Who were Traders, Kings and Pilgrims?: Sangam Age, Silk Route

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Who were Traders, Kings and Pilgrims?

John Dryden said, “War is the trade of the kings.” India is a country that has witnessed several wars and just as many kings. India is a land of many mysteries and hence has managed to hold an interest of a lot of travellers, traders, conquerors and pilgrims around the globe. But who were these travellers, traders, conquerors and pilgrims? Let us know more!

Who Were They?

Over the period of many kingdoms, this country has witnessed a constant evolution. Traders, kings and pilgrims have walked this land and become part of its immortal history.

The period of 1000 B.C witnessed the Second Urbanisation in the Northern part of India. Deccan Peninsula and Southern Indian region saw an onset eco-habitation which was a combination of both, the Iron Age as well as Megalithic age, giving way to a very strong civilization in its wake.

Sangam Age

South India saw a period of the golden age from 300 BC to 300 AD which was popularly known as the Sangam Age. The roots for this age were laid during the Iron Age. This period gave us many beautiful poetries which reflected the grandeur of South India, primarily Tamil society and traditions.

Sangam Age

During a time as old as 300 BC, Tamils had good business relations with countries like Cambodia and Rome. It is important to note that these countries in themselves had very rich cultural traditions during that time. It must have been a natural course for Tamils to have trade relations with these nations, both geographically as well as culturally.

Literature During the Sangam Age
Every period has its literature. Sangam period also had rich literary tradition. Sangam literally means a combination or a meeting. The Tamil literature also reflects this in the meeting of poets and scholars from around the world in three literary gatherings under the patronage of Pandyan Kings, some 2200 years ago.

Historians have found that the Tamil grammar ‘Tolkappiyam’ is the only surviving literary piece from the second assembly. The third assembly was held in Madurai and around 2000 poems were created during the period which was then collectively called Sangam Literature.

Kingdoms of the South
There are three kingdoms mentioned in the Sangam Literature: The Chelas, The Cholas and the Pandyas. Chelas were also known as Keralaputras. Their primary trade is in spices and cattle.

Cholas were known to rule the Kaveri delta and some areas of Sri Lanka. Pandyas primarily settled around Madurai. During the period of Pandyas, Madurai was renowned for the third literary assembly. These three dynasties were collectively known as Tamilakam.

Foreign Trade
South India, specifically Tamilakam was involved in trade relations with countries in far off places. Proofs of these trades have been found in Greek texts such as Pliny’s Periplus History which talk of such international trade relations.

Most Historians believe that these trade routes were the gateway for Christianity to come into South India. Countries on the south-east side of India such as Sri Lanka, Java, Cambodia, Sumatra etc. were also involved in trade with the Tamil Kingdoms.

Invaders from Foreign Lands
The key invaders in the North-western province of India were the Indo-Greeks, Parthians, Sungasm, Kushanas and Shakas. Sungas entered India during 185BC after the Last Mauryan ruler was defeated. They conquered Magadha and began their rule. The Indo-Greeks hailed from Afghanistan and established their kingdom in Punjab.

The Parthians were from Central Asia and made Gandhara their capital when they came to India. Kushanas were nomads belonging to North- West China. They won over the other three tribes and established their kingdom under the liege of Kanishka who is hailed as their greatest ruler.

Trade in the Period of Foreign Rule
Since maximum invasions were made under the pretext of trade relations, the trade naturally flourished during their reigns. The kingdoms promoted trade by issuing coins in metals like gold, silver and copper. During this period Sopara, Broach and Kalyan were the prominent port towns.

The Silk Route which we know of today was discovered during this period. It connected India to Rome, passing through Central Asia. This route was one of the key factors in the development and progress during this period.

Religious Growth
India had two key religions at the time: Hinduism and Buddhism. The latter was further divided into Hinayana and Mahayana. The Buddha statue in Bamiyan was built during this period and was one of the tallest statues of Buddha. Due to Buddhism gaining popularity worldwide, many pilgrims visited India to see the place of enlightenment.

In Hinduism, there was an upsurge in the Bhakti movement with saints worshipping Shiva and Vishnu. There were devotees who dedicated poetry and songs in the name of their deities. Bhagavad Gita found special importance in this period.


What was the reason for kings to control Silk Route?
The Kings tried controlling Silk Route because they could benefit from the taxes and gifts that the traders travelling through this route carried with themselves.