life of jains in Medieval times
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ï¿½
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
What is remarkable is that Virji
Vora had achieved this distinction without any political
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
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
Jain jewellers were to be found in
places where there was a concentration of nobility, administrative functionaries
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
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
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
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
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
The above two incidents are highly
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The command over so much cash
enabled the House to advance large sums as credits, commercial or
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Banarsidas gave up his trading
activities and for the rest of his life devoted himself to literary and
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
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
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
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
Involvement in trade, banking usury
exchange of coins required the person concerned to pick up at least rudiments of
3 Rsï¿½reading, 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
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
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
Foster (ed), English Factories in India, 1618-1669 (13 vols), Oxford,
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,
J.P. Jain, Pramukh Jain Purush Aur Malulayen, New Delhi, 1975, p.
296. Shah Hiranand was the most prominent Jain trader of
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.
FI (1618 - 21), p. 86
10. B.G. Gokhale, p.
11. 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.
12. O.C. Kail, The
Dutch in India, Delhi, p. 73.
(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.
(1646-50), p. 330.
15. Moreland, W.H.,
From Akbar to Aurangzeb : A Study in Indian Economic History,
London, 1923, p. 153.
16. Grokhale, p.
(1624-29), pp. 90-94.
18. Surendra Gopal,
Commerce And Crafts In Gujarat, New Delhi, 1975, p.
19. Kail, p. 73;
EFI (1637-41), pp. 235, 288.
20. Makrand Mehta,
Indian Merchants And Entrepreneurs In Historical Perspective, Delhi 1991,
p. 61; Kail, p. 73.
21. EFI (1618 -
21), p. 86.
22. EFI (1661 -
64), p. 310.
24. Kail, p.
27. 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.
28. 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.
29. Ibid., p.
30. Gokhale, p.
31. Jawaid Akhtar, p.
32. Ibid., p.
33. Kail, p.
(1670-77), p. 192.
34a. Commerce and
Crafts in Gujarat, p. 66
(1624-29), pp. 27-30.
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.
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.
Merchants and Entrepreneurs, pp. 96-97.
41. Ibid., p.
42. Ibid., p.
43. Ibid., p.
45. Ibid., p.
46. Ibid., p. 104;
Commerce and Crafts in Gujarat, pp. 177-78.
50. Ibid., p.
52a. D. Tripathi (ed),
Business Communities in India, Delhi, 1984, pp.
53. EFI (1637-1641),
pp. xvi, 88, 100.
54. Tripathi, op.
cit., pp. 26-27.
55. Commerce and
Crafts in Gujarat, p. 179. Eight thousand traders left Broach in April 1668
and they returned in December 1668.
56. J.H. Little,
House of Jagat Seth, Calcutta, 1967, p. vi.
58. Om Prakash,
The Dutch East India Company And the Economy Of Bengal, 1630-1720,
Princeton, pp. 58-60.
59. Little, p.
60. Ibid., p.
62. Murshid Quli
Khan And His Times, p. 96.
64. Little, pp. vii,
26; Sushil Chaudhary, From Prosperity To Decline Eighteenth Century
Bengal, Delhi, 1995, p. 110; Murshid Quli Khan..., p.
65. Ibid., pp.
66. Little, pp. vii,
67. Murshid Quli
68. Little, pp.
69. D.K. Taknet,
Industrial Entrepreneurship of Shekhawati Marwaris, Jaipur, 1987, p.
70. Little, p.
71. K.K. Datta, The
Dutch in Bengal and Bihar, Patna, 1969, p. 14
72. Sushil Chaudhury,
73. Ibid., p.
74. Little, p.
75. Murshid Quli
Khan..., pp. 234-5.
76. Taknet, p.
77. K.K. Datta,
Economic Condition of the Bengal Subeh, Calcutta, 1984, p.
78. Taknet, p.
Condition..., p. 151.
82. 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
83. Ibid, p.
84. Little, p,
85. Little, p.
87. Ibid., p.
88. Little, p.
89. C.B. Sheth,
Jainism In Gujarat (A.D. 1100 to 1600), Bhawnagar, not dated, p.
90. Ibid, p.
91. Surishwar Aur
Samrat Akbar, pp. 249-53.
92. Ibid. pp.
Kathanak, p. 19.
94. Ibid., p.
97. Ibid, p.
100. Ibid., p.
103. Ibid., p.
104. 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
105. Ibid, p.
109. Ibid, pp. 30,
109a. "The Jain
Community and Akbar", p. 425.
Merchants and Entrepreneurs.., pp. 68-69.
112. Ibid., p.
113. Ibid. p.
Ardhakathanak, vs 327 and 328.
115. 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.
117. A Karmachandra
Vamsotkirtanakam Kavyam v. 234.
118. Ibid, v.
119. Ibid, v.
120. Surishwar Aur
Samrat Akbar, pp. 99, 155, 258. Manukalyan and Amipal assisted
Ardhakathanak, p. 20.
122. Ibid., p.
123. Ibid., p.
Kasliwal. Khandelwal Jain Samaj Ka Brihad Itihas, Vol. I, Jaipur, 1989,
pp. 196, 198.
Ardhakathank, p. 19.
126. Surishwar Aur
Samrat Akbar, p. 222.
Jawaliya, Munhta Nainsi Delhi. 1982, pp. 8-10.
128. Ibid, p.