08 May Navigation and Maritime Activities
The art of Navigation was born in the river Sindh 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word NAVGATIH. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit ‘Nou’.
India has perhaps the oldest port in the world in Lothal on the estuary of Sabarmati joining the Gulf of Cambay. From a small village in 2400 B.C Lothal grew into a major port by 2200 B.C.
In the Rig Veda, a passage represents Varuna having a full knowledge of the sea routes, and another speaks of merchants going everywhere and frequenting every part of the sea for gain.
The Ramayana refers to the Yavan Dvipa and Suvarna Dvipa (Java and Sumatra) and to the Lohta Sayara or the Red Sea.
Ancient India maritime history has evidence of a very large number of Indians having crossed the seas to trade and build empires in distant lands.
In those days India had colonies, in Cambodia (Kambuja in Sanskrit) in Java, (Chavakam or Yava dwipa) in Sumatra, in Borneo, Socotra (Sukhadhara) and even in Japan. Indian traders had established settlements in Southern China, in the Malayan Peninsula, in Arabia, in Egypt, in Persia, etc., Through the Persians and Arabs, India had cultivated trade relations with the Roman Empire.
Jacques de Virty in his ‘History of the Kingdom of Jerusalem’ (1218 A.D) has referred to the use of compass in India.
Kalidasa in his ‘Raghuvamsa’ has mentioned that “the Indian compass was an iron fish (Matsya yantra) that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed to the north.”
The drama Sakuntala, Ratnavali of King Harsha, Sisupalvadha of Magha, relates stories of sea voyages of merchants and others, and the fabulous literature of India is replete with stories of sea voyages by Hindus.
Lothal had a dockyard, regarded as the largest maritime structure ever built by any Bronze Age community. It speaks volumes of flourishing maritime activities of the times, including ship-building.
Sanskrit and Pali literature has innumerable references to the maritime activity of Indians in ancient times. There is also one treatise in Sanskrit, named Yukti Kalpa Taru which has been compiled by a person called Bhoja Narapati.
The Yukti Kalpa Taru gives sufficient information and date to prove that in ancient times, Indian shipbuilders had a good knowledge of the materials which were used in building ships. Apart from describing the qualities of the different types of wood and their suitability in shipbuilding, the Yukti Kalpa Taru also gives an elaborate classification of ships based on their size.