Combined with the widespread corporate regulation of industrial life there was a very general but by no means cast iron custom for the son to follow the calling of the father. Thus it is laid down by Vishnu (III. 2) and Yaynabalkya (I. 360)that the King should enforce the observance of the respective duties of the castes, Sukra says every caste should practice the duties that have been mentioned as belonging to it and that have, been practiced by ancestors and should otherwise be punished by Kings. (ch. IV, Sec. 4, II. 82-83)

But he also says “For Brahmins agriculture has been prescribed by Manu and others” (ch. IVI Sec 3, 1. 37). Another instance of mobility of labour we find in the Mandasor Stone Inscription of Kumaragupta and Bandhubarman where the silk weavers took to different pursuits with impunity.

In this connection it may be noted that according to Fa Hien the Chandalas who did not observe the rules of purity were obliged to live apart and were required when entering a town or bazaar to strike a piece of wood as a warning or their approach in order that other people might not be polluted by contact with them.

A very new and interesting feature of the rules regarding the labourers of this period is the existence of rules regarding Bonus Leave and pension and something approximating to the Provident Fund. Thus it was laid down by Sukracharya that even a slight portion should not be deducted from the full remuneration of a servant has been ill for half a fortnight.


And if the diseased be highly qualified he should have half the wages. The King should give the servant 15 days a year respite from work (Ibid., 825). The King should grant half the wages without work to the man who has passed 40 years in his service (Ibid., 826-27) for life and to the son if minor and incapable half the wages or to the wife and well behaved daughters (Ibid., 828-29).

He should give the servant 1/8th of the salary by way of reward every year and if the work has been done with exceptional ability 1/8th of the services rendered. He should keep with him as deposit 1/6th or 1/4th of the servant’s wages, should pay half of that amount or whole in two or three years.

A large number or rules regarding labourers and their wages has been lain down by Sukracharya. According to him remuneration can be paid according to time, work or according to both. It is to be paid therefore as arranged i.e., according to contract. According to the qualifications of the workers there should be the rates of wafies fixed by the King for his own welfare (Ibid., 803-804). Wages are to be so fixed that the worker may maintain those who are his compulsory charges (Ibid., 805-806).

Thus the equitable rate of wages is that which considers not simply the absolute necessaries of life but also recognises the standard of life and comfort as implied in the care for family and dependent. Those servants who get law wages are enemies by nature (Ibid., 807-808).


Hern Sukra is aware of political and social effects of low wages and thus this equitable standard anticipates by centuries the socialistic cries for “higher life” to be lived by the working classes. The wages of the Sudras are to be just enough for food and raiment (Ibid. I. 809).

At the same time Sukra lays down that “you should not commit violence on anybody in the matter of remuneration, duties or revenues by increasing them through sight or strength (Chap. I lines 617-18). This law prohibits exaction and undue enhancements of payment from the master in the shape of increased wagesor salary, from merchants in the shape of augmented excise and customs and from the subjects in the shade of exorbitant raucous.

Rates in all these cases should not be increased by threat of physical violence or by crafts of diplomacy. According to Sukra the goldsmith’s wages is to be 1/30th (of the value worked upon) if the workmanship is excellent, 1/60th if mediocre, half of that if of inferior order (II. 653-54). The wages of the goldsmith is to be half of that in the ease of Kataka (beacelet), hals of that in the case of mere melting (I. 655).

The silversmith’s wages is to half if workmanship be of the highest order, half of that if mediocre, half of that if inferior and half of that in the case of Kataka (II. 658-59). The wages is to be 1/4 in the case of copper, zinc and jasada metal, half or equal or twice or 8 times in the case of iron.


It is evident from the various kinds of ships mentioned above that maritime intercourse was fully mentioned in this period between India and the outside world. In fact in the ‘spacious times’ of Gupta Imperialism Indian traders carried the torch of civilization into the hearts of ‘the people of Java, Pegu, Cambodia, Siam, China and even Japan. The conquest of W. India by Chandagupta II brought the Gangetic provinces into direct communication with the western ports especially those of Gujrat and so with Alexandria and Europe.

Trade also followed the land route through Persia. The Raghubamsha of Kalidas mentions the carrying into Persia of the victorious arms of Raghu by the land route Pasikau iato jiluh pratasihe sthalvartana. This express reference to land route implies that the water route was well known. The Sakuntala also relates the story of a merchants named Dhanavridhi whose immense wealth devolved on the King on the formers perishing at sea and leaving no heir behind.

In the Yajnavalkya Samhita there is a passage which indicates that the Hindus used to make sea voyages in pursuit of gain (II. 3). The Varaha Purana (Ch. 171) mentions a childless merchant named Gokarna who embarked on a voyage for trading purposes. In the same Purana we are told of a merchant who went on a ship quest of pearls with people who knew all about them. In a passage of the Markandeya Purana we find a reference to the dangerous plight of the man sailing on the great ocean in a ship overtaken by a whirlwind.

The Vishnu Purana Book II discusses the earth surrounded by the seas and the ocean trides. The Vayu Purana mentions King Bharat of the Vairaja dynasty as having conquered 8 islands of the Indian Ocean (c. f. also Bhagabat Bk. V. Ch. 19).

From this time forward trade with Rome gradually declined. Already the trade with Alexandria had suffered much at the hands of Caracalla. The Palmyrine trade was ruined by the destruction of Palmyra itself in 273 AD. Constantine weakened the Roman Empire by changing the seat of government in 330 AD. Alaric sacked Rome in 410 and Attila ravaged her lands in 451.

In 454 the huge wave of a Vandal invasion swept off her arts and crafts. She was again pillaged in 472 and 476. Thus Rome that eternal city—the mother of arts, civilization and heroes—”stood childless and crownless in her voiceless woe like another Niobe all tears!!!”

The powerful Sassanids of Persia now monopolised the Indian trade. According to Hamza of Inpahan the ships of India and China could be seen constantly moored at Hira near Kufa on the Euphrates (Yule’s Cathay and the Way Thither I. LXXVIII). The ports of Sindh and Gujrat appear among the chief centres of this naval trade.

The Tamils in this period carried on their commercial relations with the people of Lower Burma or Pegu. According to Sir A.P. Phayre (History of Burma pp. 28 and 31), Pegu was conquered by emigrants from the Telegu Kingdom bordering on the Bay of Bengal and consequently the people of Pegu have long known to the Burmese and to all foreigners by the name of Talaing.

According to the same authority the people of Kalinga had commercial intercourse with Burma as the existence of some coins and medals in Pegu with Hindu symbols shows (History of Burma, p. 31). Nor is this all According to R.F. St. Andrew St. John “somewhere about 300 AD people from the west coast of Bengal founded colonies on the coast of Gulf of Martaban, of which the principal appear to have been Thaton or Saddhamanagara.”

The inscriptions found in the French territories in Cambodia and Annam state that there were Brahmanical Kingdoms and Sivism there in the 4th and 5th and centuries AD. In the Annaodale Report for 1913, it is stated there is clear evidence of the existence of a Hindu Kingdom in Pagan. Dr. Annandale says that the Brahmins once held away over the Malaya peninsula.

“That there was intercourse also with Malacca is evident from many words in the Malayan language which Marsden has traced to an Indian or Sanskrit origin. To this day there are descendants of settlers from ancient Kalinga at Singapore.”

The name of Kalings is derived from Kelling whence they are said to come. With reference to this ancient trade Sir Walter Elliot observes “There is no doubt that the intercourse between the east coast of India and the whole of the opposite coast of the Bay of Bengal and the straits of Malecca was far greater in ancient times. It had attained its height at the time the Buddhists were in the ascendant i.e., during the first five or six centuries of era).

The first great Buddhist persecution both checked it and also drove great numbers of the victims to the opposite coast. The Tamil and Telugu local histories and tradition are full of such narratives”. (Quoted in History of Indian Indian shipping p. 14. 7.)

Trade also carried on in this period with the island of Java which the Hindus have long colonised in the early centuries of the Christian era. This trade is proved by the evidence of the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien who in the end of the 4th century found Java entirely peopled by the Hindus and who sailed from the Gangs to Ceylon, from Ceylon to Java and thence to Ghina on board a ship containing in all 200 passengers and by crew professing the Brahmanical religion. It noteworthy that “astern of the great ship was a smaller one as a provision in case of the large vessel being injured or wrecked during the voyage”. (Beal, Buddhist Records of the Western World, Vol. II. p. 269)

Trade was also carried on with Sumatra as has been pointed out by Dr. R.G. Bhandarkar in his article on the eastern passage of the Sakas, Certain inscriptions show a Magadhi element which May have reached Java from Sumatra and Sumatra from the coast either of Bengal or Orissa. M. Coleman says Mr. Anderson in his account of his mission to the coast of that island (Sumatra) has, however, stated that he discovered at Jambi the remains of an ancient Hindu temple of considerable dimensions and near the spot various mutilated figures, which would appeal to clearly indicate the former existence of the worship of the Vedantic philosophy. (Hindu Mythology, p. 361)

It is further observed in the Bombay Gazetteer (Vol. I. Part I, p. 493) that “the Hindu settlement of Sumatra was almost entirely from the east coast of India and that Bengal, Orissa and Masulipatam had a large share in colonising both Java and Cambodia cannot be doubted.” In fact, notwithstanding the marvelous fertility.

Of the soil and the wonderful industries that flourished in the country, India had to resort to colonisation of foreign lands to provide for her superabundant population. Professor Heeren rightly observes “How could such a thickly populated and in some parts over peopled country as India have disposed of her superabundant population except by planting colonies?”. (Historical Researches, Vol. I. p. 310)

It was also in this age that we find the field of Indian maritime trade in the eastern seas extending as far as China and Japan. This commercial intercourse with China began as we have already seen, at the commencement of the Christian era while “the Chinese did not arrive in the Malaya archipelago before the fifth century and they did not extend their voyages to India, Persia and Arabia till a century later”.

The first eminent Buddhist to come to India was Fa Hien. A little before him in 398 Amitodana went to China. After him the Kwai Yuen-Catalogue as well as other Chinese works mention a series of names of Buddhist priests who sailed between S. India and China. Thus in 420 Samghavarmi a Sinhalese went to China, in 424 Gunabarma went to China. In 429 three other Sinhalese went to China. From Bhikshuni Nidana we learn that in 433 a party of Sinhalese nuns went to China on board a ship called Nandi. In 434, another batch of Sinhalese nun under the leadership of a certain Tissara went to China.

In 435 Gunabhadra reached Kau in China, in 442 Samghabarman reached China by the overland-route and returned to India by the sea. In about 488 Samghabhadra went to China. Mr Kakasu Okaknra has remarked down to the days of the Muhammadan conquest went by the ancient highways of the sea, the intrepid mariners of the Bengal coast, founding their colonies in Ceylon, Java, Sumatra and binding Cathay (China) and India in mutual intercourse (Ideals of the East. pp. 1-2). Thus the Tamils, the Sinhalese and the people of Bengal were the principal sharers in the trade with China (History of Indian Shipping, pp. 165-66).

The great trading centres of Bengal in those days were Satgaon Champs, Sonargaon and Tamralipti. Satgaon was called Tcharitrapoura in the time of the Chinese pilgrim’s visit. Sonargaon was the greatest harbour of E. Bengal while Champs or Bhagalpur was the starting station for Subarnabhumi.

Fa Hien when he visited India (399-414) found Tamralipti as a great maritime settlement of the Buddhist and from its harbour he set sail for Ceylon. The ports of Sindh, Cutch and Gujrat, were famous for the volume of their trade with the East. Of these Sindhu or Debal and Orhet i.e., Soratha or Veraval were the leading centres of trade with Ceylon. (Yule’s Cathay, I. CLXXVIII). 

According to Professor Lacouperie (Western Origin of Chinese Civilization) throughout this period the monopoly of the sea-borne trade of China was in the hands of Indian merchants who exported into China pearls, rubies, sugar, aromatics, peacocks, corals and the like.

While we know from Sakuntala that India imported from China Chinese silk:

“Gachchit Purah Shareerah dharati pashchad sansthitah Chetah China Shukmiva Kctoh protivatah niyamanasya”.

In the Indian exports to Europe dyes, cosmetics and artificial imitations of natural flower-scents bulked very largely and it is interesting to note that Varahamihir who flourished in the sixth century alludes to the manufacture of these articles. According to Sukrsaharya the regions of duties are the marketplaces, streets and mines (ch. II. Sec. 2, line 213). Duties are to be levied on goods only once (Ibid, I. 214). The King should receive the 1/32nd portion from the seller or buyer. Even a 1/20th or with is a fair and legitimate duty (Ibid. I. 217).

If the seller has to give the commodity at a loss, no duty is to be realised from him but it is to be realised from the buyer (Ibid. II. 218-19). But we should remember that it is difficult to carry out this maxim of Public Finance. The king should realise 1/32nd portion of the interest of the usurers (Ibid. I. 255). He should also have land tax from shopkeepers (Ibid. I. 257). He should realise from minerals at the following rates- half of gold, one-third of silver, one-fourth of copper, one-sixte of zinc and iron, half of gems, half of glass and lead after the expenses have been met (Ibid. II. 233-35).

He should realise 1/3rd, 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/7th 1/10th or 1/20th from collectors of grasses and wood. In the gambling houses where the king’s guards kept order 1/5th or 1/10th of the winning was the King’s dues (Agni Puraua). It is interesting to note that according to Sukra “That man is a good collector of taxes and duties who realise these from shopkeepers in such a way as not to destroy their capital” (Ch. II. ll. 351-52). Levies were also made in kind.

Thus it was laid down that the king shall take 1/8th of the increase of goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes and horses, 1/16th of the milk of she-buffaloes, and female sheep  (Ibid. II. 239-40). The King should make the artists and artisans work one day in the fortnight for him (Ibid. I. 241).

In the marketplace, stalls or shops are to be placed according to the classes of commodities (Sukra Ch. I. line 516). And in determining the value of a commodity two points are to be noticed says Sutra; – (1) Sulobhasulable case or difficulty of attainment- referring to the cost of production determining supply (2) Aguntagunshanshraya its utility or power of satisfying wants etc. because of its properties—referring to the demand for it determined by its uses. (Ibid. II. 718-19). 

And a merchant should fix 1/32nd or 1/16th part as profit in a business with due regard to the expenditure and to the conditions of the place transport and not more (Ibid. II. 628-29). According to Fa Hien in Ceylon at the time of traffic the demons did not appear in person but only exposed their valuable commodities with the value affixed. Then the merchantman according to the price marked, purchased the goods and took them away. (Beal, LXXII)

There are certain regulations regarding trade and industry which betray surprisingly modern features. Thus it is laid down that if wealthy men of good manners are ruined in a business, the thing should protect them and suchlike men (Ch. V. I. 180 f.). This is a notable instance of State Intervention in Industry. Further, the seller of bad (adulterated) food is punishable like a thief (I. 641).

Again, according to Yajnabalkya “for traders combining to maintain a price to the prejudice of labourers and artisans although knowing the rise and fall in prices the fine shall be the highest amercement. For traders combining to obstruct the sale of a commodity by demanding a wrong price or for selling it, the fine is the highest amercement.”

The sale or purchase should be conducted at the price which is fixed by the king. The surplus made there from is understood to be the legal profit of business. Nor is all. It is laid down in—Sukranitisara that without the permission of the king, the following things are not to be done by the subjects —gambling, drinking, hunting, use of arms; sales and purchases of cows, elephants, horses, camels, buffaloes, man, immovable property, silver, gold, jeweler of intoxicants and poisons, distillation of wines, the drawing up deed indicating a sale or gift or loan, and medical practice (Ch. f. line 603-08).

Here is a mention of those practices and professions which for public safety, social peace and future interests of the parties concerned should be endorsed by the state and receive a royal patent, character or license to testily to their bonafide charter. In all these cases the state according to Sukracharya must interfere even on the principle of individualistic minimum. Here the hoary Sukra and, the modern Sidgwiek are on common ground.

Coming to the trade organisations we find that both Narada ((III. 1-9) and Yajnabalkya (II. 262 ff.) have laid down rules for the transaction of joint business Saubhujasambhanam. Narada expounds the fundamental principles of joint stock business thus; “Where traders or others carry on business jointly, it is called partnership which is a title of law. Where several partners are jointly carrying on business for the purpose of gain, the contribution of funds towards the common stock of the association forms the basis (of their undertakings). Therefore let each contribute his proper share. The loss, expenses and profit of each partner are either equal to those of the other partners or exceed them or remain below them according as his share is equal to theirs or greater or less. The store, the food, the charges (for tools and the like), the loss, the freight and the expense of keeping valuables must be duly paid for by each of the several partners, in accordance with the forms of their agreement.” [(Narada III. 1-4); S.B.E. Vol. XXXIII. p. 124)

It thus appears that an agreement was drawn up among partners, intending to carry on business together, in which the general principles upon which the business would be managed were clearly laid down. Sukracharya called this business deed as and defined it as one which individuals frame after combining their shares of capita for some business concern (II. 627-28). According to the comments of Chandesvara on Narada III. 4 quoted above, a partner if necessary could draw from the common fund an amount regulated by the share he paid (Vivadratnakar p. 112).

From Narada III. 3 quoted above we find that losses, expenses and profit of each partner are proportionable to the amount contributed by him to the joint stock. Yajnabalkya, however, lays down that the profit etc., may be either in proportion to the amount contributed by each or as originally agreed upon among the partners. Thus by virtue of this previous agreement, some of the partners probably on account of their greater skill and special knowledge, might enjoy a greater share of the profit, than was warranted by the amount of money contributed by them.

The relation of the individual to the corporate body was also clearly laid down. Thus, Narada, III. 5 lays down that when a partner injure the joint property through his negligence by acting without the assent or against the express injunctions of the other partners, he must compensate for the loss. Yajnabalkya (II. 268) says that if a man is guilty of fraud he expelled from the company, paid his capital but deprived of profits.

Yajnabalkya (II. 268) and Narada (III.6) however refer to special rewards being given to worthy members. It is no loss interesting to find that the joint stock company also looked after the interests of the individual even after his death (Narada III. 7; Yajnabalkya II. 267). It is also worthy of note that pretests carried on sacrificial acts and ceremonies on the same principle of partnership. (Yajnabalkya II. 268 and Narada III. 8 and 9).

System of Exchange:

Such an immense volume of trade would necessarily presuppose the existence of a good system of exchange. And we find from Yajnabalkya (1.361ff) that there existed in this period also a large variety of gold, silver and copper coins. Thus there where the golden dinar and suvarna, the mashas and krishnalas which were both silver and copper coins. According to Narada (App. 57ff) in south the currency consisted of subarna and dinar, mashas, kakani and silver karshapanas. According to Mr. V.A. Smith “the coinage bears an unmistakable testimony to the reality of Roman influence and the word dinar, the Latin denarius, was commonly used to mean a gold coin”. (Oxford History of India, p. 162).

Nor is this all. We find from the inscriptions of the period that the guilds performed the functions of modern banks by flowing investment of money and property in it and giving interest therein. Thus the Indore Coyber Plate Inscription of Skandagupta (Fleet, Gupta Inscriptions No. 16) daten in the year 465 AD records the gift of an endowment, the interest of which is to be applied to the maintenance of a lamp which has been established in a temple for the service of the Sun-god.

We shall now touch on a few rules regarding loans and interests which are undoubtedly of great economic importance.

According of Sukra money lending was an approved line of business (Sukra III. II. 365-67) and the following points are to be noted with regard to a loan transaction:

(1) The business qualifications of the debtor are to be studied.

(2) There are to be pawns or securities

(3) There must be men who stand bail

(4) There are to be witnesses.

(5) Receipts for value received as well as documents mentioning other conditions should be prepared (III II. 384-85).

It is further laid down that when the amount drawn from the debtor in the form of interest has reached twice the principal, then the king shall make the debtor pay only the principal to the creditor and nothing more than that (II 631-32). If four times the value have been receive by the creditor from the debtor, the former is to receive no more (Ch. V. II. 192-95).

Again, it is said that creditors take away people’s wealth by compound interest. So the king should protect the people from (II. 633-34). But if somebody does not return the money to the creditor when he is able, the king should make him bay that back by the methods of Sama Danda etc. (II. 635-36).

We have now seen the wonderful achievements of the period in the various arts and crafts the immense development of foreign trade which was not satisfied with the markets of Europe and Egypt alone but also found vent is a regular traffic in the eastern waters between Bengal and Ceylon, Kalinga and Suarnabhumia embracing the islands of Java, Sumatra and Malacca. Cambodia, China and even Japan. The result was the growth of the proverbial wealth of India and “those great monuments of art while India was enabled to erect after clothing and feeding her own people”.

Hence we find the immense stress laid upon wealth by Sukracharya “In this world wealth is the means to all pursuits. So man should try to acquire that by good ways and means e.g., by good learning, good service, valour, agriculture, usury, store-keeping, arts or begging.” (III. II. 364-67)”Even defects are regarded as merits and even merits defects of the wealthy and the poor respectively. The poor are insulted by all.” (III. II. 370-71) And again “man is the slave of wealth, not wealth of anybody; so one should always labour for wealth. Through wealth men get virtue, satisfaction and salvation” (Ch. V. II. 77-79).