Trade in Medieval Sanskrit Literature

Dr. Will Tuladhar-Douglas w.t.douglas at ABDN.AC.UK
Mon Oct 25 13:35:18 UTC 2010

As others, quicker on the keyboard have already said, combing Buddhist narrative literature (jātaka, avadāna, mahātmya) will yield troves of useful information about specific commodities, trade routes, and commercial practices and institutions, though establishing useful dating is a different question. The list of fine fabrics in the Svayambhūpurāṇa is evidence for medieval Newar commodities.

For example, in the fore-story of Sudhana and the Kinnari, when the wicked king seeks a nāga-hunter there is a nice conversation in which the king offers the āhituṇḍaka his fee up front and the nāga-hunter asks the king instead to put the money into a sack at the top of a tall pole, publicly visible: it's a sort of escrow. Given the early date of this story, though, that practise may or may not still exist by Harṣa's time.

I think much of this material has been combed over in works on Indian Ocean trade.

Ray, H.P., 1994, The Winds of Change: Buddhism and the Maritime Links of Early Southeast Asia, Oxford University Press (India), New Delhi.
Liu, X., 1998, Silk and Religion: An exploration of material life and the thought of people, AD 600-1200, Oxford University Press (India), New Delhi.
Sen, T., 2003, Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade, University of Hawai`i Press,.

Also, see the invaluable _Golden Peaches of Samarkand_, on Tang commodities.
Schafer, R., 1963, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, University of California, Berkeley.

Probably least explored, are the materia medica of Āyurveda. A comparison of the items listed with biogeography (where reliable equivalences can be established between the Sanskrit term and a modern species), will rapidly tell you that a number of medicinal plants and substances (e.g., varieties of salt) were traded over long distances from early times; these trade links continue to be important up the modern day. I'm working on Himalayan materials these days but there must be similar regional literatures and practices all around the Indian Ocean and Central Asia.


On 25 Oct 2010, at 07:41, Patrick Olivelle wrote:

> Friends:
> A colleague without access to Indology and working on trade in India 600 CE onward asks whether there is any Sanskrit textual material that would be useful to her. I think there is some material in the Katha literature -- Pancatantra, Kathasaritsagara, Hitopadesa etc. She also wants to know whether there is any secondary literature dealing with this aspect of the Katha literature. Any help would be deeply appreciated. Thanks.
> Patrick

- - -- --- ----- -------- -------------
Will Tuladhar-Douglas
Anthropology of Environment and Religions
TLKY Distinguished Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies,
  University of Toronto, Scarborough.

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