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Changing Nature of Maritime Trade

Kanakalatha Mukund

Edited by Sara Keller  and Michael Pearson
Primus Books  in association with Darshak Itihas Nidhi, Vadodara, New Delhi, 2015, pp. xxviii 332, Rs. 1350.00


The title of the book immediately raised a question in my mind: how much new information on the maritime trade and ports of Gujarat would be available now, about three decades after the path-breaking work by Das Gupta, Pearson and other historians, and later, by Lakshmi Subramanian? As if in anticipation of this query, Hasmukh Shah of the Darshak Itihas Nidhi of Vadodara introduces this book with the statement that, notwithstanding its extensive overseas trade going back for more than two thousand years, the maritime history of Gujarat is a ‘much-neglected area’, and adds that ‘the more we tried to identify the areas of ignorance, the more one discovered new ones’ (p. ix). This book is intended to fill some of these gaps and is the outcome of the ongoing research undertaken by the institute, as well as the proceedings of a seminar on the port cities of Gujarat, conducted in 2012. The growing body of work on ocean studies focuses exclusively on the sea. Pearson, in his Introduction, however cautions against this approach and points out that ‘port cities, located on the land but also facing the sea, are a more viable alternative than trying to write an exclusively seaoriented history’ (p. xiv). His main proposition is that the history of people on the sea is not divorced from their lives and history on land, and that a distinctive maritime society is really found on coastal areas; it was more fluid and flexible, more open to new ideas and influences than was the case among people who lived further inland or were sea-going mariners. One of the singular features of Gujarat ports is that nearly all the major ports were situated on rivers or estuaries than on the sea. The topographical change induced by heavy silting and the changing political realities impacted their functioning and economic viability. Y.K. Alagh’s introductory paper in fact points to the heavy siltation brought down by the great rivers of Gujarat which resulted in the reclamation of coastal land and ends with a warning on the possible impact of climate change on port towns and coastal communities. (All in all, a less than inspiring first piece!) Y.S .Rawat’s paper shows the antiquity of the maritime trade of Gujarat. The archaeological evidence clearly establishes that even in the pre-Harappan period the region of Gujarat had extensive trade with Mesopotamia and the Persian ...

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