The immense wealth of India attracted the Europeans to this India. The Europeans came to know about the wealth of India through the accounts of Marco Polo. Though India had a very long history of trade relations with Europe, India’s external trade was originally controlled by the Arab traders. There was demand for Indian commodities like spices, calicoes, silk, various precious stones, porcelain, etc caught the attention of the European traders from the early medieval period. In the 15th century, Europe achieved great advancement in the art of ship building and navigation. Hence, there started an enthusiastic preparation all over Europe for a long and adventurous sea voyage to reach the unknown corners of the East.
The Portuguese were the first European community to discover a direct sea route to India. On 20th May, 1498, a Portuguese sailor named Vasco da Gama arrived at Calicut, an important sea port of South-West India. He was cordially received by King Zamorin, the local ruler, and was offered certain privileges. Vasco da Gama stayed in India for a period of three months. On his return, he carried with him a rich cargo and sold it in the European market at an enormous price. In 1501, Vasco da Gama came back to India for the second time. He set up a trading factory at Cannanore. Gradually, Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin became the important trade centers of the Portuguese.
However, the Portuguese ascendancy on Indian trade did not last long. With the arrival of new trading communities from Europe there began a fierce rivalry among them.
Next to the Portuguese it was the Dutch who arrived in India. The people of Holland (Netherlands) are called the Dutch. In 1602, the United East India Company of the Netherlands was formed and it received the sanction of the government to trade in the East Indies. After their arrival in India, the Dutch founded their first factory in Masaulipatam in Andhra in 1605. Gradually, they established trading centres at different parts of India and became a threat to the Portuguese. They captured Nagapatam near Madras (Chennai) from the Portuguese and made this place their main stronghold in South India.
They monopolized the trade in black pepper and spices. The most important Indian commodities the Dutch traded in were silk, cotton, indigo, rice and opium.
The East India Company arrived at Surat in Gujarat and decided to establish a factory there. In 1608, the Company sent Captain William Hawkins to the court of the Mughal emperor Jahangir to secure royal patronage. After much persuasion, Jahangir permitted the Company to establish its factories at various places on the Western coast. In 1615, Emperor James I of England sent Sir Thomas Roe to Jahangir’s court seeking more concession for the East India Company.
The headquarters of the Company on the West coast was shifted from Surat to Bombay. In 1639, the East India Company attained the lease of the city of Madras (present Chennai) from the Venkatappa Nayak, the Nayak of Vijayanagar . Here, the Company constructed a small fort named Fort St. George to protect its factory. Gradually Madras became the South Indian headquarters of the East India Company.
After gaining their ground in Western and Southern India, the Company turned its attention towards Eastern India. Bengal was then the largest and richest province in India. It was advanced in trade and commerce. Naturally, the profit-seeking English merchants were eager to establish their commercial as well as political control over Bengal. Bengal was an important province of the Mughal empire.
The French were the last European people to come to India with the purpose of trade. In 1664, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the French East India Company was formed and it received the permission to trade with India.
In 1667, the French East India Company sent an expedition under the command of Francois Caron which reached India in 1668. In the same year, the French established their first factory at Surat in Gujarat. In the next year, Marcara, a Persian, who accompanied Caron, established another French factory at Masaulipatam. In 1673, the French obtained permission from Shaista Khan, the Mughal Subedar (governor) of Bengal to establish a township at Chandernagore (present Chandan Nagar), near Calcutta.
Francois Caron was replaced by Francois Martin as the French Governor in 1674. He obtained a village called Pondicherry from the Sultan of Bijapur and founded a prosperous city on that site. Pondicherry, thus, became the main stronghold of the French in India. The French company established its factories in different parts of India, particularly in the coastal regions. Mahe, Karaikal, Balasor, Qasim Bazar etc. were a few important trading centres of the French East India Company.
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