|During ancient times, Indian spices brought peace between Queen Sheba and King Soloman. The Fragrance of Indian cardamom wafted through the royal chambers of Cleopatra out to seduce Mark Antony. The discovery (AD-40) of the monsoon winds Hippolos (S.W) and vultumus (N.E) made possible annual voyages from Europe to India and the fleets of the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans Ianded on Indian shores for lading the coveted cargo of Indian spices.|
ln what can be considered to be the first recorded critique of globalised trade, Pliny, the Roman historian (AD-23-79), scolding the Roman Aristocracy for their expensive infatuation with pepper, cardamom and other Indian spices, wrote in 'Natural History' that “according to even the most conservative estimates, every year, the Indies exact one hundred million sesterces from our empire."
Indian pepper became a coveted treasure, so much so that, Alaric, the Gothic king (AD 4og) demanded a ransom of 3000 pounds of Indian pepper for lifting the siege of Rome. The crusades gave an opportunity to the shippers of Venice and Genoa access to the spice trade which had suffered a setback after the fall of Alexandria.
The Marco Polo tales made Europeans believe that the exotic and far away spice producing regions could be reached by ships. With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 and the heavy imposition of duties on material passing through Egypt the need for a sea route to the East became very pressing for the spice merchants of Europe.
Thus began the great voyages of Columbus and Vasco de Gama leading to the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English to Indian shores seeking monopoly in lndian pepper and cardamom. The lust for the profits of the spice trade led to strange covenants being entered between the colonial powers and Indian rulers - covenants which would be considered abominable by later day standards.
"From the aforesaid, I will not give, nor permit to be given to any other European, save the English company, the cardamom and pepper of Cattuvayanattu. So reads the undertaking (February 1725) given by the ruler of Kadathunad (North Malabar) to Mr. Adams, the factor of the English East India Company at Tellicherry. Similar exclusivities were forced on other potentates by different colonial masters. Occasionally, -rivalry gave way to collusion among them to procure Indian pepper at the lowest possible price.
An explanatory note to the 4th article of the agreement between Nicalao De Horme of the Royal company of France at Mahe and Mr. Robert Adams of the English Company at Tellicherry (both in North Kerala) executed on 17th April 1728 reads, "For the better explanation of the fourth article in the foregoing Treaty, touching the price of pepper, it is reciprocally understood that we consult each other, as often as is necessary before any considerable purchase is made, that the price thereof may be lessened, as much as possible, for the common benefit of each company. " The search for Indian pepper led to the discovery of the new world. The business in Indian spices paved the way for the prosperity of Venice, Genoa and many other European cities, contributed in no small measure to the birth of renaissance and its manifold expressions in architecture, painting and sculpture and to the renewed spirit of inquiry. The spice trading joint stock companies were the forerunners of the great corporations that straddle the globe today.
History has it that Indian spices were sold at 100 times their original value in the consuming markets of Europe. While we know, that the export of spices added to the revenues of Indian princes and made canons, gunpowder and muskets freely available to them, very little is known about the condition of the spice growers of India during those days. ln more ways than one, the inequities of the trade continues even today. With fragmentation of holdings and competition from cheaper origins, the plight of the average Indian spice farmer (average holding of less than half a hectare) today is much worse than what it was some decades ago and but for the discerning few, the once popular grades of Indian spices are only a distant memory. We need to re establish their identity and get for our spice growers a lair share of the value realized in the spice trade. The introduction of the 'Flavourit brand of spices, promoted and quality assured by Spices Board is an attempt in that direction.