Tracing the roots of East India Company at Lahore’s Akbari Mandi
Akbari Mandi is the oldest spice market of sub continent which is located right here in Lahore inside the Walled City, Androon Lahore. Undoubtedly it is the Asia’s largest spice market and has been a ground of many historic events of sub continent. To visit this place you need to go to Delhi Gate or Akbari Gate of Walled City Lahore and as you enter these gates aroma of thousands of spices will be in the air to welcome you in this stunning market having endless spice shops.
Let me give a brief account of this market to you. Well, it was established during the era of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, who was third in line of Mughal Empire, and thus was named after him. Akbar never knew what he was paving for his empire by establishing this market. Akbar came to Lahore in 1500s when he rebuilt the Lahore Fort with burnt bricks and made thirteen entrances to the city. He established this market near the Delhi Gate which extended up to the Akbari Gate of the Walled City of Lahore. Aging to Akbar’s period this market holds historic importance. The purpose of having the market outside the gate was to ease up the traders and keep them away from the city, and the reason for this farsightedness of Akbar and his minister will come in the following lines.
The market at present is a hub of wholesale and retail and the variety you get here for the spices and herbs is unavailable in the greater Lahore. You will come across an unmatched multi-colored vista in Akbari Mandi, no matter which ever street you go in. The stacked up spices, herb and grains look like jewels in bright sunshine and glowing like gems in the lights during night. The market closes around eight at night and opens around mid day. It is the busiest market of walled city and the ancient one. I can say that there is no other market which can match the vibrancy and colors of this market. Well you must be thinking that what is there in this market? This place presents an assortment house of Asian grains, spices, herbs, lentils and, isn’t that an interesting fact?
Well, once you are there in this land of spices, you will see that all exceptional Asian spices and herbs are available there to fill up your kitchen. Inside this huge market spreading like a cobweb, having narrow winding streets with old architecture, you will find different types of bay leaves, cardamom, cassia, cinnamon, cloves, curry leaves, five spice powder , garam masala, kaffir lime leaves, kalonji , ajwain , yellow mustard, black peper, sesame , laksa leaves, oils, achar, maraba, red peper, coriander, lemongrass, cumin , mace, mitsuba, panch phoron, pippali, radhuni , rice paddy herb, saffron, pandan leaf , star anise, nutmeg ,turmeric , henna, dried fruits of all types and many more which I might not be knowing even. I am sure most of these names would be alien to you like they were to me before I went there and got the information. If you are in search of some special herb for any medical treatment you can get it from Akbari Mandi.
Now let me take you an interesting story associated with this market and here comes the reason that why Mughal era market was located outside the city. River Ravi was flowing around the city at that time and the traders would come from all over the world through ships to purchase the famous spices of Asia. The emperor was informed about all the ships coming there and who was in them, by the ministers. During Akbar’s era, the British started coming to purchase the aromatic spices and sometime later they sent a message to the emperor that they wanted to start the trade of spices from sub continent to different parts of Britain. The proposal was rejected by the wise ministers and courtiers of Akbar’s court. The sharp courtiers suggested the government starts the trade themselves with different countries and that would boost economy and no one would be able to get into the city.
The British kept trying to enter into the great empire built by the Mughals and achieved their goal till 1615 when the company acquired its first territory in Bombay and in Lahore. This was the place which started as the trading point of spices being a part of the sub continent. During its first century of operation, the focus of the company was trade, not the building of an empire in India. Calcutta, Bombay and Madras began as trading posts and this trade expanded. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power. From this time on, the East India Company became more of a ruling power than a trading company in India and started giving loans to the Mughals as they were weakening. While the company grew richer on the profits of its trade, land taxes shot up, and millions of Indians died in terrible famines. The British government became concerned about the company’s ability to govern its territories and in 1783, it decided to make Calcutta the centre of government under a new Governor-General, which was seen as a new start. The British government took away the Company’s monopoly in 1813, and after 1834 it worked as the government’s agency until the 1857 India Mutiny when the Colonial Office took full control. The East India Company went out of existence in 1873 but the British Rule in the sub continent remained till 1947.
Isn’t this an interesting story? Well I am sure that while establishing this market Akbar would never had thought of the British taking over his empire one day! This market is of historical importance and should be showcased in a manner which mesmerises the people. The market, in my opinion, needs to be converted into a tourist site by restoring its shops and converting it into a proper bazaar like we see in Turkey. This way the new generation will surely get to know the history in an interesting manner without being bored!