ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Tanjore rice: markets of circulations in Bay of Bengal


Ramesh Aditya - University of Manchester, History, Manchester, United Kingdom


25 – Thinking with markets: Practices and codes of engagement in South Asian economic milieus


 In the years of the Great Depression, the price of rice, a staple in large parts of India, fell rapidly on a weekly basis. Following the story of ‘Tanjore rice’, or rice from the fertile deltaic tracts of the Cauvery river, nominally correlated to the Tanjore district, this paper moves from productive paradigms of paddy cultivation that has dominated scholarship, to rice markets and commodity circulation. Tanjore rice had for centuries been traded across the Bay of Bengal, especially to the Kandyan Kingdom (Sri Lanka), but also to the Maldvies, Malaya, and Indonesia. In the early decades of the 20th century, as the British government in Burma, supported by Burmese cultivators and Chettiar merchants opened a paddy growing frontier in Burma, rice from Tanjore began rapidly losing these long-standing markets. The depression sharply brought into focus the rice crop, whose price was rapidly falling across the Madras presidency on a weekly basis. The market for ‘Tanjore rice’, which was desperately failing, depended on railway freight, shipping routes in the Bay of Bengal, consumption patterns in Ceylon and other southeast Asian nations. Yet, as the paper argues any solution to ‘fix’ the market, simultaneously could only depend on consolidating the waning powers of mirasidars, or large land-owners in Tanjore.