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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Among the diverse types of merchants active in India during the first half of the second millennium, the ship-owning merchants occupy a prominent position in the coastal areas of western India (especially at ports). These merchants are given distinct epithets nakhuda and nauvittaka, the two terms being occasionally used as interchangeable ones and also in their abbreviated forms in official documents. Known from the medieval Jewish letters of 'India Traders', copper plates, a bilingual inscription, Arabic accounts and epitaphs and Jaina carita (biographical) texts, nakudas and nauvittkas of different religious leanings (Jewish, Muslim and Hindu) illustrate remarkable co-operation and social amity and religious toleration, which underline their importance in the Indian Ocean maritime network prior to AD 1500. Possessing considerable wealth, these ship-owning merchants can be considered as elites in the ports of coastal western India and were also known for their patronage to religious and cultural activities. The paper is presented as a tribute to the memory of Professor Ashin Das Gupta who immensely enlightened us on the ship-owners of coastal western India between 1500-1800.

Affiliations: 1: University of Calcutta


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