The following points highlight the top eight industries that flourished in India during the medieval age. The Industries are: 1. Textile Industry 2. Metal Work 3. Stone and Brick Work 4. Leather Work 5. Sugar Industry 6. Paper Industry 7. Shipping Industry 8. Other Minor Industries.
1. Textile Industry:
The textile industry was the biggest industry of India during the medieval age. It manufactured cotton and woolen cloth as well as silk. The raw material for the manufactures of the various clothes were either provided indigenously or imported.
The textile industry also provided incentive to other allied industries like embroidery, good thread work and dyeing. The textiles were produced in sufficient quantity to meet the internal demand, and a surplus was left to be exported to other countries.
Quality-wise these products could favorably compete with the products of other countries. Because of their location Bengal and Gujarat were the chief centres for the manufacture and export of textile goods. Deogir and Mahadeva Nagari in Deccan, Delhi in the North, Cambay in Gujarat and places like Sonargaon, Dacca and Banjala in Bengal were the most famous centres of cloth manufacture.
Talking about Cambay in Gujarat, Barbosa says “Cambay was the centre of manufacture for all kinds of fine and course and printed cotton cloth, besides other cheap varieties of velvets, satins, taffetas and thick carpets. Varieties of printed cloth and silk muslins were also manufactured in other parts of Gujarat.”
The manufacture of carpets, cushions, coverlets, bedding (durries) and bed-strings were also manufactured in abundances. The dyeing industry also prospered because of the taste of the people for bright colours. The calico- painting was also popular.
Coarse cotton cloths were either dyed or printed with a “variety of well-shaped and well-coloured flowers or figures which were so fixed in the cloth that no water could wash them out.”
The textile industry continued, to flourish under the Mughals and the Indian cloth was exported to countries east of Cape of Good Hope, Middle East. Burma, Malaya, Java etc. During the times of Akbar the silk industry was given special patronage.
2. Metal Industry:
Next in importance to the textiles was the metal industry, which continued to make progress both under the Sultans and the Mughals. The Indian metal-workers handled the various metals like iron, brass, silver, zinc with great skill. They not only manufactured various types of armory but also manufactured articles of daily use like basins, cups, knives and scissors.
They made great advancement in the manufacture of inlaid ornaments, embroidered and damascened work. Greater refinement was attained in the metal work under the Mughal Emperors and it reached its zenith under Akbar. Abul Fazl has paid warm tributes to the excellence of the skill of these goldsmiths.
3. Stone and Brick Industry:
The Indian artisans and masons displayed great skill in stone and brick work. They not only constructed some of the outstanding buildings of Hindustan, but also displayed their skill by constructing a number of buildings in Kabul, Ghazni and Samarkand.
The state accorded special patronage to the masons and craftsmen. Ala-ud-Din Khilji is said to have employed 70,000 workers for the construction of the state buildings. Babur also speaks highly of the skill of the Indian workmen and takes pride in claiming that he engaged 680 stone-cutters in the construction of his buildings at Agra.
The Dilwara temples at Mount Abu and the buildings of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan are also a testimony of the brilliant skill of the Indian craftsmen in stone brick-work. The period also witnessed the introduction of the use of enameled tiles and bricks, which continued to grow in the subsequent centuries.
4. Leather Industry:
The leather industry also considerably developed during the medieval age. Leather was used increasingly, for purposes like manufacture of saddles and bridles for horses scabbards of swords, shoes and other items of common use by the upper classes.
Even the ordinary peasants made water buckets of leather. But probably the most excellent item made out of leather was the leather mats made of red and blue leather and exquisitely inlaid with figures of birds and beasts. Gujarat also exported the dressed skins in large quantities to Arabia and other countries.
5. Sugar Industry:
Sugar industry also made tremendous progress during the medieval age. The sugar was generally made from the sugarcane. Bengal led in the field of sugar production. It produced so much sugar which was sufficient not only to meet the internal demands but also left sufficient surplus for exports. The sugar was exported to other country in parcels of un-tanned and sewn leather.
6. Paper Industry:
During the medieval times the people of India knew the use of paper. Nicolo Conti refers to the use of papers in Gujarat. Similarly Khusru mentions the use of paper called Shami in Delhi. The various manuscripts and other documents which have come down to us from medieval times further confirm the existence of paper industry in India.
Khusru makes a clear mention of the regular market of book-sellers in Delhi, which suggests that the paper was quite commonly used. Under the Mughals the paper industry made further progress and paper began to be manufactured in Sialkot, Kashmir and Gaya as well.
In Shahjoodpur, special quality of paper was manufactured.
7. Shipping Industry:
It is commonly believed that the maritime activities of India greatly declined during the medieval times and the ship-building industry almost went into abeyance. However, this view is not supported either by the contemporary literary references, or the observations of Nicolo Conti. For example, Nicolo Conti says “that the Indian ships are much bigger than our ships”.
The Mughals established a centre in the Bay of Bengal for the construction of ships. The Indian ship-building industry earned such a high reputation that even the Portuguese had some of their best ships built in India. The ship-building activities were mainly carried on the western coasts of India.
8. Other Minor Industries:
Certain other minor industries also flourished in various parts of the country. For example Coral work was done in Gujarat and Bengal. Ivory work and manufacture of imitation jewellery was carried out in various parts of the country. Scented oil was manufactured in Delhi. Usually the artisans working in these industries followed the family trade and there was a great demand for their manufactures.