|saltpter production, India sanskritimagazine.com|
|.Saltpeter production, colonial India. currentscience.ac.in|
1791, published by H. Humphrey, London; http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/
'Violence', never played a part in the earliest human civilization, however the early people encountered violence from the Nature in the form of storms, deluge, etc and wild animal on prowl. Violence slowly crept into the early civilization due to hostile environments. Life threatening human traditions became facts of life, down the centuries. Instead of using stones, sticks and swords, man began to understand the value of fire in war fare and in defending his territory. Then came the gunpowder, artillery guns cannons, etc that dominated till the end of 19th century. Saltpeter was the earliest ammunition used by men during big battles in the later centuries. India was the major producer of this stuff which had been widely used as a medicine in the way past for curing certain ailment.
|East India company www.cs.mcgill.ca|
India accounted for the largest gunpowder production system in the history of the world and it sustained the status till the 20th century. In particular, in the state of Bengal and Bihar gun powder production was quite high taken care of by a specified caste called the nuniah. Saltpeter beds supplied the most vital element in gunpowder and India produced virtually all of it. Besides above , saltpeter was manufactured in other places like kurnool, Anantapur, Guntur (composite Andhra), Agra (UP), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) and certain parts of Karnataka (Mysore).
The Guntur Sircar accounted for large scale commercial production of saltpeter. In the other parts of the world in the middle of the 17th Century only a small amount of saltpeter using calcium nitrate, a hygroscopic salt, which would get spoiled seasily by absorbing moisture from air, according to the 17th century Royal Society paper on Saltpeter production in India.
|saltpter production on industrial scale, india 17th century? www.quora.com|
EIC and its cronies like Omi Chand exported large quantity of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) to other countries. The complete take over of Bengal with rights to collect revenue (Firman), put the company on a strong base and the British controlled over 70 percent of the world’s saltpeter production during the later part of the eighteenth century.
The paradox is there was fairly a continuous demand for saltpeter from various quarters. The powder stocks could not be prepared or made easily. So, during peaceful time gun powder was more in demand than normal to build up stocks /reserve in case of sudden military confrontation or local emergency like riots, etc.
China developed fireworks, rockets, and other incendiaries rather than shot-firing artillery because of its reliance on artificial saltpeter for making gunpowder. The Chinese often used a higher proportion of charcoal and sulfur, which resulted in more fire power and less ballistic strength. The difference between India and China was the former produced saltpeter of very high quality, enabling the development of gunpowder based weapons, in particular heavy siege guns, in addition to rockets. In the case of latter - China more mixing of charcoal and sulfur resulted in more fire power, and less ballistic application - the strength was not good enough for military application. So, for application to military purposes, the countries preferred more advanced Indian gunpowder to that of China that lacks ballistic strength.
Saltpeter production in India had been there for a long time before the advent of EIC. In 1460s the rulers of Jaunpur and Bengal already had organized saltpeter production as state monopolies managed by their chief merchants from Iron according to Iranian sources. The gunpowder was not shipped to India from Europe in any significant quantities. A little known fact is with respect to gunpowder technology and its infra structure development, India was far ahead of Western Europe - roughly a century ahead.
Yet another interesting fact is the saltpeter trading activities in Rajapur were controlled by Saraswat Brahmins, with investors from as far off places such as Goa and Diu. By 1617, the Portuguese king showed keen interest to procure saltpeter like other European countries. However, Chatrapati Shivaji (r. 1664-1680) and later his successors had a state monopoly in the saltpeter procurement, thus forcing the Portuguese, their Indian agents, and Banjara peddlers to deal with the Maratha state for their needs.
During the Mughal Empire, guns and artillery, the symbol of imperial played a great role in their battles. It was the careful handling of artillery firing that helped Babur (r. 1526-1530) emerge victorious over his battle with Ibrahim Lodi (r. 1517-1526). The successors of Mogul rulers kept using artillery power during confrontation and came up with some improvement in firing power and range. Through out the Muslim rule in India saltpeter production, particularly in the plains of Ganges, continued without any break till the reign of Sher Shah (r. 1540-1545) who himself was killed during gun powder explosion.
The British became a global power after gaining hegemony in India for two good reasons - 01. Huge revenue from the Indian lands, Indian produces, etc, 02. The British control over Indian saltpeter trade, engineered the military revolution and the rise of Britain as a global superpower. Later Saltpetre exports were banned by the English company and the irony was the wily English dexterously handled the gunpowder production to subjugate Indian rulers and natives.
In 1780, saltpeter was produced in France to cut down the British monopoly in Europe. During the civil war in America EIC manupupated the political turmoil there by being neutral and supplied Salpeter to both Northern unionists and Southern Confederates. This way they they made money at both ends.