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How India’s flourishing spice trade shaped the future of the world

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By Harshmeet Singh

“No man should die who can afford cinnamon” – A common saying in the 15th century, this perfectly depicted the rewarding spice trade between India and the rest of the world.

The fragrance and aroma coming out of an Indian kitchen are unparallel. If India has seen a flood a multinational food chains opening in the past three decades, the Indian cuisine has made sure that the progress takes place both ways! Known to be spicy and exotic, ‘Indian food’ is in vogue in many first world nations. But what makes our food so irresistible? How are cardamom, tamarind, pepper and other spices melted so perfectly that they enhance the taste of the food manifold? The answer, it seems, is hidden in the small round shaped spice box – an irreplaceable commodity of any Indian kitchen!

India’s spice monopoly

Spices were, perhaps, one of the first commodities to be imported from India in significant numbers. Kerala was known as the hotbed of many exotic spices around 3000 BC. At first, spice trade was carried out through land routes, and thus, remained confined to a few close nations. But with the starting to maritime trade, the spice business took off exponentially. While black pepper was indigenous to Kerala, Cinnamon was grown extensively in Sri Lanka. Cloves, on the other hand, came from the Spice Islands, a part of Indonesia.

Indian Spice trade has always been connected with one of the strongest empires of that time. Arabs were the first to exert control over Kerala bound spice trade in 600 BC. Huge quantities of cinnamon, pepper and oils were taken to Arabia via Persian Gulf. The Arab traders sold these spices at sky high rates by keeping its origins as a mystery and making up stories about the winged creatures and poisonous snakes that they had to fight off in order to reach the hills where these spices were grown. Pepper was a symbol of the riches and luxury. There have been multiple recorded instances in the ancient history where Kings have demands bags filled with pepper as toll for sparing a city. Tonnes of pepper were demanded as a dowry in royal weddings.

Pepper was called ‘Black Gold’ in the 4th century BC and exported in large quantities from Cochin in Kerala to the mighty Greek empire. With the rise of power in the Greek empire, the royal households became much more adventurous and flamboyant, thus increasing the demand for Indian spices. It is said that close to 120 ships every year were sent by the Romans at the peak of spice trade to import huge quantities of pepper from India.

Fun fact – Many Roman soldiers were paid their salaries in Salt! This gave birth to the term ‘salary’. The phrase ‘worth his salt’ was also derived from the same context.

And thus came the Europeans

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that India’s flourishing spice trade shaped the future of the world for the coming centuries. After silently witnessing India’s booming spice trade and Arab’s monopoly for many centuries, the European countries set out to search for a sea route to India. The colonisation of India and Americas was a result of such expeditions undertaken by different European nations. Americas were discovered while Columbus was searching for East Indies (India) through the Atlantic sea route. It is weird to imagine now that the world’s strongest nation was mistakenly discovered when the original destination was India and its spices! These expeditions, where the ships reached distant lands and didn’t fall off from the edge of the earth, forced the Europeans to believe what the ancient Hindus knew for centuries – that the Earth is round and not flat!

Famously, when Vasco Da Gama reached the Indian shores, his men, while getting off the ship, shouted, “for Christ and spices!”

The first European power to resort to colonization on the name of ‘trade’ was Portugal who captured Indonesian Spice Islands and Sri Lanka. They were later overthrown by the Dutch. The driving reason behind the formation of the British East India Company in 1600 was to compete with the Dutch spice trade in India. And this later on transformed into the grand British Empire in India. After the British entered the scene, an agreement was reached according to which India and Sri Lanka were to be ruled by the British while the Dutch would control Spice Islands.

Not just taste, but health too!

In ancient times, illness was treated with spices such as turmeric and ginger, and herbs. Many ancient inscriptions found in Europe and Egypt indicate that spices were preferred as medicines in many scenarios. The ancient medicinal art of Ayurveda also prescribed many spices for the well-being of the human body and mind.

Foreigners’ infatuation with Indian culinary and spices goes back many centuries. Indian spices, it seems, are taking the country’s name far beyond our imagination and borders.

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Dalai Lama says that India and China have great potential

The spiritual leader feels that both the countries are doing compassionate works

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Dalai Lama talks about India and China
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai says that India and China can work together. VOA

New Delhi, Nov 19

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday said India and China have “great potential” and they could work together at a “practical level”.

“I think, a great potential… India and China combined are doing more compassionate work… At a practical level also. Imagine two billion people working together,” he told reporters here after inaugurating Smile Foundation’s initiative, The World of Children.

The spiritual leader, who has lived in India in self-imposed exile since 1959, said neither country had the “ability to destroy the other”.

“Whether you like it or not, you have to live side by side,” he said.

Underlining the ancient spiritual connection between the two countries, he said Chinese Buddhist Hsuan Tsang visited Nalanda (now in Bihar) and brought Nalanda Buddhist traditions to China.

“All thinkers of Nalanda are Indian. So Nalanda’s tradition is India’s tradition,” he said.

The Nalanda traditions had turned Tibetans, who were warriors, into more compassionate, peaceful and non-violent nation, he said.

“So sometimes in Delhi, teasing my Indian friend, (I say) if Tibet still remained in the previous way of life, like Mongols, Chinese invasion may not have taken place,” the Dalai Lama said in a lighter vein.

He said nobody in the world wanted violence but it was happening “because our minds are dominated by destructive emotions due to short-sightedness”.

“Nobody wants problems. Yet, many problems are our own creation.”

The Dalai Lama said the existing modern education was oriented to material values. India can take lead in improving the education system by combining modern education with ancient knowledge, he said. (IANS)

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Manushi Chhillar from India Wins the Miss World 2017 Title

India's Manushi Chillar won the coveted Miss World 2017 pageant here, 16 years after Priyanka Chopra won the title in 2000.

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Miss World
Manushi Chhillar has been crowned as Miss World 2017. Instagram #ManushiChhillar

China, November 19: India’s Manushi Chhillar won the coveted Miss World 2017 pageant, 16 years after Priyanka Chopra won the title in 2000.

Chhillar competed against 108 contestants from various countries at a glittering event held at Sanya City Arena here.

Miss World 2016 winner Puerto Rico’s Stephanie Del Valle gave away the coveted crown to the winner.

Chhillar, who is from Haryana, had earlier this year won the Femina Miss India 2017.

Miss world
Anti Ageing was the official skin care expert for Manushi Chhillar at the Miss World 2017 pageant. Instagram #ManushiChhillar

India, England, France, Kenya and Mexico grabbed the top five spots at the peagant.

Manushi, born to doctor parents, studied in St. Thomas School in New Delhi and Bhagat Phool Singh Government Medical College for Women in Sonepat.

Her entire family including brother and sister were present and they looked excited watching Manushi grabbing top five spot.

As many as 108 beauty queens from different parts of the world participated in the prestigious pageant. (IANS)

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The major Challenge is to make the Youth of the Country Entrepreneurial and not Job Seekers : Venkaiah Naidu

"The challenge for us is to make the youth entrepreneurial, and not become job seekers," Venkaiah Naidu said pointing to the NDA government's various initiatives.

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Venkaiah Naidu
Venkaiah Naidu. Wikimedia Commons
  • At a time of tepid job growth and continuing income disparities, the major challenge is to make the youth of the country entrepreneurial and not job seekers, Vice President  Venkaiah Naidu said on Thursday.

“Disparities continue to remain in India and so there is a need for inclusive growth… there is the need to take care of the suppressed, oppressed and depressed,” Venkaiah Naidu said at the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust’s (BYST) silver jubilee celebrations here with Britain’s Prince Charles as the chief guest.

“The challenge for us is to make the youth entrepreneurial, and not become job seekers,” Venkaiah Naidu said pointing to the NDA government’s various initiatives to encourage youth enterprises like Startup India, Standup India and the Mudra financing scheme for underprivileged sections.

Modelled on Prince Charles’ Trust for business startups, BYST, founded by Lakshmi Venkatesan, daughter of former President R. Venkatraman, is engaged in building rural entrepreneurship — “grampreneurs” — as also enterprise among under-privileged sections, which includes business mentoring. The current BYST chairman is Bajaj Group chief, Rahul Bajaj.

“Without mentoring, it would be very difficult to set up startups, with all the business, marketing and other vital issues involved in the first two-three years,” Prince Charles said in his address at the International Mentoring Summit organized by BYST to mark its 25 years.

“What amazes me are the sheer number of jobs these young entrepreneurs had created. The aim of such a project should be to create a virtual cycle of creating entrepreneurs who can then invest in the future of business,” Charles said referring to his trust.

BYST was officially launched in 1992 by Prince Charles and expanded its operations to six major regions of India.

Out of these six regions, four — Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad — run the urban programme while two regions — Haryana and Maharashtra — run the rural programme.(IANS)