A Gateway to the West: Surat
Surat is a well-known town in India, located in the Gujarat state.
Today, Surat is famous for diamond cutting and polishing.
But during the Mughal period, this city served as one of the major ports and emporium of western trade.
In emporium, goods from diverse production centres were bought and sold.
Along with Surat, emporiums were also available at Cambay (present-day Kambhat town of Gujarat) and later at Ahmedabad.
Trade with West Asia via the Gulf of Ormuz was done from Surat.
Along with trade, many pilgrim ships sailed from Surat to Mecca. Hence, it was called the gate to Mecca.
The population of Surat was a mixture of different castes and creeds.
In the 17th century, Portuguese, Dutch, and English set up their factories and warehouses at Surat.
An English chronicler, Ovington wrote an account of the Surat port in 1689.
He wrote that an average of hundred ships of different countries can be found anchored at this port.
The town has several retail and wholesale shops selling cotton textiles.
They were famous for gold lace or zari borders and had a market in West Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The rest-houses were built by the state to take care of the needs of people from all over the world who came to the city.
There were big buildings and pleasure parks.
The Kathiawad seths or Mahajans had huge banking houses at Surat.
Any person who deposited money with these Mahajans was given a deposit slip.
These deposit slips were called as Hundies.
Surat Hundis had a reputation in markets of Cairo in Egypt, Basra in Iraq and Antwerp in Belgium.
But by the end of the 17th century, markets and productivity of Surat started to fall.
The reason for this fall was the decline of the Mughal empire in India.
The Portuguese controlled the sea route.
Surat had to face competition from Bombay which was the headquarters of East India Company.
Surat in Gujarat was the emporium of western trade during the Mughal period.
There was no discrimination on the basis of caste or creed, the city was multi-racial and people of all castes and creeds lived there.
According to the chronicles of Ovington, a hundred ships of different countries could be found anchored at the port at any given time.
Hundis or the deposit slips were honoured in the markets of Cairo in Egypt, Basra in Iraq and Antwerp in Belgium.
In the 17th century, Surat began to decline because of the loss of markets and productivity due to the decline of the Mughal Empire.