The name allegedly derives from the Kutchi word “mandi” or market and indeed it has been an important trading port in Kutch coast from its foundation in 1580 until the early 20th century
“During the medieval centuries, it was a well-known port as recorded by Ain-i-Akbari, Mirat-i-Sikandari, Arabic History of Gujarat, and Mirat-i-Ahmadi; while MacMurdo, James Burns etc. speak high of it for nineteenth century.” (1)
Mandvi was open to the sea and a choice location for a port.
“The town had square form and was surrounded by a strong well built wall about 26 feet high, 3-4 feet broad, and 2,740 yards round. It was strengthened by 25 bastions, varying in height from 34 to 4 feet, the largest of them at the south-west serving as a light house, showing a small fixed light, of the fourth order, at 83 feet above high water level, visible in all weathers at a distance from 9 to10 miles. There were three gates and two wickets”. (2).
Its early exports were cotton, wool, alum, butter, garlic and black cloth; the imports were grain, groceries, oilman’s stores, cloth, pepper, ivory, iron and brass and copper wares. Besides the local coasting trade, Mandvi had trade connections with Karachi, Bombay, Malabar Coast, and Calcutta and out of India with the Persian Gulf, Aden and Zanzibar.
For hundreds of years, Mandvi port was also the home of the famed Suvali (Swahili) fleet, which used to sail backand forth to Zanzibar This was fleet used by the business house of Jairam Shivji, which ended up being the custom collectors for the Sultans of Zanzibar fro half a century in 1800's. This trade was so important that the family of Ladha Damji, who was the manager of Jiaram Shivji firm ended up adapting the Suvali as a family name. It is likely that Taria Topan, the famous east African Khoja merchant, was a stowaway on one of the ships of this fleet when he first arrived in Zanzibar in 1835.
“About 20 boats sailed every year to Africa.” (3)
During this early period, the Khoja merchants of Mandvi traded and lived in medieval metropolis of Cambay, near the present day Bhavnagar, (the famous merchant Khoja Shams-ud-din Gillani was based here and traded with the Portuguese as early as 1535) before Cambay was silted up. Upon the conquest of Surat in 1572, it became the principal port of the Mughal Hindustan and later, when the English East Indian Company set up its trading centre in Surat in 1619, the Khojas were also part of its growing trading community (see Khoja Kurji and the pirate ship The Quedagh Merchant).
“In the seventeenth century, Surat was the richest and busiest trading city in India as it was the entrepôt of the whole of Hindustan, absorbing everything that was brought there.” (4)
From oral traditions of the Khojas, we know that many other Bombay Khojas also migrated from Surat or directly from Mandvi and Mundra. Another connection of Surat was with the famous early East African Khojas was that this was home to Musa Kanji (Musa Mzuri) the earliest recorded Khoja trader in the interior of East Africa.
“In the first part of the nineteenth century, many of the merchants of Mandvi and Mundra invested in textile export and ivory and pearl import, which marked the strength of their enterprises.” (5)
“There were 20 sorts of black cloth distinguished chiefly from the number of threads in the warp. The 12 chief kinds were bisota, bili, ismail, poatah, tanjree, kes, chavari, bujita, panchpati, bohorah, rabavi, sabai and kikuri. Cloth was the chief article; the leading varieties being pankoras, unbleached cotton cloth fromMarwar; kaniki, a coarse Marwar cloth dyed black in Mandvi, barani, a Mandvimade sail cloth; and the grand article of export siakapda, (black cloth) made at Mandvi from English thread and dyed with indigo.” (6)
“Further, Kachchh was able to circulate a large number of commodities in the overseas markets such as textile, wool, dry fruits, spices, ropes, sugar, alum, chemical and herbal substances of various sorts, ghee, tobacco, copper iron and lead. In return, it supplied dates, pearls, coconut, ivory and spices, especially cloves and nutmeg, to the local markets of Mandvi, Anjar, Bhuj, and Mundra and to hinterland destinations. However, all these ports were connected in a single maritime milieu where most players still exported the same staples: cotton above all, ghee, butter and a few coarse textiles." (7)
“For instance, nearly all the cotton of the province went through Tuna-Anjar; Mandvi specialized in textiles and ivory, Lakhpat Bandar mainly dealt with ghee and rice, while Mundra’s chief export was cotton-piece goods.” (8)
“White and red coarse cloth woven of English thread came to Kachchh from Marwar was and exported via Mandvi, Tuna, Mundra, and Jakhau to different ports of the Gulf of Kachchh, Sindh, and Muscat.”(9)
“By 1804, the trade of Arabia, the Persian Gulf and Africa was indeed significantly diverted towards the Gulf of Kachchh.2 The shift of gravity of trade to Kachchh from Muscat and East Africa seems to be primarily related to the rising importance of Bombay. Arabian export items such as coffee found their way to Bombay, and thence to various other places. Similarly, Bombay was the main conduit for reexport of ivory and pearls to Europe. In bringing the trade goods, again, Mandvi played an important role, with most of the imported commodities being first unloaded there. Being closely linked with Bombay, the Kachchh importers, generally Bhatias, Vanias, Lohanas, and Khojas, were men of capital with agents or branch-houses in Bombay and Zanzibar. They generally resold to small-town and village dealers, chiefly Lohanas and Vanias, who sold either in those places or at fairs (Campbell 1880, 121). Thus, Bombay and Mandvi complemented each other” (10)
"In the 18th century, the Mandvi merchants collectively owned a fleet of 400 vessels trading with East Africa, Malabar Coast and the Persian Gulf". (11) (see also Ebrahim Pabaney)
Mandvi was also important port of call with anywhere from 250-400 vessels of all kinds at all times and with arrival of steamers in 1872-73, it became a place of call for a regular line.
It was also popular for ship-building for the whole Indian Ocean littoral area.
"In 1873, 22 vessels of from 17 to 204 tons/50-600 khandis were built. The fleet of Mandvi boats numbered 24 ranging from 17 to 178 tons/ 50-500 khandis. In 1875, 27 have been built; there were 1,358 arrivals and 1,920 departures.” (12)
“The city remained a busy spot with cosmopolitan attitude as per the climatic situation; residences of permanent sort or temporary construction as per the status of residents emerged and collapsed; traders, artisans and others made Mandvi dynamic in all aspects.” (13)
“Siltation and the accumulation of mud near the harbours prevented vessels of larger tonnage from dropping anchor. Consequently, the trading importance of Mandvi and Mundra declined almost simultaneously.” (14)
(1) EARLY MODERN CITIES UNIT_28: Capitalism,Colonialism and Cities in Early Modern India (Indira Gandhi National Open University)
(2) ibid (Ebook Location 372-375)
(3) ibid (Ebook Location 375-375)
(4) Mundra_A Tale of a Walled Port Town Goswamy, Chhaya (Ebook Location 76-77)
(5) ibid (Ebook Location 113-115)
(6) ibid- Capitalism (Ebook Location 378-382)
(7) ibid Goswamy (Ebook Location 106-110)
(8) ibid Goswamy (Ebook Location 1081-184)
(9) ibid -Goswamy (Ebook Location 185-187)
(10) ibid -Goswamy (Ebook Location 85-92)
(11) Wikipedia: Mandvi
(12) ibid- Capitalism (Ebook Location 382-385)
(14) ibid Goswamy - (Ebook Location 234-236)