Cities in Medieval India focuses on the significance of urbanization in medieval India, by highlighting aspects of the rural-urban continuum and divide, power assertion, spatialization, social segmentation, labour process, as well as aspects of culture and human activity. By relating urbanization to issues such as economic transformation, commercial dynamism, agricultural production, ecology and environment, and the exercise of power and authority, the essays in this volume discuss many facets of the medieval cities.
Using a wide variety of primary sources and regional literary traditions this volume juxtaposes the ethos of traditional Indian cities, with the new urbanization brought into India, particularly in the coastal regions by the Europeans, from the sixteenth century onwards without neglecting imperial and metropolitan cities, secondary cities, small towns and qasbas.
The essays compiled here will be of interest to scholars of medieval Indian history as well as the general reader looking for a nuanced understanding of urbanization during the medieval phase.
About the Author
Yogesh Sharma is Professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His field of research includes the European traders and Indian commercial and maritime history. He has co-edited Portuguese Presence in India during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (2008), Biography as History: Indian Perspectives (2009) and edited Coastal Histories: Society and Ecology in pre-Modern India (2009).
Pius Malekandathil is Professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was the president of Medieval Section of Indian History Congress, Cuttack (2013). His major publications include Jornada of Dom Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar (2003), Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean (2010), and The Mughals, the Portuguese and the Indian Ocean: Changing Imageries of Maritime India (2013).
This Volume has Risen out of serious and interesting academic engagements Pertaining to the theme of urbanization in Pre-modern Indian. It emerged out of two separate colloquia held at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, between March 2008 and March 2009. Several academic institutions and scholars participated actively in the colloquia with the papers presented covering a wide range of issues and themes pertaining to urbanism in medieval India. In that endeavour, many new contributors joined us to enhance the scope and space of the theme under study. We are both gratified and honoured that as many as 29 scholars from all over the world have contributed to this volume, making it not only an elaborate study but also a comprehensive one that discusses the processes of urbanization in all regions of the country.
The purpose of this volume is to bring together important essays that debate the meanings of urbanism is medieval India by highlighting aspects of rural-urban continuum and divide, spatialization, labour process, cultural production and power assertion. The cities of medieval India are analysed not only as part of the debates of economic history alone, but also as alternative indicators for understanding the complex and nuanced ways of the human march towards progress. Along with primary urbanism, secondary cities, small towns and qasbas are also discussed in this volume from multiple perspectives using different disciplines and a wide variety of primary sources even from regional literatures.
We would like to particularly express our appreciation to Fundacao Oriente, and especially its Indian delegate Professor Paulo Varela Gomes for making speedy arrangements to ensure the participation of the delegates from Portugal in the colloquia. We express our deep appreciation to Indian Council of Historical Research and particularly its former Chairperson Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (who is also a former member of CHS) and its former member secretary Dr Ishrat Alam for having provided us with necessary funds for the conferences. We were extremely delighted to have Professor Jean Deloche (from Ecole Francaise d’ Extreme-Orient, Pondicherry) for the seminars, whose inspiring inputs enriched the scale of discussion.
Our special thanks are extended to Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Studies, JNU, then headed by Professor Aditya Mukherjee, who provided us space and logistics for the seminars. We remember with gratitude the authorities of JNU, particularly Vice Chancellor B.B. Bhattacharya and the Dean Professor Harjit Singh for having granted major supplemental funding accommodation to the seminar participants. We also thank Professor Dilbag Singh for supporting us with necessary funds from DSA.
The editors would also like to express their deep appreciation to Professor Arvind Sinha and Dr Joy Pachuau for being actively involved in organizing the colloquia. We are also thankful for the cooperation and valuable support of all our dear colleagues at the CHS.
Cities, As Indicators of Economic growth and social change, mean different things in different historical periods and regional contexts. Though the nomenclatures of ‘city’ and ‘town’ are used for all historical periods by many without much time-wise distinction, historians know for certain that the content and meaning of the words ‘city’ and 'town' change over time. In other words urban centres are not static, but rather they keep changing their meanings over time on the basis of changing larger socio-economic processes, within which they were shaped and formatted. In that sense they are microcosms which reflect the larger world. This type of perception made some look at a town or a city as a social form in which the essential properties of larger of social relations are grossly concentrated and intensified. The perception that cities are reflective of the larger socio-economic processes inherently prompts many to look at cities of the medieval period as something significantly different from those of the ancient period and also of the modern period, where entirely different systems of social relations operated.
While arguing that cities are indicators of economic growth over time, historians and sociologists have also been trying to look into the nuanced nature of urban processes corresponding to it. Max Weber perceived Western medieval cities to be centres of production in contrast to the ancient Greek or Roman cities, which were largely centres of consumption. These medieval cities are said to have become the launching pad for the development of capitalism in the West, when they combined processes of production with those of exchange and also gave ‘political and cultural’ priority to the interests of ‘producers’ and traders’, over and above those of the ‘consumers’ that had been the case during the ancient period in the West. Max Weber also refers to the types of social activities happening in the Western medieval towns on the part of these ‘producers’ and ‘traders’ for ‘constituting or evading some form of power’. The urban dwellers of the medieval West, constituted of the ‘producers’ and ‘traders’, broke their dependence on the legitimate feudal authorities around them and usurped power from them to resort to ‘non-legitimate domination’ by imposing themselves illegitimately on artisans and peasants, who in turn were required to rely upon them. It was through rational associations and confraternities of burghers that the latter usurped power, and there were also case when a private club of rich citizens claimed for their right to grant citizenship. The atmosphere of autonomy of the city that allowed rational economic action, free conduct of trade, as well as the pursuit of gain, also protected the interests of ‘producers’ both in the domains of economy and in the power exercise, which was instrumental in the development of a ‘work ethic’ in Western medieval cities. Max Weber argued that what constituted an ideal full urban community was a settlement displaying a relative predominance of trade-commercial relations and having a fortification, a market, a court of its own and at least partially autonomous law, a related form of association, and which also required a degree of autonomy and autocephaly that allowed the burghers to participate in the election of the authorities who governed them.
The role of medieval cities in the process of transition from feudalism to capitalism has been a theme of vibrant academic debates for a long time, as has been the theme of the formation of a working class in the cities as an inevitable component of social evolution. Henri Pirenne argues for the primacy of medieval cities and long-distance trade as the engines of social change and views that with the commercial revival in Western Europe from the eleventh century onwards, the country started orienting itself towards towns. The initial arguments of Maurice Dobb that the rise of medieval towns and the growth of markets had exercised a disintegrating impact on the structure of feudalism and ‘prepare for the growth of forces that weakened and supplanted it’ was modified by him later following a debate with Paul Sweezy, who questioned the externality of towns in relation to feudalism. In response Maurice Dobb argued that the rise of medieval towns was a process internal to the feudal system and highlighted the incapacity of feudal social relations ‘to contain the process of petty production and exchange that feudalism itself generated’ generated’ and showed this process to be a struggle of different groups within the feudal order to dominate small-scale production and to appropriate the profits of trade’. He perceived medieval towns as oases in a rather unfree society that acted as magnets of freedom for the pressurized and exploited rural population making them migrate to towns.
Historians realized that there were different types of medieval towns that emerged in the West and that they were not of the same economic and political value in effecting the transition from feudalism. Straightjacketing the medieval towns into one category has proved to be erroneous. Henri Pirenne identified two different categories of medieval towns: (a) towns of Liege type and (b) those of Flemish type. The Liege type of town was Primarily political or the seat of his court,where the main people were ecclesiastical gentry, administrators with a few artisans and servants providing them with finishd goods. The Flemish type of city was principally an economic unit, which was ruled by a wealthy oligarchy consisting of rich merchant magnates and financial families. These towns took origin along the channels of long-distance trade and were located outside the old Roman settlements as well as ecclesiastical townships and feudal fortifications. The inhabitants of such cities lived by trade, making them evolved as the base for the new anti-feudal ruling class.
Fernand Braudel says that there were three basic types of towns in the course of their evolution: (a) open towns which were not differentiated from their hinterland and were at times blending into it, as were seen in ancient Greece and Rome. In the open towns, sizeable amount of power remained with the structures of an agrarian world. (b) The second type consisted of closed towns, which were self-sufficient units and ‘closed in on themselves in every sense’ and ‘the walls of these towns marked the boundaries of an individual way of life more than a territory’, as we see in the case of medieval towns. The moment a peasant fleeing from seigniorial servitude crossed the ramparts of the medieval town and entered the walled space of the town, he was relieved of his servitude, became free, and the seigniorial lord could not touch him. In closed towns there was a relative appropriation of power by those residing within the town. (c) The third type consisted of the subject towns which were held in the gamut of subjection by prince and state, as in the case of early modern towns like Florence that the Medicis had subjugated, or Paris that the Bourbon rulers kept as their capital. It was the closed or mercantile towns which were viewed as having caused Western Europe to advance economically.
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