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Rediscovering Cambay: Gujarat’s Forgotten Gateway to Trade

In a recent lecture at the India International Centre, historian Neera Agrawal shed light on a historical gem often overshadowed by more famous counterparts. While Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata have long been heralded as India’s trade capitals, Agrawal unveiled Cambay, Gujarat, as the true gateway to India’s commerce for over six centuries.

With a sparse audience of enthusiasts, Agrawal delved into the bustling world of Cambay, which flourished from the late 900s to the 1500s. Despite the thin attendance, Agrawal passionately shared insights into Cambay’s vibrant past, portraying it as a global commercial hotspot along the Indian Ocean.

A Tapestry of Cooperation, Confrontation, and Conflict

Agrawal’s narrative transcended mere trade, delving into the power dynamics between British colonizers and local merchants. Amidst a backdrop of cooperation, confrontation, and conflict, Cambay emerged as a battleground for dominance.

Unpacking the intricate tapestry of trade and politics, Agrawal illustrated how the East India Company brokered alliances with local merchants, brokers, and dealers. However, this alliance was not without its challenges, as Agrawal detailed the constant tug-of-war between English traders and local powers like the Nawabs and Marathas.

Rise and Fall: Cambay’s Fading Glory

As the centuries passed, Cambay’s fortunes dwindled, plagued by geographical obstacles and neglect. Agrawal’s encounter with the last Nawab, Mirza Muhammad Jafar Ali Khan, offered a poignant glimpse into Cambay’s faded grandeur and the loss of its once-potent authority.

With Nawab Mirza Muhammad Jafar Ali Khan’s passing in 2012, the title of Nawab of Cambay faded into obscurity, marking the end of a significant chapter in Gujarat’s history.

In Agrawal’s recounting, Cambay emerges not just as a historical footnote but as a testament to the ebb and flow of power, commerce, and human endeavor in India’s rich tapestry of history.

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