WHEN you see the wonderful displays in the crafts museums of India you will not be surprised to learn that crafts formed a major part of our exports throughout history. In fact, India’s crafts communities produced such fine and artistic objects that merchants travelled from far to acquire these goods. Seventeenth century courtly patronage, trade, the jajmani system and the demand for everyday utility crafts by the rural population (until the second half of the seventeenth century), resulted in a steady home market and a worldwide reputation for Indian crafts.
Tavernier, a French traveller in Mughal India, states that the Ambassador of the Shah of Persia (CE 1628–1641), on his return from India, presented his master with a coconut shell, set with jewels, containing a muslin turban thirty yards in length, so exquisitely fine that it could scarcely be felt by the touch.
India has had a long history of trade in craft with other countries beginning from the Harappan Civilisation 5000 years ago. Over the centuries, trade with Greece and Rome grew and historical evidence can be found in literature and archaeological excavations. Flourishing trade led to overland routes like the Silk Route and brought silk from China through Asia into Europe. There are accounts of caravans, and traders speaking different languages, meeting at trading stations along the route. Ship-building centres and ports developed along India’s long coastline. Sea routes to the Mediterranean countries, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, South-east Asia and China are mentioned both in Sangam literature and foreign accounts.
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