Standing at a sea beach and trying to look at the other side as far as possible through the rising and falling gigantic tides of the sea, a striking question that does arise in one’s mind is – what and how would Man have felt at the idea of undertaking His first-ever sea voyage! “Is there any means that could make possible such a courageous and dangerous voyage?” he would have thought. What kind of people were those who not only did undertake such voyages, but also excelled in maritime trade and warfare?!
Vedic records stand proof of the fact that Indian or Bharatiya maritime trade and its history date back to 3rd or 4th millennium BCE, when Indian Maritme trade extended to so far lands as Mesopotamia, Far East and to the land that we now call as Arabia. LOTHAL, an Indus Valley site, is known to be the oldest artificial dock in the world; these people had thoroughly studied the effects of tidal waves on kiln-burnt bricks — the trapezoid structure of LOTHAL bears proof of this fact. The Indus Valley people had developed necessary skills and expertise in related fields, such as study of tidal waves, Hydrography, Maritime Engineering etc. The Rig Veda mentions about ships with 100 oars, ships with side-wings (then called PLAVA) and ships with MATSYA YANTRA. The PLAVA stabilised the vessel when there was sea-storm, while the MATSYA YANTRA was used as a kind of mariner’s compass; the MATSYA YANTRA was the precursor of modern mariner’s compass! In the MAHABHARATA, we find mention of a MATSYA YANTRA in which the eye of the fish always pointed towards the North! Alexander’s army returned to Mesopotamia on ships built at Sindh. Apart from these, available records also show that Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire, had a separate Admiralty Division under the superintendent of Ships.
The description of the high-profile Indian Maritime history would remain incomplete without the mention of the achievements of the KALINGAS, the CHOLAS and later the MARATHAS under Shivaji. The KALINGA’S (5 –10 AD) expedition included victories over Western JAVA, SUMATRA AND MALAYA. Ships and vessels of the KALINGA kings were used to trade with these and also with China — daily average trade amounted to 200 mounds/8 tonnes of gold!
In the South, the CHOLA kings of the great CHOLA Dynasty (904 — 1042 AD) had won over through maritime warfare lands like Burma, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, and Malaya. The technical excellence of the Indian/BHARATIYA warships of this period could easily be ascertained by the fact that not only did the ships have several compartments, but also they didn’t drown even if any of the compartments got damaged — a technology that the Europeans were completely ignorant of at that time!
In the 17th century during the Maratha reign, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj created his own fleet, commanded by great admirals like Kanhoji Angre. Under the admiralty of kanhoji Angre, the Maratha fleet was a major force to reckon with; he kept away the Portuguese and other alien fleet effectively and also kept the pirates from their shores.
Apart from these, the SATAWAHANAS, the kings of the GUPTA AGE, the VIJAYANAAGR EMPIRE etc developed lots of ports during their reign and expanded their trade with various countries. The VIJAYANAAGR EMPIRE established links with Southeast Asia, the CHERAS with the ports of Arab, and the PANDYAS with Rome and Egypt in the West to China in the East. The PANDYAS produced some of the finest pearls in those times.
One might wonder what the purpose of presenting these facts and figures here is? I’ve indicated this in the first paragraph itself. However, the following points are worth considering in this regard —
1. The glory and excellence that the Indus Valley and Vedic people achieved didn’t come about all of a sudden. It must have taken hundreds and thousands of years to achieve that. So let’s ask ourselves (Indians/Bhartiyas) when, why and how did we forget our knowledge, wisdom and true nature?
2. Let’s also ponder what, how and when did those conditions and situations develop that led to our gradual decline!
3. Last but not least, what we as Indians can do to take or raise our glory back to its zenith?