Organized Panel Session
This paper discusses the Ganga River as a vital circulatory zone through which commodities, people and information moved between Patna and Hugli during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While the seventeenth century was the prime of the Mughal Empire, it was also a century when the European Companies began their trading operations along the Ganga. During this period, the oceanic commerce became increasingly more significant for the Mughal economy. As the functioning of the agrarian economy of the land-based empires needed a regular stream of bullion, the rulers simply could not ignore the coastal avenue through which cash flowed in. During this period, in terms of wealth generation, the coasts and their hinterlands became far more important than the traditional imperial seats of Delhi and Agra. This areal shift in the economy of South Asia was a result of the commercial activities of the maritime forces that operated at a global scale and penetrated the Mughal Empire through its prime highway: the Ganga River. I shall argue that by the early eighteenth century the region along the Ganga became oriented more toward the maritime economy for trade and incomes. This shift explains the role of the partisan groups –zamindars or chieftains, warlords, Mughal officials, merchants– in contributing to the regime change in the eighteenth century. Paying close attention to logistical and historical geographic aspects, the paper situates the political and economic dynamics along the river in explaining Mughal decline by looking at the global transformations spearheaded by the maritime forces.