Indian tradition emphasized economic activities

India is an ancient civilization with thousands of years of history. It is almost impossible to find out the period of birth of the country due to her remote antiquity. This is the reason why the national poet Subramania Bharathi proudly noted: “Even the archeologists who find out what happened during the ancient periods find it difficult to trace as to when India was born; Such is the nature of our motherland.”
We know that India is a great country, where many great rishis and sages lived and where the immortal writings such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharatha and the Ramayana were executed. Many of us also know that for centuries knowledge and wisdom spread out from here to the different parts of the world. Some of us may also know that India was a pioneer in diverse fields such as mathematics, literature, science, medicine, technology, astronomy, philosophy and religion.
But these facts alone cannot explain India. She is much more. Maharishi Aurobindo noted that India possessed abundant energy and creativity in diverse fields over many centuries continuously: “For three thousand years at least, - it is indeed much longer, - she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, - the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity. She creates and creates and is not satisfied and is not tired; she will not have an end of it, seems hardly to need a space for rest, a time for inertia and lying fallow. She expands too outside her borders; her ships cross the ocean and the fine superfluity of her wealth brims over the Judea and Egypt and Rome; her colonies spread her arts and epics and creeds in the Archipelago; her traces are found in the sands of Mesopotamia; her religions conquer China and Japan and spread westward as far as Palestine and Alexandria, and the figures of the Upanishads and the sayings of the Buddhists are re-echoed on the lips of Christ. Everywhere, as on her soil, so in her works there is the teeming of a superabundant energy of life……… ”
Not many of us know that India remained a world leader in the fields of economics, business and trade also. Experts note that the Indus Valley civilization that flourished between 2800 BCE and 1800 BCE had an advanced and flourishing economic system. Archeological evidences indicate that there were well planned cities during those times.
Studies show that business and trade were vibrant even in the earliest periods. Business historian Agarwala observes: “Even some 53 centuries ago, the people were linked in a vast trade network. Much of Harappa’s trade undoubtedly travelled along the Ravi river, eventually reaching the Indus. And some of it surely went by that main stream river to Mohenjodaro, Harappa’s sister city some 400 miles to the south.” India’s trade was not confined to the borders of the country. It extended beyond the boundaries to many distant lands. Agarwala mentions: “Archeological excavations testify to the existence of the ports of Lothal (Gujarat) and Rann of Kutch, Dholavira which have extensive trade exchanges in the time of the Indus Valley civilization with the Dilmun civilization of Bahrain and Kuwait in 3000 BC and later.”
Historians note that Indians had trade contacts with far off lands like the Middle East, Roman Empire and South East Asia even during the earlier periods. India’s trade relationship extended to different parts of the world with the setting up of trading colonies in other countries.
Most of us have a feeling that economic development, business and trade are all products of modern economic systems, which were born in the western countries after the industrial revolution. But evidences testify that India had her own advanced economic system and India was actively engaged in international trade as early as five thousand years ago. We have to remember here that some of the western countries of the contemporary periods were ‘born’ only in the last few hundred years. The noted economic historian Andre Gunder Frank asserts categorically: “So it is wrong to attribute the birth of capitalism to the European nations. It is even more wrong to assume that the economic development began with ‘the rise of the west.”
Any country cannot evolve an active economic system within a short period. A country cannot engage in international trade with exportable products without the necessary skills and expertise. The country should have had strong fundamentals built over centuries to remain an active economy with heavy presence in international trade.
Hence India must have developed her economic system over many centuries even before the time of the Indus Valley civilization. She must have taken necessary steps to cultivate the required expertise to make exportable products through serious efforts for many centuries before that period. Only then could India have had an advanced economic system during those periods.
So the notion that the Indian tradition concentrated only on godly and metaphysical matters concerned with the ‘other world’ and did not take interest in aspects related to the economy and business is totally wrong. India did attach importance to the making of wealth since the earlier times. The scriptures, sages and traditions emphasized people to engage in productive economic activities and create wealth. The Rig-Veda, believed to have been written five thousand years ago and considered as the oldest sacred text in the world, underlines this point through the following words: “Let a man think well on wealth, and strive to win it by the path of Law, and by Worship…..” The popular Tamil scripture Thirukkural, urged everyone to engage in making wealth.
The kings were advised to plan the economic policies and participate continuously in the management of the economy. Arthashastra, the first book of economics in the world, advises the king to be “ever active in the management of the economy because the root of wealth is economic activity; inactivity brings material distress. Without an active policy, both current prosperity and future gains are destroyed” The states were also advised to plan for efficient and diversified economies. Arthashastra noted that “the main guiding principles of the administration of the economy were that the state should run a diversified economy actively, efficiently, prudently and profitably.”
It is important for the modern youth to understand that the Indian tradition emphasized different economic activities for creating wealth and achieving material prosperity.
1. P.N.Agarwala, ‘A Comprehensive History of Business in India’, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. Ltd., New Delhi, 2001
2. Andre Gunder Frank, ‘ Asian-based World Economy 1400-1800: A Horizontally Integrative Macro-History’, University of Amsterdam, 1995
3. L.N.Rangarajan, ‘Kautilya – The Arthashastra’, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1992
(Published in Yuva Bharati -Voice of Youth,  Vol.37, No.10, May 2010)