My last post was about the Nilgiri Mountain Train, which was built essentially to transport tea produced on the hills, down to the railhead at Mettupalayam. From where it was transported by rail and then shipped to destinations around the world. But have you ever wondered how and in what manner, cargo was transported in ancient India, before the railways were built by the English?
According to Ashraf Khan’s ‘Dakshin Bharat’: “In the regime of KrishnaDev Rai in South India, every thing was brought in Vijaynagar laden on oxen. Daily 2 thousand oxen used to enter the gates of Vijayanagar with goods laden on them”.
This was the mode of transport in ancient India. The Banjaras had almost a monopoly on this trade and were trusted and sought after to supply armies during wars as well as carrying out normal cargo transport during peacetime.
All kings and warlords in ancient times needed the logistics support provided by the Banjara tribes and understood the need to maintain good relations with them. Chhatrapati Shivaji reportedly came to meet Aurangzeb at Agra in 1666 with 500 oxen and 100 Banjaras. He also employed Banjaras with a huge herd of oxen for transporting the loot from Surat in 1664 and 1670.
The Banjaras became rich and powerful plying their trade and they are mentioned in almost all folklore of that era. The Sagar Lake around which the city of Sagar in Madhya Pradesh is constucted is reputed to have been built by one Lakha Banjara.
The Banjaras were on the move with their pack herds of oxen, nine months a year and only returned to their villages or 'tanda's to spend the monsoon. The advent of the railways spelled an end to this community's nomadic way of life and it took up various trades and professions including agriculture for its livelihood.
You can find more information about this nomadic tribe here, if you are so inclined.