Bharat Ek Khoj


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Golden Hind
(Episode 34)

Nehru notes that in Jehangir and Shah Jahan's time, the 'Grand Moghuls' were so well established that it attracted trade and commerce from far and wide-Iran Iraq, Egypt and other outlying countries. Meanwhile, the Europeans also came to the western coast. From their port of Bassein, the Portuguese had acquired an adjacent trickle of islands (including Bon Bahia, or Bombay), which afforded good shelter for their shipping and, later on, extracting 'protection money' from the Indian merchants for letting their goods reach the Red Sea by affording naval security.

During Jehangir's time, the British navy defeated the Portuguese in India seas and Sir Thomas Roe, an ambassador of James I of England, presented himself at count in 1615 and succeeded in getting permission to start 'factories': starting with Surat and then founding Madras in 1639. the drama unfolds these entangled trading phenomena.

We find the Surat trader's guild discussing seriously about their linkages with the Portuguese vis-a-vis the Ahmedabad traders who seem to be opposed to paying the 'protection money', and the emerging English naval power. They are unwilling to get involved with the warfare for the sea-power among the Europeans and wish to concentrate on trade by placating whosoever is in control of the high seas. When a particularly nefarious Portuguese agent is slair anonymously, the matters reach a head and the Portuguese obstruct the imperial merchandise. Shanty Das, the chief of the guild gets panicky at this affront to the royalty and takes the matter to Agra where he gets to know about the latest machination of the English.

While prince Khurram, in charge of the wast coast, is afraid of enraging the well-entrenched Portuguese, Shanti Das's guild, true to their business instincts, want to remain clear of the European power-conflict, as long as their merchandise of assuredly heigh quality reaches safe to the Red Sea ports. Roe's hobnobbing at Jehangir's court is for nothing short of undisputed rights of passage against the Portuguese. Jehangir, in turn, is keen on getting good gifts like the English horses, although the perilous sea-Journey could kill the bulk of the animals in transit. Presenting clear evidence of their superior naval power and offering supply of sophisticated weapons, Roe wins the day.

Nehru comments that although the British now controlled the sea-routes and practically drove away the Portuguese (except for Goa), this bore no significance for the Mughal rulers of their advisers. When the Mughal Empire was visibly weakening during Aurangzeb's reign, the British made an organized bid to increase their possessions by war in 1685, but were defeated. Even then, the overflowing energies of Europe were spreading out in India and the east, just when India's political and economic condition was rapidly declining to forestall the new upsurge.