Posts Tagged ‘business history’

Book review: Merchants of Tamilakam

December 18, 2014

An interesting book which takes you to Tamil business history, dating 2000 years back. It is written by Kanakalatha Mukund who used to teach at Mumbai university.  This book is one of the several books being edited by Gurcharan Das on Indian business history. One of the related books on Marwari history was also reviewed earlier.

This book takes you to early medieval period where Tamil region in the South had something called Sangam poetry. Through the poetry, one gets great explanation and understanding of how things worked during that time. And once again no matter how hard we try and show things are different, much of the things are pretty similar. The businesses existed and thrived even during those times with basic systems of governance and institutions being present facilitating  the overall economic environment.

The interesting aspect of those times in Tamil region was there was no strong ruler as such. You had Pallava and Chola dynasties but none too powerful. But what they did was not to intervene in businesses. They let the business story grow. The business community in turn built its own sets of institutions and mechanisms (like guilds, local business associations etc.) to keep things going.

The book has a fascinating description of how temples played a central role dring those times. In fact temples were like banks which accepted deposits and donations and paid interest on them. Further, these donations etc were circulated around the economy leading to multiplier effects. Temples gave their additonal lands as leases for development of agriculture etc asking the farmers to give certain % of produce to the temple making the temple self-sufficient. This produce fed the priests and also prepared the prasadam and so on.

The merchants traded and coins etc from Roman kingdom have been found. The Roman coins seem to be accepeted as a major currency as well perhaps due to shortages of local currency and other factors. Then there is discussion on taxation and interest rates as well. So pretty much a modern economy, so to say.

Good light read. Just one thing. It could have been organised a little better. It does not have the flow as one would like..

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