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Maritime Heritage of India

Review: Maritime Heritage of India. K.S. Behera (Ed.) 1999. New Delhi: Aryan Books International. Pp. 258. Plates Col. 4; B/W 61; Figs. and Maps 37. Price Rs. 1950/- ($45).
by D.P. Agrawal and Lalit Tiwari

Behera’s book is a welcome addition to the limited literature on early maritime activities. The absence of S.R. Rao among the authors seems a bit glaring, as he is the pioneer of Marine Archaeology in India. In such a compendium, it is difficult to maintain a uniform quality and therefore there is considerable variation in the standards of scholarship in different articles. Nor is there any evidence of theme-wise coherence in the arrangement of articles.

The maritime tradition of India is as old as our civilization and as vast as the Indian Ocean. This volume is a collection of essays on Indian seafaring and maritime activities. The subject matter ranges from sea trade to cultural links with the outside worlds, especially with Rome, Sri Lanka and South East Asia, and is based on textual sources and archaeological data. Some of the papers throw light on the traditional boat types with specific reference to their technique of construction and navigation.

This book is edited by K. S. Behera, Professor of History at Utkal University and Director of Orissan Institute of Maritime and South-east Asian Studies in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. He is currently conducting research into the indigenous tradition of boat building and navigation in the Indian Ocean. This volume has grown out of an international seminar on Kalingas in the Indian ocean and maritime heritage of India, held at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar in 1992-93.

The volume contains 22 articles by wellknown scholars in the field of traditional Indian maritime activities.

The first paper “Indian seafaring traditions: archaeological perspectives”, was presented by I. K. Sarma. He has described the ancient Indian ship and boat building techniques with the help of historical and archaeological data. He covers the maritime activities during the Harappan, post-Buddhist and medieval times.

The second article is “Indian maritime activities: Vedic, epic and Puranic sources” by U. N. Dhal. In this article, Dhal describes the Indian maritime activities as referred to in the Indian epics, Vedas and other mythological texts. He gives many references from Rigveda, the earliest book of the Aryans.

The third article discusses the ancient trade between India and Rome under the title, “Indo-Roman trade” by K. K. Basa and K. S. Behera. Basa and Behera present a lot of archaeological evidence in support of the Indo-Roman trade in ancient times. They also describe the routes for trade and items of trade between India and Rome.

The fourth article covers 43 pages of this book, written by K. K. Basa, on ancient trade between India and South-east Asia during the period c.400 BC to 500AD. In this article, Basa has marshalled a variety of data – archaeological, literary, epigraphic and numismatic – to delineate this trade.

In the fifth and sixth articles, the writers, Haryati Soebadia and Wayan Ardikara, summarise the Indian-Indonesian cultural and trade relationship. Soebadia explains how Indian cultural influences came to Indonesia. He elaborates these with the help of historical and textual evidence. Ardikara, however, covers only the trade relationship between India and Indonesia on the basis of archaeological and textual data. According to him, forest products, spices, aromatic woods, beads, pottery, tin and probably textiles had attracted the attention of Indian traders to come to Indonesia.

In the seventh paper, the late Lallanji Gopal presents the Indian boat and ship building techniques, practice and maritime trade with special reference to early mediaeval period. In his article he uses literary references from YuktikalpataruTilakmanjariMilindapanhoBrhatkathaslokasangraha, etc.

In the eighth and tenth articles, Dhavalikar and Swamy, respectively, discuss ancient maritime activities and indigenous techniques of boat and ship-building in western and south Indian regions, with special reference to local boats and workers. Swamy’s lengthy article attempts to describe traditional techniques of planking, bending etc. He also writes about some traditional crafts of Karnataka region.
In their article on Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Shivkumar and Rajmanickam focus on the oceanographic knowledge and maritime activities of these islands. They describe tribal navigation systems, climatic predictions and traditional crafts.

Next paper is “Ancient ports of the eastern coast of India” by A. N. Parida. The author makes a general survey of the ancient ports on the eastern coast and trade relationship with Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Indian Peninsula. He summarises some mythological stories also in support of his survey.

In his paper entitled “Maritime activities of Orissa”, K. S. Bahera attempts to analyse the ancient maritime activities and contacts of Orissa with the outside world in the light of textual data and archaeological evidence provided by the recent excavations of sites in coastal Orissa. He also presents the evidence of ancient palm leaf manuscript of the 16th century AD about the ancient maritime activities of Orissa.

Next article is the “Maritime activities of the Kalingas and the new light thrown by the excavations at Khalkatapatna” by B. K. Sinha. The author describes ancient maritime conditions of the Kalinga area and reports on the Khalkatapatna’s excavation. Khalkatapatna is situated about 11 km east of Konark in Puri district and is located on the left bank of river Kushibhadra, which debauches into the Bay of Bengal. The site was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India. According to Sinha, most ports on the Orissan coastline, including Khalkatapatna, were not only international links in the riverine navigation of Orissa, but also occupied an important place in the international trade between Arabian countries in the west and Indonesia and China in the east.

The next article by V. Vitharana attempts to describes the earlier trade relationship between Kalinga and Sri Lanka. He gives examples of some tooth relics in his article, which indicate that Sri Lanka exported elephants to Kalinga in ancient times.

Eric Kentley summarises the findings on the boats of Orissa with special reference to building techniques of sewn boats. The most distinguishing feature of this type of boats is that its planks are not nailed to one another but sewn together with a coir rope. Such boats are built without providing a frame, and are found as far south as Karaikal in Tamil Nadu.

Bengal is gifted with a number of navigable rivers and a coastline. It is therefore natural that maritime activity in Bengal should have developed from very ancient times. N. C. Ghosh in his article “History of shipping in Bengal” describes the shipping activities of Bengal using literary, historical and archaeological evidence.

“The maritime contacts between eastern India and south-east Asia: new epigraphic data” is the next article by B. N. Mukherjee. In his article Mukherjee, focusing on the maritime commerce between north-western part of the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia says that they used to supply inter alia Central Asian horses.

The next two articles are, “Marathas and the sea” by A. R. Kulkarni and Hermann Kulke’s on the trade and politics in the Bay of Bengal. They describe Marathas’naval activities, marine forts, warships, commerce and trade activities and international trade relationship with other Asian countries. They focus specially on marine forts, naval fighters and warships of Shivaji’s navy. Ray and Arunachalam deal with Chinese records and navigational landmarks respectively.

At the end, we would like to recommend that it’s a very useful book for those interested in ancient India’s shipbuilding technology and international trade.