Taxes on Markets, Traders Big and Small


In the early medieval age, new kingdoms were formed. With the new kingdom, many big and small towns were established. Most of the towns were near the sea or river, so the traders could easily come and sell their products. Initially, the kings imposed taxes on the land and took a fixed proportion of the cultivation from the peasants. The practice of taking cultivation among the peasants was mostly seen in rural areas and the countryside. With the establishment of new towns and prosperous cities, the rulers found new taxation sources. They started taxing the traders and shopkeepers.

The trade also flourished with the formation of new cities. Traders from faraway came to buy and sell their products, and for that purpose, they had to pay customs duties and taxes. In villages, there were small mandis and hatas, where people from nearby villages came to sell and buy products. There were streets of different artisans like potters, sugar makers, carpenters, blacksmiths, toddy makers, etc. Samantha in the earlier period and Zamindars in the later medieval age built fortified palaces in the towns and levied taxes on artisans, traders and products. Sometimes they donated the right to collect taxes to temples in the city.

Taxation for Traders

From ancient times, India was a hub for trade. Even during the Indus valley civilization, trade was one of the main occupations. The authority and administration had created favourable conditions for trade and business, and in return, they levied taxes on traders and businessmen.

  • In the Mauryan empire, Trade was an important part of the administration. Both land and sea trade was important. In Kautilya's Arthsashtra, we find the mention of taxes on the movements of goods. Personnel were appointed to control and collect taxes on the trade routes.

  • During the Gupta period, the banking system improved under the control of the Chief Banker due to the increase in commercial activities. The tax rates on traders were high as the weavers and printers had to pay one-half of the price of their products in tax. Multiple Guilds had to pay taxes to the king.

  • In the 10th century Rajsthan, Kings imposed taxes on many products, but there was also the imposition of tax on the traders. Traders who dealt in Metal goods, Distiller, cattle food, oils, perfumes and luxury items. The traders had to pay taxes in kind, or they usually paid in cash.

  • During the Delhi sultanate, the emperor imposed two kinds of taxes: iqta, which was collected by the nobles, who were given the right to collect the revenue as his salary. The other tax was kharaj, a direct tax on lands. Land revenue was the main source of income for the Delhi sultanate. The sultanate also exported many products like rice, textile, oils and spices to other countries, and certain taxes were imposed on them.

During the Mughal period, trade increased; there were three levels of trade −

  • Local trade

  • Inter-Regional trade.

  • Foreign trade.

At all these levels, there were some kinds of taxes imposed. The tax imposed on products was not universal; each commodity had different taxes based on importance. Most taxes were taken from the traders who indulged in foreign trades. The traders in the Mughal period were so wealthy that they had big palaces and lived lavishly. Even nobles took loans from big merchants of that time, and merchants paid a big proportion of taxes to the emperor, and they had their say in the administration. Even though the emperor’s taxation policy on merchants seemed lenient, they had to pay heavy taxes to the local chieftains. Emperors like Jahangir abolished the customs duties on trade with Kabul and Qandahar. The Mughal period emerges as a golden age for Indian foreign trade with West Asia.

Taxation of Trade Income

The tax on trade in the medieval period was the second-highest income for the emperors. The medieval kingdoms were largely dependent on land revenue and agricultural taxes. During the Mughal dynasty, the emperor took half of the cultivation.

Emperors imposed taxes on many commodities and businesses. These taxes were paid in kind and cash. In the 10th century Rajasthan, taxes in kind were imposed on jaggery, oil, cotton, dye, thread, clothes, salt, coconut oil, butter and many more. Most of the earlier taxes were paid in kind. The local Samantas and Zamindars took all those taxes.

Later the Delhi sultanate and the Mughal empire, market dues were a part of khalisa income. to collect taxes from the Market, separate accountants and treasurers were appointed. In Deccan and Maratha, the Market was regulated by seths. There were Guards on the roads who helped in the protection of merchants and their caravans, and for that, they used to charge them. Rates varied for different products. Guards used to charge two rukas for grains and salts, three rukas for pulses, six rukas for tobacco, and 12 rukas for clothes.

Taxes on Manufacturers

Separate taxes were imposed on manufacturers and professionals in the medieval kingdom. In Rajsthan, a weaver had to pay one man for yarn annually. Cotton carder ad to pay 1 rupee per year on each carding bow.

In Maharashtra, weavers had to pay a quarter of taka as tax per loom. In Vijayanagara, a barber had to pay for one visa per day. In Rajsthan, a cobbler had to give a pair of shoes monthly, and the soap makers and oil pressers had to pay a fixed amount for their products as tax. In south India, blacksmiths, Goldsmiths, silversmiths and Carpenters had to pay five Panama annually in the Vijayanagara empire.


Taxation is one of the oldest practices performed by any authority. From the Ancient to Medieval period, Indian kings and chieftains imposed taxes on land, cultivation and Trade. The taxes from the Market became a source of income for the local chieftains and samantas. Each region had its form of tax, some took tax in forms of a kind and some used cash to pay taxes. There were many Indian communities which were merchants by tradition, and their whole livelihood was dependent on trade. In the Mughal period, many big merchants emerged who indulged in foreign trade and became very wealthy. Small traders were local communities like banjaras, Chhetiars, Marwari Oswals, Hindu Baniyas and Muslim Bohras.


Q1. what was Chauth and Sardeshukhi?

Ans. Chauth and Sardeshmukhi was a land tax started by Shivaji, Chauth meant ¼th, and Sardeshmukhi meant 1/10th of the total produced in the entire area.

Q2. Why did Kabul and Qandahar become commercially important places in the 16th century?

Ans. These two places became politically and commercially important because both were part of the silk route and Products like Dryfruits, Carpets and Horses of Good quality came from these places.

Q3. What do you understand by Guilds?

Ans. Guilds were the association of traders and merchants who looked for the interest of merchants. Guilds were formed to protect the traders, and they influenced the emperor’s court.

Q4. Why was Bidar famous in earlier times?

Ans. Bidar was famous for its craftsmanship, craftsman of Bidar were famous for their inlay work in silver and copper.

Q5. Who were the foreign trading communities in India?

Ans. Gujarati traders, Hindu Baniyas and Muslim Bohras are exclusively outside India. They traded with ports of the red sea, the Persian Gulf, Africa and China.

Updated on: 21-Dec-2022


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