Arab Ports of Call in India

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Kerala, India is first mentioned (as Keralaputra) in a 3rd-century-BC rock inscription left by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. In the first centuries AD this region became famous among the Arabs, Greeks, and Romans for its spices (especially pepper). During the first five centuries AD, the region was a part of Tamilakam and thus was sometimes partially controlled by the eastern Pandya and Cola (Chola) dynasties, as well as by the Ceras (Cheras). All during this time Arab traders plied the coast, purchasing spices. In the 1st century AD, Jewish immigrants arrived, and Syrian Orthodox Christians believe that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Kerala in the same century.

Konkan, India also called Aparanta, is the name for the coastal plain of western India, lying between the Arabian Sea (west) and the Western Ghats (east). The plain stretches approximately 530 kilometers (330 miles) from the Daman Ganga River north of Mumbai (Bombay) to the Terekhol River, and includes the city. The ports of the Konkan were known to the ancient Arab traders. The spice trade brought prosperity to the ancient Hindu kingdoms of the area. The cave temples of Elephanta Island and Kanheri bear testimony to the prosperous culture of this era. With the advent of the Portuguese (16th century) and British merchant marines (18th century), the port cities were further developed and fortified. Today these ports have lost their importance and are used only by coastal shipping and Arab Dhows transporting agricultural products to the Gulf coast.

The Gandhara region of India was a crossroads of cultural influences for many centuries. During the reign of the Indian emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC), the region became the scene of intensive Buddhist missionary activity; and, in the 1st century AD, rulers of the Kushan Empire, which included Gandhara, maintained contacts with Rome. In its interpretation of Buddhist legends, the Gandhara School incorporated many motifs and techniques from classical Roman and Greek art, including vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and Greek centaurs. The basic iconography, however, remained Indian.

Large hoards of Roman coins substantiate other evidence. These coins are mainly of the emperors Augustus (ruled 27 BC-AD14), Tiberius (ruled 14-37), and Nero (ruled 54-68). Their frequency suggests that the Romans paid for trade goods in gold coins. Many are over-struck with a bar, which may indicate that they were used as bullion in India. Interestingly enough, Pliny complained that the Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury. Roman coins in India are found most often in trading centers or near the sources of semiprecious stones, especially quartz and beryl. Cankam literature attests the prosperity of Yavana merchants trading in towns such as Kaveripattinam (in the Kaveri delta). The Periplus lists the major exports of India as pepper, precious stones, pearls, tortoise shells, ivory, spikenard and malabathrum (aromatic plants), silk and other textiles. For these, the Romans traded glass, copper, tin, lead, realgar (a red pigment), orpiment (a gold pigment), antimony, and wine, or else they paid in gold coins.

 The Persian Gulf
It is also interesting to notice that two elaborate rock-cut tombs on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf have been found. Some archeologists have noticed a likeness to Palmyrene hypogea, but Kaerink and Whitehouse, both archeologists, point out that this is probably not so. Since the tombs have a vestibule, main chamber, and numerous chambers, they could easily have been Nabataean in origin, although they do not bear all the characteristics of Nabataean tombs.

Maluku, Indonesia, is an island province in eastern Indonesia, which is known in English as the Moluccas. It comprises about 1,000 islands, which almost encircle the Banda Sea. The islands are bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the north, the Molucca Sea on the west, the Timor Sea on the south, and the Ceram Sea on the east. Commonly referred to as the Spice Islands by the early Indian, Chinese and Arab traders, the Moluccas later formed part of the Javanese Majapahit Empire and the Shrivijaya Empire (Sumatra). These islands were sources of rice, sago, coconut, spices (including cloves and nutmeg), resin, ironwood, rattan, timber, and tortoise shells.

 India Map

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