India’s Maritime Legacy
India’s Maritime Legacy (What would it take India to regain it last glory)
The birth of Indian Maritime University is a long cherished dream of the maritime community of India.
The Indian Maritime University, established through an Act of Parliament (Act 22) in November 2008 as a Central University, is poised to play a key role in the development of trained human resource for the maritime sector.
India’s maritime roots are amongst the oldest in the world, traceable to the Harappan civilization more than three millennia ago. Indian mariners were active from the shores of Africa and Arabia in the west, to the lands of Southeast Asia in the east, well before the advent of the Europeans at sea. There is much archaeological and documentary evidence, highlighting both the extent and continuity of Indian maritime activity through the ages. Regrettably, this maritime impulse faded at a critical moment in history, during which period the world transitioned from the medieval to the modern. Let alone the Mughals, even the Marathas, and the kingdoms of the southern peninsula, failed to give impetus to sea power at that juncture.
India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, spanning a period of more than 4000 years, and witnessing the fusion of several customs and traditions, which are reflective of the rich culture and heritage of the Country.The history of the nation gives a glimpse into the magnanimity of its evolution – from a Country reeling under colonialism, to one of the leading economies in the global scenario within a span of fifty years. More than anything, the nationalistic fervour of the people is the contributing force behind the culmination of such a development. This transformation of the nation instills a sense of national pride in the heart of every Indian within the Country and abroad, and this section is a modest attempt at keeping its flame alive.India was a great maritime and sea faring nation many centuries ago. India’s commercial and maritime influence spread as far as China, all over South-East Asia, Red Sea and gulf littoral because of formidable building ships and operating capabilities. However, after the 13th century, lack of appreciation of maritime importance by Indian rulers led to significant decline in sea power. The maritime forts of India were mute witness to the erosion of India’s maritime power and power play of the Portuguese, French, Dutch and English sea warriors. India being a dynamic sea bound commercial center, competition and conflict amongst vying powers was natural and led to raising of strong navies and maritime forts. The western coast of India, as compared to the eastern coast, witnessed more fortifications mainly by European powers to oversee and protect their lucrative trade with great trading empires of the west. The trade enriched them and in turn enriched imperial powers of the Deccan, which loosely sheltered them. As a result, European navies could muster powerful ships and build impregnable forts which served as their naval nerve centers and Indian powers could do very little about it. India is one of those lucky countries where geography has bestowed on it a generous warm water coast line. History is replete with wars being fought and alliances made to secure access to the seas. Nations which have a seafaring tradition prospered both in terms of trade and in expanding their spheres of influence. India is perhaps unique that not only does it have a nearly 10,000 km sea washed shoreline but also an ocean named after it.The earliest evidence of India’s maritime heritage can be found in theLothal harbour city dating to nearly 3000 BC. Lothal was situated on the ancient course of the Sabarmati River and was linked via various channels and inlets to the Arabian Sea via Kutch when it was still part of the Arabian Sea. Archeologists have found evidence of a dock and partitions for berthing of ships, this away from the main current of the river to avoid silting of the port. This confirms the belief that ancient Indians had a fair understanding of hydrography and theocean tides. Ships from Lothal traded as far as China, both coasts of Africa and to the Mediterranean. Homer the Greek historian mentions a flourishing trade with India of ivory, indigo and silk in the 8th and 9thcenturies . Indian shipping and trade of course flourished under the Mauryan empire and continued to grow exponentially under Ashoka and the Mughal emperor Akbar. Spices from southern India became the most sought after products after silk and ivory and world intrepid traders made a bee line for India and it accounted for nearly 30 to 40 % of world trade.India’s maritime growth and fortunes started declining gradually from 1650- 1700 onwards as the colonisers made their slow entry onto the Indian land mass.
By the time the industrial revolution was in full flow the colonial powers had all but killed the Indian ship building industry partly by design and mainly due Indian apathy to imbibe modern tools ,metals and techniques of making more versatile, bigger and hardy seafaring ships.
Today after 60 years of independence we are still way behind modern sea faring nations in our expertise and infrastructure to support the needs of our maritime interests. We need to build a true blue water capability if we are to defend our vast coastline and island territories. With quadrupling of trade expected in the next 50 years we need to build superior and efficient trading ships not only to take our goods to the far corners but also to bring in commodities and raw materials to feed our resurgent industry and large population. ‘Make in India’ can only succeed if we have the wherewithal to send it abroad in an efficient cost effective manner. Huge cargo handling ports and terminals are needed to manage our burgeoning maritime fleet.