Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 11 November 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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The Trading Community in Early Tamil Society Up to 900 AD

R. Jeyasurya, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.


We have a lot of Information about trade and commerce during the early period in Tamil country. Inscriptions, numismatic evidences and literary evidences throw light upon Internal and external trade which help in collecting information about the various guilds prevailing in those days. The main literal source material of trading community in early Tamil society is found in Pattinappalai, which belongs to the Anthology of Pathuppattu.

From this source material we came to know about the internal and external trade of the early Tamil society, which is corroborated by the finds from the excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of Korkai, Arikkamedu etc. From Arikkamedu, numismatic evidence is the most important source, which gives about the foreign trade of ear1y Tamils with Rome. Agananuru gives the details about the trade of the Tamil merchants in North India. The literary source gives an account of the sea trade of the Tamils and information about the various ports. Pearl, Coral, Sandal etc., were exported from these ports.

The dissertation work is mainly based on the trading community of the early Tamil country with emphasis on merchant guilds. Numismatic evidences and inscriptions are the main source materials for the study, of trade and commerce. It is possible to know how far these trading communities, i.e. Merchant guild, the caste guild, weights and measures, currency system, collection and distribution of products, help in the future development of Industrial growths, trade and commerce. Visits to Arikkamedu, Karur and Kaveripalayam helped to collect materials about the trade prevailing in early Tamil country.


The primary sources giving information connected with this topic are Pattinappalai, one of the Anthology of Pattupattu and the other work Ettuthogai and the Twin Epics Silappadikaram and Manimekalai. Pattupattu gives a picturesque view about the bazaars and streets of the city of Madurai. From Pattinappalai we find out lots of information about the famous cities of South India which imported horses by the sea. It throws some additional light on the life of Kaveripattinam.

From Agananuru and Purananuru we get a vivid description about the communication of Romans with India. Apart from the literary sources, some inscriptional evidences provide valuable information about the merchant communities and their duties.

Secondary sources are also of much value in writing the dissertation. Number of books connected with the subject and Journals containing valuable articles of eminent scholars have also been consulted. With all available primary and secondary sources a sincere attempt has been made to present a picture without bias and prejudice.

The topic "Trading community in Early Tamil Society" is detailed in three chapters. The first chapter describes about the foreign notices, which provide detail, about the location of the ports, as well as the inland towns. As a maritime state, the development of ports became a primary necessity for them. So the trios, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas vied with one another in developing their ports and attracting foreigners. These ports developed into focal points of prosperity in the country. Invariably the best port became the capital city of the ruler. Import and export with godown facilities offered work, and a good section of the people flourished on the fruits of their labour in ports. In view of the important role they, played in the 1ife of the people during the period under study, the ports are given priority.

In the second chapter Industry and Trade are dealt with. The chapter is sub-divided into two sections. In section 'A', the Internal Trade has been discussed. The primitive pattern of exchange of essentials on barter systems was common in villages. But side by side with that, in the sangam age, there were bazaars and markets where the monetary economy was prevalent.

Section 'B' reveals the foreign trade of the Tamil peop1e. There seems to have been no prohibition against Tamil merchants crossing the seas to carry on their trade. There was a flourishing sea trade in big ports like Musiri, Tondi, Puhar and Korkai in Sangam times. Foreign notices confirm the evidence of ear1y Tamil 1iterature that in the dawn of the Christian era there was a flourishing trade between Tamilnadu and the Mediterrenean countries.

The object of the third chapter is to trace the merchant community and its functions in the Ancient Tamil Society. Merchants were generally associated with powerful guilds and corporations which often transcended political decisions. The most celebrated guilds from the ear1y days were the Manigraman and the Nanadesi or Ainnurguvar. The records of the Kakatiyas speak of merchants of the home country (Svadesabaharulu), merchants of another country (Paradesabeharulu), and merchants from different countries (Nanadesis). The first were the local merchants organized into loca1 guilds - Nagarams. The second were like the first except that they cane from another country. The last were the powerful guilds a1ready mentioned which included merchants from all countries with established branches in all of them and perhaps playing a prominent part in the foreign trade of the country as a whole.


The Tami1 country was renowned to the world over for its products, like pearls, feathers, sandal wood, teak, pepper, muslin, etc. As a maritime nation the development of ports became a primary necessity, for them. And the early kings, the Cheras, and the Cholas and the Pandyas vied with one another in developing their ports and attracting foreigners. These ports developed into focal points of prosperity in the country. Pearl fishing was also responsible to a certain extent for the development of ports. The above factors considerably encouraged the growth of the ports during the period. Certain ports were submerged by an invasion of the ocean. The muds carried by the rivers and deposited in the ports have also rendered certain ports useless. Thus an attempt to trace some of the ports detailed below in the Tamilakam of to-day may only end in a futile venture. With the great development of trade with Rome in the very beginning of the Christian era, sea port towns rose to great importance, and so they are mentioned in our ancient poem also. From the Sangam works we learn that on the east coast the prominent ports were Mavilangai (Modern Mahabalipuram), the celebrated Puhar or Kakandi, known as Kaveripattinam, Korkai and Kumari.

According to Sangam works Musiri was the most prominent harbour and the next to that was Tondi. Several other ports mentioned by the foreign writers such as Camara, Poduce, Sopata Colchi are not traceable in the Tamil literary works.

We now turn to the foreign notices, which provide details about the location of the ports, as well as the inland towns. The exact dates when these writers completed their works are not determinable, but arguing on the basis of internal and external evidence, the authors of these books have provided approximate dates on their compositions.

The Natural history about 77 A.D. by Pliny mentions several, ports on the west coast of the Tamil country, but his work was not an original contribution for he based his facts on the information furnished by earlier writers. Perhaps the most useful data regarding the ports and the maritime trade of south India are available in the 'Periplus of the Erythraean sea'.

These accounts are confirmed by the poets of the Sangam age. Paranar, for instance, adverts to the heavy loads of pepper brought to the place and the gold received in return. A facile view is held that the maritime commerce from the ports on the west coast was always in the hands of foreigners, while the trade of the East from the ports of the coramandal coast was in the hands of the Tamils.

In view of the important role they played in the life of the people during the period under study, the sea ports are given top priority. Let us consider now the sea ports on the eastern coast of Tamilakam one by one.

This is only the beginning part of the dissertation. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE DISSERTATION IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

A Study of Auxiliaries in the Old and the Middle Tamil | Content Analysis of "Disability Communication" in the Daily Newspaper DNA (Daily News Analysis) - A Short-term Study Report | Authority: What Is It? | The Trading Community in Early Tamil Society Up To 900 AD | The Use of Setswana as a Medium of Instruction, A Core Subject and A National Language: Is It Not A Negation Of Affirmative Action? A Study of Botswana Linguistic Situation | The Auxiliary Verb POO in Tamil and Telugu | A Study of Idiomatic Expressions in Lurish and Persian | A Survey of Factors Contributing to Language Change in English With Special Reference to Lexical Change | Sarojini Naidu as a Nature Poet | HOME PAGE of November 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

R. Jeyasurya, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.
Department of History
PSGR Krishnammal College for Women
Coimbatore 641 004
Tamilnadu, India

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