. The distinct impression is that Jains did not specialise in any particular commodity; they combined business in various items and were active in the lucrative business of shroffage and moneylending.
In 1610 A.D. Kharagsen was convinced that his son was capable of carrying on business independently. He decided to give him a chance. He collected some jewel-incrusted ornaments, some pieces of gems, twenty maunds of ghee, two barrels of oil, some locally manufactured textiles, all costing rupees two hundred only. A part of this amount was borrowed. He wrote down the prices on a piece of paper and asked him to go to Agra and started business there.99
The spirit of entrepreneurship displayed here should be noted. The father, personally arranged that the son set himself up in business at a distant place on his own. Of course, Agra being the capital city of the Mughal empire, was a flourishing business centre and provided prospects for larger profits. This must have been uppermost in the mind of Kharagsen when he selected the imperial city for his son to start his business career.
As was customary in those days Banarsidas joined a caravan, proceeding to Agra. The caravan travelled on an average of five Kos (around fifteen kilometres) each day100. The journey was full of incidents because of torrential rains but eventually Banarsidas reached Agra and began trading101.
The transaction in oil and ghee was profitable while he suffered loss in the sale of jewels and ornaments. But overall the profits were enough to enable him to pay off all his debts.102
After a stay of couple of years, Banarsidas along with two friends undertook business trip to Patna, then the most important commercial city in eastern India103. The journey was full of hazards; they survived accidents, loss of way; attack by thieves,104 etc. They reached the city. Probably this was a pleasure-cum-business trip. Banarsidas had literary and religious interest and was unable to concentrate on business. He returned to Jaunpur.
After the death of his father in 1616 A.D. Banarsidas decided to have another go at business. He borrowed rupees five hundred and invested the money in the purchase of Jaunpuri textiles.105 Raising capital on credit for purposes of trade was an accepted practice. However, before he could start trading he was summoned to Agra by Seth Sabalsingh Mothia. 106 Banarsidas entrusted the goods to a friend and went to Agra. The purpose was to clear the accounts.
It seems that Banarsidas was at this point of time issuing and receiving Hundis on behalf of Sabalsingh and this was his primary source of livelihood.
The journey to Agra was full of misadventures. On one occasion he was on the point of being arrested by the police on charges of circulating counterfeit money. With great difficulty107 he managed to extricate himself from this situation.
Sabalsingh Mothia was an extremely rich trader. When Banarsidas reached Agra, he was enjoying with his friends a programme of music and paid no heed to his pleas for clearing the accounts. This continued for thirty months. Obviously rich traders could afford to ignore their subordinates who had to submit to their whims. Eventually Banarsidas met Sabalsingh’s brother-in-law and requested him to plead on his behalf. He persuaded Sabalsingh to give in writing that Banarsidas owed nothing to him.108 This long wait must have disenchanted Banarsidas from pursuing a commercial profession.
Banarsidas gave up his trading activities and for the rest of his life devoted himself to literary and religious pursuits.109
It is said in the time of Jahangir, 88 Shvetambar Jain families lived in Agraa,109a
Savaji Kabanji Parekh of Porbandar was another important Jain trader. He complained to Shah Jahan when the local administrator raised tax from 3 p.c. to 6 p.c. on goods sold by him. He succeeded in securing an imperial firman which ordered all the local officials not to exact more than 3 p.c. as tax110. He constructed a Jain temple in 1635 A.D. but later on accepted Pushti Marg, as propagated by Vallabhacharya111.
A group of fourteen merchants lent to the East India Company in Bengal between 31 March and 25 July 1670 a sum of 5.23 lakhs of rupees. Of these Kalyanchand Jesang and Kapurchand were certainly Jains.112
The narrative underlines certain important facts about the economic life of Jains in medieval times. First, trade was their primary economic occupation. In pursuit of trade they had spreed all over north India from Multan in the West to Patna, Rajmahal, etc. in the east. They were to be found in major villages, small towns and important commercial centres. Capital could be easily raised for investment on credit. Loans were available as a part of normal business practice.
The affluent merchants had a wide trading network which enabled them to participate in long distance trade and also receive and transfer money from and to different places.
The combination of trade, banking and shroffage brought immense material prosperity to some Jains. On occasions the economic clout was translated into political influence as the history of the House of Jagat Seth amply demonstrates.
The Mughal capital Agra, the commercial entrepot of the Mughal empire, was the headquarters of many eminent Jain traders. Besides Sabalsingh, we know of Hiranand Mukim who was so rich that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir visited his house as an invitee in 1610. Jahangir permitted him to lead a congregation of Jains from Allahabad to the Jain holy place Sammed Shikhar in Bihar.133 Uttamchand Jawahari has been mentioned as another jeweller of Agra.114
It is clear that in addition to their participation in banking and shroffage, a major source of Jain affluence was their trade in diamonds, pearls and other precious stones. In the seventeenth century diamond trade in India was booming. Even the Europeans participated in this trade. Fischel notes, “…prominent London Jews, who, attracted by the wealth of the diamond mines at Golconda, seriously considered going to India settling in Madras. Already in 1670 London Jews were interested in the Indian Diamond trade and a certain Rodrigues of Berry Street and a Da Costa are reported to have paid some money into the East India Company Bank”115
Involvement in trade, banking usury exchange of coins required the person concerned to pick up at least rudiments of 3 Rs—reading, writing and arithmatic. Since trade was their primary profession, they were a literate community, Literacy among Jains had deeper roots as they were exposed to the preachings of their wandering monks. Wherever there was a concentration of some Jains, during the rainy season, some monks would stay, deliever lectures on religious scriptures. Hence, as a community the Jains had enough incentive to learn to read and write. They were skilled in accounting. Moving from place to place, they had also developed expertise in local languages and were invariably familiar with two or three languages. The grandfather or Banarsidas had studied both Hindi and Persian.116 Hence, many Jains were offered jobs in the administration, before and under the imperial Mughals and the local nobility.
Jobs in the administration were the next important source of livelihood for the Jains.
Sangram was appointed a minister by Sher Shah Suri.117 His son Karmachandra eventually rose to become a trusted minister of Akbar.118
Under Akbar the Great, Than Singh was an important minister.119 He was responsible for Akbar’s invitation to Hiravijaya Suri.120
When Man Singh conquered Bengal on behalf of Akbar, he carried with him a number of Jains, who were then entrusted with the task of reorganizing the revenue administration. Diwan Dhanna Srimal has been mentioned as one such official in Bengal.121 Kharagsen the father of Banarsidas went to Bengal to serve under Dhanna Srimal. He was made a treasurer of Potdar of four parganas and he collected revenue with the help of two karkuns and forwarded the amount so collected to the local governor.122 He returned to Jaunpur after Dhanna suddenly died.123
Nanu Gadha accompanied Akbar’s General Man Singh to Bengal. He became so affluent that he constructed eighty temples in Bengal. He owned seventy-two elephants.124
Kharagsen’s father Muldas was also a government official, who served in the jaagir of Narwar, granted to a Mughal official. It is reported that along with the collection of the revenue, he also advanced loans and earned extra money.125
Another Jain, Jaita Shah was also a confidante of Akbar.125a
Among other administrative officials at the local level, mention may be made of Sahaskaran of Viramgaon (near Ahmedabad), who commanded a force of 500 cavalry.126
Another Jain to make his mark as a distinguished administrator was Muhnot Nainsi, who was at one time the Prime Minister of Jodhpur and who came from a family of distinguished administrators.127 He was a historian as well. He led the State armed forces on several occasions. His valour on the battle-field made the enemies tremble with tear.128
- W. Foster (ed), English Factories in India, 1618-1669 (13 vols), Oxford, 1906-27.
- Coolhas (ed), Generale Missiven Der Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Vol. I & II Martinus Nijhoff, 1664.
- Thevenot, Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri, S.N. Sen (ed), New Delhi, 1949, p.22.
- V.K. Jain, Trade and Traders in Western India (AD 1000-1300), Delhi, 1990, p. 107. “Jagdu had regular trade relation with Persia, was so rich that during a terrible famine lasting for three years, he was able to distribute gram free to the people”. Jagdu had also built a mosque for the use of Muslims. Ibid, p. 79.
- Banarasidas names a number of Jain traders residing in Agra, viz. Sabalsingh Mothia, Kunwarpal Johri, Banarsidas, Ardhakathanak, Nathuram Premi (ed), Bombay, 1970.
- Surishwar Aur Samrat, Krishnalal Varma (tr), Baroda, Samvat, 1980.
- J.P. Jain, Pramukh Jain Purush Aur Malulayen, New Delhi, 1975, p. 296. Shah Hiranand was the most prominent Jain trader of Lahore.
7a. K.A. Antonova and N.M. Goldberg (eds), Russko-Indiiskiye Otnosheniya V XVIII V. Moscow, 1965, p. 11, 15, 56, 66, 64, ff. The merchant was called Marwari Barayev and was the richest among Indian merchants in Russia.
- B.G. Gophale, Surat in the Seventeenth Century, Bombay, 1979, p. 137.
- E FI (1618 – 21), p. 86
- B.G. Gokhale, p. 145.
- The entire stock of coral brought by the English in the ship Discovery from the Red Sea was purchased by Virji Vora. EF1 (1646-50), p. 210; EF1 (1668-69), p. 195. The English had temporarily broken their relations with Virji Vora in 1665. EF1 (1665-67), p. 3, For his dealings with the Dutch, see EF1 (1668-50), p. 88; Gokhale, p. 143. For his dealings with the French, Gokhale, pp. 143, 144, 145; EF1 (1668-69), p. 206.
- O.C. Kail, The Dutch in India, Delhi, p. 73.
- EFI (1630-33), pp. 301-02; EFI (1642-45), 99; EFI (1646-50), p. 281; EF I (1651-54), pp. 57, 87, EFI (1651-54), p. 30.
- EFI (1646-50), p. 330.
- Moreland, W.H., From Akbar to Aurangzeb : A Study in Indian Economic History, London, 1923, p. 153.
- Grokhale, p. 143.
- EFI (1624-29), pp. 90-94.
- Surendra Gopal, Commerce And Crafts In Gujarat, New Delhi, 1975, p. 110.
- Kail, p. 73; EFI (1637-41), pp. 235, 288.
- Makrand Mehta, Indian Merchants And Entrepreneurs In Historical Perspective, Delhi 1991, p. 61; Kail, p. 73.
- EFI (1618 – 21), p. 86.
- EFI (1661 – 64), p. 310.
- Kail, p. 73.
- EFI (1642-45)
- It is stated that in 1668 Virji Vora and Haji Zahid had in stock enough quicksilver and vermilion to satisfy the requirements of the “Whole country for many years”. EFI (1668-1669), p. 24.
- Jawaid Akhtar, “Mercantile And Financial Operations of Virji Vora, the Great 17th Century Merchant of Surat”, Proceedings, Indian History Congress, Madras Session, 1996, p. 318.
- Ibid., p. 319.
- Gokhale, p. 142.
- Jawaid Akhtar, p. 318.
- Ibid., p. 319
- Kail, p. 73.
- EFI (1670-77), p. 192.
34a. Commerce and Crafts in Gujarat, p. 66
- EFI (1624-29), pp. 27-30.
- Narmadashankar Dave, Suratni Mukhatesar Hakikat, Bombay, 1866, pp. 1-2, quoted in Makrand Mehta, “Virji Vora : An Indian Merchant”, Indian Merchant and Entrepreneur, p. 59.
37a. K.N. Kamdar, “Sadavrata”, Binelan Moti, November 1968, pp. 125-29. Kail writes that Virji Vora died in 1677. Kail, p. 73.
- Banarsidas graphically describes how Qulich Khan, the administrator of Jaunpur tyrannised over the local dealers in precious stones, who to save themselves fled to nearby forests and hid themselves. On another occasion when the news of he death of the Mughal emperor became known, the whole town of Jaunpur anxiously waited for the outbreak of violence. Ardhakathanak, pp. 111-13.
- Ardhakathanak, p. 148.
- Indian Merchants and Entrepreneurs, pp. 96-97.
- Ibid., p. 96.
- Ibid., p. 100.
- Ibid., p. 102.
- Ibid., p. 103.
- Ibid., p. 104; Commerce and Crafts in Gujarat, pp. 177-78.
- Ibid., 107.
- Ibid., p. 109.
52a. D. Tripathi (ed), Business Communities in India, Delhi, 1984, pp. 44-45.
- EFI (1637-1641), pp. xvi, 88, 100.
- Tripathi, op. cit., pp. 26-27.
- Commerce and Crafts in Gujarat, p. 179. Eight thousand traders left Broach in April 1668 and they returned in December 1668.
- J.H. Little, House of Jagat Seth, Calcutta, 1967, p. vi.
- Om Prakash, The Dutch East India Company And the Economy Of Bengal, 1630-1720, Princeton, pp. 58-60.
- Little, p. 19.
- Ibid., p. vii.
- Murshid Quli Khan And His Times, p. 96.
- Ibid., 99.
- Little, pp. vii, 26; Sushil Chaudhary, From Prosperity To Decline Eighteenth Century Bengal, Delhi, 1995, p. 110; Murshid Quli Khan…, p. 99.
- Ibid., pp. 99-100.
- Little, pp. vii, 26.
- Murshid Quli Khan…, p.209.
- Little, pp. vii-ix.
- D.K. Taknet, Industrial Entrepreneurship of Shekhawati Marwaris, Jaipur, 1987, p. 76.
- Little, p. ix.
- K.K. Datta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar, Patna, 1969, p. 14
- Sushil Chaudhury, p. 111.
- Ibid., p. 110
- Little, p. ix.
- Murshid Quli Khan…, pp. 234-5.
- Taknet, p. 72.
- K.K. Datta, Economic Condition of the Bengal Subeh, Calcutta, 1984, p. 151.
- Taknet, p. 68.
- Little, p.x.
- Economic Condition…, p. 151.
- Little p. xi; The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar, Patna, p. 20. KK. Datta, pp. 122-23. Fatehchand in 1743 claimed and received Rs. 25,000 from the English East India Company, which Russell had borrowed from him and had died without repaying the amount.
- Ibid, p. xii.
- Little, p, xvi.
- Little, p. xvi.
- Ibid., p. xvii.
- Little, p. xxiii.
- C.B. Sheth, Jainism In Gujarat (A.D. 1100 to 1600), Bhawnagar, not dated, p. 237.
- Ibid, p. 273.
- Surishwar Aur Samrat Akbar, pp. 249-53.
- Ibid. pp. 213-14.
- Ardha Kathanak, p. 19.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- Ibid, p. 21
- Ibid., 22.
- Ibid., p. 23
- Ibid., p. 24.
- Ibid., Surendra Gopal, “The Jain Community and Akbar”, Jainism and Prakrit in Ancient and Medieval India, Bhattacharya (ed), Delhi, 1994, p. 423. Hemraj Patni of Patna was married to a niece of Seth Hiranand Mukim of Agra.
- Ibid, p. 24.
- Ibid, pp. 30, 31ff
109a. “The Jain Community and Akbar”, p. 425.
- Indian Merchants and Entrepreneurs.., pp. 68-69.
- Ibid., p. 79.
- Ibid. p. 29.
- Ardhakathanak, vs 327 and 328.
- W.J. Fischel, “The Jewish-Merchant Colony In Madras (Fort St. George) During The 17th And 18th Centuries”. Journal of Social And Economic Histoy Of Orient, Vol. III, Part I, April 1960, p. 81.
- Ardhakathanak, p. 19.
- A Karmachandra Vamsotkirtanakam Kavyam v. 234.
- Ibid, v. 260.
- Ibid, v. 234.
- Surishwar Aur Samrat Akbar, pp. 99, 155, 258. Manukalyan and Amipal assisted him.
- Ardhakathanak, p. 20.
- Ibid., p. 20.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- Kasturchand Kasliwal. Khandelwal Jain Samaj Ka Brihad Itihas, Vol. I, Jaipur, 1989, pp. 196, 198.
- Ardhakathank, p. 19.
- Surishwar Aur Samrat Akbar, p. 222.
- Brajmohan Jawaliya, Munhta Nainsi Delhi. 1982, pp. 8-10. 14-16.
- Ibid, p. 18.