Marco Polo’s India

From 3quarksdaily:

Returning home from China in 1292 CE, Marco Polo arrives on the Coromandel Coast of India in a typical merchant ship with over sixty cabins and up to 300 crewmen. He enters the kingdom of the Tamil Pandyas near modern day Tanjore, where, according to custom, ‘the king and his barons and everyone else all sit on the earth.’ He asks the king why they ‘do not seat themselves more honorably.’ The king replies, ‘To sit on the earth is honorable enough, because we were made from the earth and to the earth we must return.’ Marco Polo documented this episode in his famous book, The Travels, along with a rich social portrait of India that still resonates with us today:

Map copyright Encyclopedia Britannica.

Map copyright Encyclopedia Britannica.

The climate is so hot that all men and women wear nothing but a loincloth, including the king-except his is studded with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other gems. Merchants and traders abound, the king takes pride in not holding himself above the law of the land, and people travel the highways safely with their valuables in the cool of the night. Marco Polo calls this ‘the richest and most splendid province in the world,’ one that, together with Ceylon, produces ‘most of the pearls and gems that are to be found in the world.’


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