Monday, January 26, 2015

The ancient trade hub of Tagar- Part I

A couple of years ago, I visited number of Buddhist rock cut temples, located in remotest corners of the Western Ghat and Satmala mountain ridges in India. All of them had been once large Buddhist monasteries, housing a large number of Buddhist monks. These rock cut temples can be divided into two groups based on their locations. First is the southern group of consisting monasteries at Karle'n, Bhaje, Shelarwadi, Junnar, Kondane and so on. The other group, which I call as Northern Group, consists of monasteries at Nashik, Pitalkhore and the world famous monastery of Ajanta.

As per tenets of the Buddhist religion, the monks were not allowed to have any assets and the food as well as clothes they wore, were to be obtained from the society in form of alms. A question naturally comes in mind as to how these monasteries,established around beginning of our era, could have survived, having located themselves in such remote mountain valleys? In the year 1955, writing in a research paper, published in the Journal of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic society, an eminent scholor, Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi, came up with a simple answer to this question. He explained that the monasteries were located, where they are, because the trade routes passed by and the larger monastery complexes are found invariably near the junction of such routes. This leads us to another question as to with whom and what kind of trade was going on along these routes so as to necessitate establishment of such large number of monasteries in the region, which according to Kosambi served in many ways to help the traders? It is a well known fact that this substantive trade was mainly carried out with the Roman empire.

Gaius Plinius Secundus (CE 23 – CE 79), better known as Pliny the Elder ( a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire) has commented while remarking about the adverse balance of trade of the Roman empire: “This is the price we pay for our luxuries and our women. At the last reckoning one hundred million sesterces are taken away by India, Seres and Arabia.” Every year up to 40 ships carried luxury goods consisting of half the export trade of Rome between Rome and India. The imports from India included spices, pearls, muslin,ivory etc, while exports to India were very few and consisted mostly of wine, musical instruments, singing boys and dancing girls. The balance of trade was so adverse that Rome had to pay in Gold Bullion to India every year.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.' is an ancient Greek text written between 1st and 3rd centuries CE, perhaps as important a book as the journal of Marco Polo. This book describes navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Describing the nature of trade, Periplus says;

imported into this market-town, are Wine, Italian preferred, also Laodicean (from Laodicea on Syrian coast) and Arabian; copper, tin, and lead; coral and topaz; thin clothing and inferior sorts of all kinds; bright-colored girdles a cubit wide; storax, sweet clover, flint glass, realgar, antimony, gold and silver. coin, on which there is a profit, when exchanged for the money of the country; and ointment, but not very costly and not much. And for the King there are brought into those places very costly vessels of silver, singing boys, beautiful maidens for the harem, tine wines, thin clothing of the finest weaves,and the choicest ointments. There are exported from these places spikenard, costus, bdellium, ivory, agate and carnelian, lycium, cotton cloth of all kinds, silk cloth, mallow cloth, yarn, long pepper, agate and carnelian and such other things as are brought here from the various market towns.”

Periplus also tells us the names of the ports where, Roman ships birthed; the northernmost being at Bhadoch (Barygaza) at the mouth of river Narmada. It says that the region south of Bhadoch is known as Southern Country or “Dakshinadesha” (Dachinabades). There are number of ports (market-towns) in the southern country such as Sopara (Suppara), Kalyan (Celliana), Sashti (Sandares) and Chaul (Semylla).

But, where were the market towns from where the to be exported goods dispatched and imported goods received. Periplus gives names of two important towns.

Among the market towns of Dachinabades, there are two of special importance; Paethana (Pratisthan or Paithan of today), distant about twenty days journey south of Barygaza (Bhadoch): beyond which about ten days journey east, there is another very great city, Tagara. These (Goods) are brought down to Barygaza from these places by wagons and through the great tracts without roads, from Paethana, carnelian in great quantity and from Tagara much common cloth, all kinds of muslins and mallow (rough) cloth and other merchandise brought there locally from the regions along the sea coast. And the whole course to the end of Damirica (country of the Tamil people) is seven thousand stadia (about one tenth of mile): but the distance is greater to the coast country.”

Periplus does not speak about “in land” trade routes, but with Kosambi's contention that the Buddhist rock cut monasteries were all constructed near the trade routes, we can think of two trade routes, both originating either in Pratisthan or Tagar. The southern route came to Junnar city and from there crossed the difficult mountain region through passes to go to southern ports like Kalyan or Choul. The northern route passed along Ajanta, Kannad pass near Pitalkhore caves to Bhadoch.

Great trade highway of the Satavahana kingdom ( 200 BCE-300 CE)

Periplus also tells us that Tagar was the important market town for merchandise originating on east coast of India. Sir James Cambell outlines some of these trade routes in Gazatteer of Bombay Presidency Vol. 16 pp.181. He says;

The remark in Periplus that many articles brought into Tagar from the parts along the coast were sent by wagons to Bhadoch seems to show that Tagar was then in communication with the Bay of Bengal and lay on the line of traffic with the far east, which then made Masulipatan so important a trade centre and in later times enriched Malkhet, Kalyan, Bidar, Golkonda,,and Haidarabad. ”

It was J.F Fleet, (John Faithfull Fleet, C.I.E (1847 – 1917) an English civil servant with the Indian Civil Service), who traced in his article written in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1901, pp. 517-552; the trade routes the first starting at Masulipatam (16d 11' N., 81d 8' E.), and the second from Vinukonda ( 16d 3' N., 79d 44' E.), joining about 25 miles south of Hyderabad (this place is probably Kondapur, where ancient ruins from first century have been excavated), and proceeding through Tagar, Paithan, and Daulatahad ( Devagiri near Aurangabad), to Markinda (in the Ajanta Hills). Here the main difficulties began through the Western Ghats, over the 100 miles to Bhadoch. This was the great highway of the Satavahana kingdom, and its natural terminus was at Kalyan.

Around this period, the political situation in the Deccan had become highly turbulent with Saka Satrap Nahapana's forces having captured major chunks of Satavahana empire and had gained control over coastal areas and the ports like Kalyan. This fact is confirmed in Periplus. J.F Fleet comments that the obstruction of Kalyan port by the Saka power in Gujarat had forced the Greek merchants to take the tedious overland extension of the route, through the mountains, (Ajanta-Pitalkhore) to Bhadoch.

We can get a fairly good idea about the trade between Rome and Satavahana empire from above mentioned facts. We can exactly locate and physically identify today all the places mentioned in Periplus, except for the prosperous trading hub city of Tagar.

(To be continued)

26th January 2015


  1. Tagar is the modern day Ter or Their. A town of Osmanabad district in Maharashtra..

  2. Tagar is Modern day Ter / Their , A town in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra

  3. I am proud of the ancient Tagar city because I am one of the native person around the Tagar City.