Mission to Madurai
Dutch Embassies to the Nayaka Court in the Seventeenth Century
Presenting- and being granted an audience- at the court of a foreign potentate was the way to gain legitimacy, acceptance, and often, protection to be able to trade in the territory. Of course arriving at a court contained an element of risk; and not every representative returned from such a venture, but it was imperative to make these visits. Of course, the most well-documented of such encounters are those of the English to the Mughal courts, but there were other players in other regions of the sub-continent.
Markus Vink‘s book Mission to Madurai: Dutch Embassies to the Nayaka Court in the Seventeenth Century (Manohar, 2012), looks at these highly formalized points of contact between the Dutch and the people of southern India; specifically the state of Madurai. Mission to Madurai is about three encounters between representatives of the Dutch East India Company and the state of Madurai. As the author notes, they shared an interest in trade, of course- the Dutch were some of the earliest European traders in South Asia, and the Southern India had long been exporting its spices across the world. There was, of course, suspicion about the other’s motives; there was barely contained hostility, even; but there was also the fascination of the exotic- and this was what the ambassadors of the Dutch East India Company so richly documented in their accounts.