The journeys of explorers from the Americas and Europe to India were not purely in the spirit of adventure - there was a driving force behind them; trade.
The Spice Routes were and still are, first and foremost - trade routes. Our purchase is the last link in a long chain of buyers and sellers: from the supplier of raw materials, to the manufacturer, to the wholesaler, to the shop - and if the goods we buy come from abroad there may be several other stages in between.
The journey of the goods between all these links in the chain is what is called a trade route.
Traders in the past would buy and sell goods from port to port. The principal and most profitable goods they traded in were spices - giving the routes their name. As early as 2000 BC, spices from India found their way along the Spice Routes to the Middle East, Europe and to other parts of the world. Besides spices, it was cargos of ivory, silk, porcelain, metals and dazzling gemstones too that reaped great profits for the traders.
Was it only trade of goods or was it something more?
It wasexch ange of knowledge: knowledge of the Indians and their religions, languages, expertise, artistic and scientific skills that intrigued the European travelers and they settled to form their colonies here. The ports along the Maritime Silk Roads (Spice Routes) acted as melting pots for ideas and information. With every ship of cargo wet fresh knowledge over the seas to the ship's next port of call.
Don't think spices are for flavouring of food. It comes from the Latin word species, which means an item of special value, as compared to ordinary articles of trade. Many of the important spices have ritual and medicinal values and can only grow in the tropical East, from South of China to Indonesia as well as India and Sri Lanka. To reach the spice markets found across Asia, the spices had to be transported thousands of kilometres over the seas. Traders would carry beautifully scented, exotic spices to their homes in return for goods they would bring from their countries.
Applications of spice
Perhaps it was the potent medicinal and spiritual values of these spices which lent a certain mystical & exotic air to them From ancient times, spices were burned as incense in Indian religious ceremonies, purifying the air and carrying the prayers of the people heavenward to their gods. They were also added to healing ointments and to antidotes to poisons.
Myths and legends were woven around these exotic substances. Some of these stories were probably created by the traders to protect their profits or to hide the sources of the spices.
Whatever it might be, the wealth of the spice trade certainly brought great power and influence and, over the centuries, bloody battles were fought to win control of it and of the routes along which it took place.
Such was the role of spices in the historical trajectory of India; it was one of the many factors that helped build up the poly-spectrum canvas to form modern India.