India’s first markets: Their role in 21st-century economic progress

India’s first markets have for millennia attracted people: to conquer, to plunder, to settle, to prosper, and to leave behind a living legacy long after they sailed into the sunset as their fortunes ebbed. What attracted them to this land of gold and honey was its abundant wealth; they came to buy in the booming bazaars and to export India’s diverse high quality produce and products.  India’s first civilization, which spread from its type-site Harappa in Punjab (in present-day Pakistan) to Kutch, the Ganga valley, and even further south to coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka, bears ample evidence of the existence of such flourishing markets and port towns in proto-historic India.

India’s first Markets as carriers of economic growth and prosperity

If truth were to be told, the affluence and opulence of ancient Indian civilizations were brought out by India’s first markets which included the twin modes of economic growth, namely, markets and exports. Many centuries before Japan and South Korea resorted to the export-oriented growth theory to promote swift development of their economies, the early Indian rulers, craftsmen, and tradesmen had successfully adopted the same growth ideology to usher in riches and luxury to its populace through India’s first markets. Not surprisingly, it has been estimated that India had the world’s largest economy during the years 1-1000 CE. According to Maddison’s calculations (see Table), China and India together contributed 50.5% of world GDP.


Virtually every facet of human life and venture is a reflection of the development of India’s first markets. Not surprisingly, India is now emerging steadily as an Asian giant, aspiring to become an economic superpower of the world by the mid-21st century.

For good or bad, there is no denying the critical role played by various mercantile and commercial epochs, which owed much to the trade and market expansion through those eras, in the origin of India’s first markets. This has enabled India to occupy a pride of place on the global economic map in the 21st century. Each strand of India’s economic, social, and cultural growth is nothing but a continual process of evolution, experimentation, and improvisation in every sphere of economic activity that has been facilitated primarily by the business and commercial exchanges seen in India’ first markets.

History of nations is essentially a history of their political economies, and is driven in the pursuit of not so much political as commercial conquests. Most facets of human behavior surface out of business exchanges at market places. So also do economic processes and institutions. These have not been day-break discoveries or inventions, but have evolved over centuries through an endless string of tried and tested market processes, experiments, and research. To put it more explicitly, the term “market” means much more than its simple generic implication of buy and sell; markets are of various kinds, marketing functions are many, different genres as it were, and each genre has developed through time to meet the requirements of specific sorts of buy and sell transactions.

But for India’s first markets, man would have well-nigh remained a nomad in search of food. In view of the critical role that markets undoubtedly played in the rise of human civilization, a prod into both the proto-historic and historic growth of markets makes a fascinating research inquiry. Hence, as one views and visits the modern next-generation exchange markets, it would indeed be exciting to peep into the past, and trace the growth of markets, market logistics, and market institutions over the past millennia. And no other country seems more apt for such a probe into times of yore than India, which can boast of a long history, and has subsequently traversed through successive historical eras, thanks to the entry of races and cultures of diverse hues in different periods of time.