The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxvii.

Concerning the Kingdom of Tana.

Tana is a great kingdom lying towards the west, a kingdom great both in size and worth. The people are Idolaters, with a language of their own, and a king of their own, and tributary to nobody.1 No pepper grows there, nor other spices, but plenty of incense; not the white kind however, but brown.2

There is much traffic here, and many ships and merchants frequent the place; for there is a great export of leather of various excellent kinds, and also of good buckram and cotton. The merchants in their ships also import various articles, such as gold, silver, copper, and other things in demand.

With the King’s connivance many corsairs launch from this port to plunder merchants. These corsairs have a covenant with the King that he shall get all the horses they capture, and all other plunder shall remain with them. The King does this because he has no horses of his own, whilst many are shipped from abroad towards India; for no ship ever goes thither without horses in addition to other cargo. The practice is naughty and unworthy of a king.

NOTE 1. — The town of THÁNA, on the landward side of the island of Salsette, still exists, about 20 miles from Bombay. The Great Peninsular Railroad here crosses the strait which separates Salsette from the Continent.

The Konkan is no doubt what was intended by the kingdom of Thána. Albiruni speaks of that city as the capital of Konkan; Rashiduddin calls it Konkan-Tána, Ibn Batuta Kúkin-Tána, the last a form which appears in the Carta Catalana as Cucintana. Tieffentaller writes Kokan, and this is said (Cunningham’s Anc. Geog. 553) to be the local pronunciation. Abulfeda speaks of it as a very celebrated place of trade, producing a kind of cloth which was called Tánasi, bamboos, and Tabashír derived from the ashes of the bamboo.

As early as the 16th year of the Hijra (A.D. 637) an Arab fleet from Oman made a hostile descent on the Island of Thána, i.e. Salsette. The place (Sri Sthánaka) appears from inscriptions to have been the seat of a Hindu kingdom of the Konkan, in the 11th century. In Polo’s time Thána seems to have been still under a Hindu prince, but it soon afterwards became subject to the Delhi sovereigns; and when visited by Jordanus and by Odoric some thirty years after Polo’s voyage, a Mussulman governor was ruling there, who put to death four Franciscans, the companions of Jordanus. Barbosa gives it the compound name of TANA-MAIAMBU, the latter part being the first indication I know of the name of Bombay (Mambai). It was still a place of many mosques, temples, and gardens, but the trade was small. Pirates still did business from the port, but on a reduced scale. Botero says that there were the remains of an immense city to be seen, and that the town still contained 5000 velvet-weavers (p. 104). Till the Mahrattas took Salsette in 1737, the Portuguese had many fine villas about Thána.

Polo’s dislocation of geographical order here has misled Fra Mauro into placing Tana to the west of Guzerat, though he has a duplicate Tana nearer the correct position.

NOTE 2. — It has often been erroneously supposed that the frankincense (olibanum) of commerce, for which Bombay and the ports which preceded it in Western India have for centuries afforded the chief mart, was an Indian product. But Marco is not making that mistake; he calls the incense of Western India brown, evidently in contrast with the white incense or olibanum, which he afterwards assigns to its true locality (infra. ch. xxxvii., xxxviii.). Nor is Marsden justified in assuming that the brown incense of Tana must needs have been Benzoin imported from Sumatra, though I observe Dr. Birdwood considers that the term Indian Frankincense which occurs in Dioscorides must have included Benzoin. Dioscorides describes the so-called Indian Frankincense as blackish; and Garcia supposes the name merely to refer to the colour, as he says the Arabs often gave the name of Indian to things of a dark colour.

There seems to be no proof that Benzoin was known even to the older Arab writers. Western India supplies a variety of aromatic gum-resins, one of which was probably intended by our traveller:

I. BOSWELLIA THURIFERA of Colebrooke, whose description led to a general belief that this tree produced the Frankincense of commerce. The tree is found in Oudh and Rohilkhand, in Bahár, Central India, Khandesh, and Kattiawár, etc. The gum-resin is used and sold locally as an incense, but is soft and sticky, and is not the olibanum of commerce; nor is it collected for exportation.

The Coromandel Boswellia glabra of Roxburgh is now included (see Dr. Birdwood’s Monograph) as a variety under the B. thurifera. Its gum-resin is a good deal used as incense, in the Tamul regions, under the name of Kundrikam, with which is apparently connected Kundur, one of the Arabic words for olibanum (see ch. xxxviii., note 2).

II. Vateria Indica (Roxb.), producing a gum-resin which when recent is known as Piney Varnish, and when hardened, is sold for export under the names of Indian Copal, White Dammar, and others. Its northern limit of growth is North but the gum is exported from Bombay. The tree is the Chloroxylon Dupada of Buchanan, and is, I imagine, the Dupu or Incense Tree of Rheede. (Hort. Malab. IV.) The tree is a fine one, and forms beautiful avenues in Malabar and Canara. The Hindus use the resin as an incense, and in Malabar it is also made into candles which burn fragrantly and with little smoke. It is, or was, also used as pitch, and is probably the thus with which Indian vessels, according to Joseph of Cranganore (in Novus Orbis), were payed. Garcia took it for the ancient Cancamum, but this Dr. Birdwood identifies with the next, viz.:—

III. Gardenia lucida (Roxb.). It grows in the Konkan districts, producing a fragrant resin called Dikamáli in India, and by the Arabs Kankham.

IV. Balsamodendron Mukul, growing in Sind, Kattiawár and the Deesa District, and producing the Indian Bdellium, Mukl of the Arabs and Persians, used as an incense and as a cordial medicine. It is believed to be the [Greek: Bdélla] mentioned in the Periplus as exported from the Indus, and also as brought down with Costus through Ozene (Ujjain) to Barygaza (Baroch — see Müller’s Geog. Graec. Minor. I. 287, 293). It is mentioned also (Mukl) by Albiruni as a special product of Kachh, and is probably the incense of that region alluded to by Hiuen Tsang. (See last chapter, note 3.) It is of a yellow, red, or brownish colour. (Eng. Cyc. art. Bdellium; Dowson’s Elliot, I. 66; Reinaud in J. As. sér. IV. tom. iv. p. 263).

V. Canarium strictum (Roxb.), of the Western Ghats, affording the Black Dammar of Malabar, which when fresh is aromatic and yellow in colour. It abounds in the country adjoining Tana. The natives use it as incense, and call the tree Dhúp (incense) and Gugul (Bdellum).

Besides these resinous substances, the Costus of the Ancients may be mentioned (Sansk. Kushth), being still exported from Western India, as well as from Calcutta, to China, under the name of Putchok, to be burnt as incense in Chinese temples. Its identity has been ascertained in our own day by Drs. Royle and Falconer, as the root of a plant which they called Aucklandia Costus. But the identity of the Pucho (which he gives as the Malay name) with Costus was known to Garcia. Alex. Hamilton, at the beginning of last century, calls it Ligna Dulcis (sic), and speaks of it as an export from Sind, as did the author of the Periplus 1600 years earlier.

My own impression is that Mukl or Bdellium was the brown incense of Polo, especially because we see from Albiruni that this was regarded as a staple export from neighbouring regions. But Dr. Birdwood considers that the Black Dammar of Canarium strictum is in question. (Report on Indian Gum–Resins, by Mr. Dalzell of Bot. Gard. Bombay, 1866; Birdwood’s Bombay Products, 2nd ed. pp. 282, 287, etc.; Drury’s Useful Plants of India, 2nd ed.; Garcia; A. Hamilton, I. 127; Eng. Cyc., art. Putchuk; Buchanan’s Journey, II. 44, 335, etc.)

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