Social life and governance in Mughal India.

Following the previous two columns, we continue to highlight little known aspects of Mughal India, as recorded by Dr Francios Bernier, a French doctor in his Travels in the Mogul Empire (AD 1656-1668) published in 1670. The work is based upon his 12-year stay during the reigns of Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb, under the protection of Danishmand Khan, a Mughal courtier.

Ninth, Mughal economy, trade and foreign relations. Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama (born 1460 or 1469 AD) was the first known European to land at the Calicut Port on India's Malabar Coast. He died in Cochin, India in 1524. Babur conquered India two years later in 1526. Commercial monopoly for decades on Indian pepper and cinnamon trading, through the 'Spice Route', boosted the Portuguese Empire. It would take another century, for other European powers, first the Dutch, then the English and later the French and the Danish (Danes) to challenge Portugal's monopoly and naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean, to enter India.

By Dr Bernier's time, the Portuguese traders, due to their avarice and bad conduct, had lost supremacy to the Dutch. He considered Dutch, who were seeking concessions in taxation, generally deceptive and exploitative in their trade relations with Aurangzeb. Foreign trade was a compulsion for Mughal India, as Emperor Shah Jahan's revenue, for instance, seldom crossed six crore rupiah.

India was a big depository of global gold and silver in temple endowments and ornaments. International trade with Ottoman Empire, Persia and Europe brought the precious metals to India. Africa, India and Ottoman Turkey through Red Sea were favoured destination for slave trade. Ethiopian King presented Emperor Aurangzeb with 25 choicest slaves, some of young age who could be turned eunuchs for employment in seraglio (harem). Frank pirates and slave traders would boast that they converted more people into Christianity in a year than the missionaries would do in ten years. Surat port was used as embarkation point for Hajj pilgrims, hence revered by Muslims.

Persia enjoyed a special status in Mughal foreign relations as most Mughal nobility was of Perian descent. Hence, Persian Ambassador would be usually unencumbered by royal protocol in the Mughal Court.

Fresh and dry fruit from Afghanistan, Kashmir and Central Asia was available in the bazars of Delhi and Agra.

Tenth, corruption. In Mughal India, public office was for sale in accordance with the practice in vogue in contemporary...

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