The Khambat Story

In 1293 CE, Marco Polo visited a port town called ‘Cambaet’ or Khambat in Gujarat and wrote

In 1468, three decades before Vasco da Gama reached Malabar, a Russian horse-dealer named Afanasy Nikitin too reached there and was impressed with the riches. The Economic Times has an article on this city, which is no longer by the sea.

The prosperity of Khambat also had a significant impact on history. Take for instance the period around 1535 when Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat refused to bow to Mughal imperial authority. The Mughals, newcomers to India, were eager to extent their reign across the country after having defeated the Lodi king at Panipat. Faced with an attack by the Mughal emperor Humayun, the Gujarat Sultan was confident of beating the enemy back, his confidence in his military being based on two elements.
However, the Mughal army pressed on, its ranks inflated by men seeking a share of Khambat’s wealth. The port town’s wealth became its own undoing and it burnt for three days in the wake of the Mughal attack. It also gave the Mughals their first view of the sea and of the opportunities it offered.
A generation later, Humayun’s son Akbar set his sights on Gujarat. He was motivated by the twin needs of attaining a sea outlet for his land-locked empire and for subduing the robber/baron nobles who were looting the wealth of the state. If men were drawn to India via Khambat, so were ideas. For Akbar, his first glimpse of the sea at Khambat also brought him into contact with merchants from Portugal, Turkey, Syria and Persia. Akbar wanted to be on friendly terms with the Portuguese who controlled the sea traffic to Mecca by their domination of the Arabian Sea. Over time, interaction with the Portuguese increased to an extent when Christian priests coming as part of a diplomatic mission from Portugal were given permission to preach and even convert people. Later, in 1612, the British adventurer William Hawkins would leave India from Khambat, after four years of dodging Mughal court intrigue and Portuguese hostility, while in Jahangir’s court.[Khambat: Once there was a sea]

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