The Indian Travelogue of Niccolao Manucci

When the Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh was defeated by his brother, Aurangzeb, he had an Italian artilleryman in his employ by the name of Nicolau Manucci. According to Manucci, he was offered the chance to join Aurangzeb’s army but he decided to flee instead. In his memoir, Storia do Mogor (or Story of the Mughal), Manucci paints a fabulous picture of his life and casts himself as the long-suffering hero and Aurangzeb as the evil villain, his arch-nemesis. But can we believe him? Continue reading The Indian Travelogue of Niccolao Manucci

The Pirate-Admiral of the Konkan

The main base of the Western Naval Command in Mumbai is, like all naval bases, named as a ship would be. It’s called the INS Angre. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the naval base, you can spot an imposing statue taking pride of place. It is the statue of a fierce warrior of the Maratha Empire, sporting an even fiercer moustache. This is the base’s namesake, Admiral Kanhoji Angre, one of the Indian Navy’s historical heroes. Continue reading The Pirate-Admiral of the Konkan

Muziris- First Emporium of India

If you were a Roman trader in the 1st century CE, chances were you travelled east towards India to do business. You would have gotten onto a ship at Alexandria on the northern coast of Africa, sailed along the eastern coast of Africa, through the Red Sea, then crossed the Arabian sea and headed towards India’s western coast. There were a lot of port cities along that coast, but your first stop would have been Muziris. Why? Continue reading Muziris- First Emporium of India

When Temples Were Banks

It is reported that Mahmud of Ghazni attacked India 17 times between 1000 and 1025 CE. The chief motive behind these raids was money. The kingdoms of India were famed for their unimaginable wealth, and Ghazni was keen to get his hands on as much of it as he could. Do you know where all this wealth that mesmerised Ghazni was locked up in? Temples! Continue reading When Temples Were Banks

The Great Wall of Thorns

In 1885, tax on salt was the third-largest source of revenue for the British Raj. To stop smugglers trying to avoid the tax, the British instituted the Inland Customs Line, which grew as their own territories expanded. The Inland Customs Line was essentially a line of check posts to collect tax on salt coming from outside British territory. But because the line snaked from Punjab to Odisha… Continue reading The Great Wall of Thorns

The Bene Israelis of India

In the 18th century, during the third Anglo-Mysore war, the ruthless Tipu Sultan captured a group of army officers fighting for the British and ordered their execution. But when Tipu’s mother discovered the identity of two brothers among them, she requested they be spared. She said that the Quran spoke highly of them. And the Sultan complied! The two brothers were Bene Israelis. Continue reading The Bene Israelis of India

The LIC Story

Vacations to Madras (Chennai) in the 1960s always included a drive down Mount Road: tourists HAD TO SEE modern India’s very own skyscraper called “L-I-C.” The LIC building was the regional Headquarters of “Life Insurance Corporation”, a government-owned mega-corporation. To the average Indian, it was the saviour during financial risks and disasters. Ironically, the LIC itself faced many risks and disasters before becoming Chennai’s iconic landmark. Continue reading The LIC Story

The Portuguese Doctor Who Fled To India

The first contact between India and Portugal was when Vasco da Gama landed on the coast of Kerala in 1498. Over the next century or so, the Portuguese would become a permanent fixture in Goa, using it as a waypoint in their dealings with the islands of SouthEast Asia. In all their time in India, the Portuguese were not the friendliest lot. They had a very clear goal in the East: make heaps of money through trade and colonisation. So they had little interest in the culture and knowledge of these faraway lands. But there were some exceptions. One such exception was Garcia de Orta, a Portuguese physician, who wrote one of the first books printed in India. Continue reading The Portuguese Doctor Who Fled To India