Comparative Studies in Society and History

Merchants and the State

Of Imârat and Tijârat: Asian Merchants and State Power in the Western Indian Ocean, 1400 to 1750

Sanjay Subrahmanyama1

a1 Delhi School of Economics, Delhi, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Societies, Paris

How best might one address the relationship between trade and state building in early modern South Asia? The question is hardly a new one. To some, like Anand Ram ‘Mukhlis’ (d. 1751), a Khatri from northern India who, though not Muslim, had been educated in Persian letters and accounting (siyâgat), trade was more honourable and safer than statecraft or government. The fortunes of the nobility were fluctuating ones, and the means by which they had been accumulated were of a questionable legitimacy. Doubts of this sort did not of course prevent his Khatri brethren from entering into government service during the later Mughal period, and several of them can be counted among the a'yân (notables) of the reign of the Mughal, Muhammad Shah (1719–48) (Alam 1986:169–75). They maintained a tradition begun in the reign of Ak-bar with the famous Raja Todar Mal (d. 1589), also a Khatri from the Punjab.