ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Merchant and Portfolio Capitalists in Coromandel

The Trading World of the Tamil Merchant: Evolution of Merchant Capitalism in the Coromandel by Kanakalatha Mukund; Orient Longman, Chennai, 1999; pp ix+206, Rs 265.

This study by Kanakalatha Mukund     gives an interesting account of the rise and fall of the merchant capitalists in the southern Coromandel region (Tamil Nadu coast). Although it was originally planned to cover the entire Coromandel coast (the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), eventually she settled down to limit her analysis only to the Tamil coast. The study is a product of methodical research and mature reflections. The style of writing is elegant. It was indeed a pleasure to go through this scholarly work. Both the author and the publishers deserve to be congratulated for bringing out a welcome addition to the growing literature on the maritime trade of Coromandel during the early modern period.

The study aims at tracing the evolution of mercantile activity and organisation in southern Coromandel from its first recorded origins, with particular reference to the period, 1500 to 1750. The main focus here of course is on the evolution of ‘merchant capitalism’. What is meant by merchant capitalism? Mukund defines it as a “system in which merchants were not merely the agency in effecting the distribution of goods between different markets and the regions, but had accumulated sufficient reserves of capital to control and dominate commodity production and artisan producers and in the process, had further accumulated capital and heightened their control over the production process” (pp 1-2). Thus, according to her, vast reserves of money capital enabling the merchants to control and dominate the commodity production in general and the artisans and artisanal production in particular on a continuous basis is the chief characteristic feature of merchant capitalism.

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