Glory of Mediaeval Bengal

Bengal reached the zenith of its economic affluence during medieval times, from the 14th-17th centuries AD. It was known as one of the most prosperous lands in the world. The Moorish traveler Ibn Batuta who visited Bengal in the 14th-century described Bengal as the wealthiest and cheapest land in the world and stated that it was known as “a hell full of bounties”.

In the same vein, the 17th-century French traveler Francois Bernier observed: “Egypt has been represented in every age as the finest and most fruitful country in the world and even our modern writers deny that there is any other land so peculiarly favored by nature; but the knowledge I have acquired of Bengal during two visits paid to that Kingdom inclines me to believe that the preeminence ascribed to Egypt is rather due to Bengal”.

Because of its fertile land and the abundance of seasonal rainfall, Bengal was a cornucopia of agricultural products. Famines and scarcity were virtually unknown compared to other areas of Asia. Bengal was a focal point of free trade in the Indian Ocean from the 14th century onwards. It served as a virtual storehouse of silk and cotton, not only for India and neighboring countries, but also for Europe.

The region occupying what is now Dhaka once produced the finest cotton in the world. Large quantities of cotton cloth were produced in different areas of Bengal. The best and most well-known varieties of muslin textiles were produced in Dhaka. Some of the muslin garments were so fine that, as the 17th century traveler Tavernier notes, “even if a 60 cubit long turban were held you would scarcely know what it was that you had in your hand”. Some garments were so fine that a full size muslin could be passed through a small ring. Bengal also exported an extensive quantity of silk clothing.

According to Tavernier, Bengal silks were exported to other parts of India, Central Asia, Japan, and Holland. The region was also one of the largest producers of sugar, exporting to other parts of South Asia and the Middle East.

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