Some of the functionalities will not work if javascript off. Please enable Javascript for it.

The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘The Indian Economy in the Eighteenth Century: Stagnation or growth?’ , 18th February, 2015

‘The Indian Economy in the Eighteenth Century: Stagnation or growth?’


Prof. Om Prakash,
Formerly at Delhi School of Economics,
University of Delhi,


In Indian history, the period between the end of the Mughal empire early in the eighteenth century and the formal beginning of the British rule in the mid-nineteenth is marked by a great deal of debate and controversy. One of these debates centres around the economic implications of the transition. At one end of the spectrum is the view that following the collapse of the centralized Mughal empire, the standard of economic performance registered a sharp downward trend. Historians holding the alternative view claim that the rural economy over most of the eighteenth century India enjoyed substantial, if uneven, growth. It is claimed that the situation was further buoyed up by an ever-increasing level of international trade in which Indian artisans, merchants and bankers played key and lucrative roles. The paper will briefly go over some of these issues before coming to the subcontinent's central role in the structure of the Indian Ocean trade. It will be argued that the most important element in this respect was the subcontinent's capacity to put on the market a wide range of tradable goods at highly competitive prices. The most important of these goods was textiles of various kinds. The varieties most in demand in the Asian markets were the coarse cotton goods manufactured primarily on the Coromandel Coast and in Gujarat. As to the question of the overall change in economic performance in the Indian economy in the course of the eighteenth century, it will be argued that given the limitations of the data available, particularly in the quantitative domain, on variables such as the gross domestic product, the relative share of major sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and services in the GDP, and so on, no firm answer to this query is indeed possible in the present state of our knowledge. However, some tentative answers, subject to revision as more data become available, can be attempted. These will be discussed in the final part of the presentation.


Professor Om Prakash taught at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi from 1965 onwards. He retired as Professor of Economic History in 2005. He has also been a visiting professor at a number of European and American Universities. His books include The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal, 1630-1720 published by the (Princeton, 1985) and European Commercial Enterprise in Pre-Colonial India (Cambridge, 1998).

Photo Collections
Event Photographs


Back to Top