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

The Fierce Queen of Travancore

In the late 1600s, the most respected and the most formidable ruler in Kerala was a queen. Her name was Umayamma Rani and she was the senior-most Queen of the Kingdom of Attingal. You might think that at a time when men ruled, and women were kept locked away in their houses, a powerful queen was an exception, but in fact, she was not. Umayamma came from a long line of powerful queens who, for centuries, had ruled a little kingdom called Attingal. Continue reading The Fierce Queen of Travancore

The Story of Sugar

In the old days, sugar really was a prize worth winning! In 16th century England, sugar was a luxury item, a fine spice that only the wealthy and powerful could afford. The traders who sold sugar were minting money, and soon their name for sugar was “white gold”. It was considered a luxury because there were only a few places in the world where sugarcane was grown and then processed into sugar. Continue reading The Story of Sugar

How India deceives the Evil-Eye

Why do good, normal people face terrible misfortunes like sickness or financial ruin? Great civilisations, from the Greeks, to the Egyptians, to the Persians, have analysed this question and hit upon the same answer: the Evil-Eye! If a person enjoys success in any way, someone is sure to look at him/her with a jealous glare, and that unleashes bad energies. Continue reading How India deceives the Evil-Eye

The Sassoons: A Jewish Family which helped Build Bombay

Many ultra-rich families like the Waltons, the Koch brothers, and the Rothschilds have been in the public eye, but not much attention has been paid to the Sassoon family. The Sassoons have deliberately kept a low profile, despite being one of the world’s oldest remaining banking dynasties. But this was not always the case. If you were a visitor to Bombay in the mid-1800s strolling through the wide streets, and admiring the local architecture, you would have instantly noticed that the Sassoon name popped up more than any other. Continue reading The Sassoons: A Jewish Family which helped Build Bombay