Friday, November 15, 2013

History mystery: Dravidian Maritime Knowledge

Maritime route
Maritime State of Tamil Nadu has an interesting history which dates way back to 6000 years ago which has been the cradle of the Dravidian culture. Trade relation resulted with the migration of people and developed into cultural relation with many neighboring countries. The Dravidians were the earliest people who build cities and engaged in extensive export and import business both through sea and land and by 7000 BC, camel trains trips were regularly done to distant Mesopotamia with Dravidian shipping pushing coastwise across the Arabian Sea to the Sumerian cities of the Persian Gulf and across the waters of the Bay of Bengal to the East Indies. The art of writing together with an alphabet was also imported from Sumeria by the seafarers and the merchants. The Dravidian centers of culture were in the river valleys namely the Indus and Ganges and along the three great rivers which flowed through the Eastern Ghats to the sea in the Deccan.

Moreover the settlements along the seacoast towards the Western Ghats had their prominence to maritime relationship with Sumeria. An ancient port having flourishing maritime trade namely, Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram is located on the shore of the Bay of Bengal and was the chief sea port of the Pallavas ruling over South India during the 1st century BC to 8th century AD. It has been recognized as the site of the greatest sculptural and architectural achievement in India. It was during the reign of Narasimha Varman, that this seaport began to grow as a great artistic centre and Mamallapuram is now a world heritage site as well as a testimony of the early Dravidians style of architecture. Most of the well known dynasties namely Chola, Chera and Pandya which reigned during the 4th century had maritime trade with countries like Far East Burma, Java as well as other Indo Chinese region while the Pallava dynasty ruled during the 4th century.

During the Medieval Cholas reign, the Chola Navy grew both in size and stature and their Admirals were treated with prestige and respected in the society. Earliest record of naval function dates back to the 1st century in the Roman report which presently is known as Poombuhar, where a description is made on how the trade vessels were escorted by the King’s fleet to the natural harbor at the mouth of the river Kaveri. Activities on the existence of maritime is derived from some excavated wooden plaques portraying naval engagements in the location of the old city and some knowledge into the naval activities of the Cholas has been derived from Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. Description from this unknown author relates the activity of escort ships assigned to merchant vessels with valuable cargo where these early naval ships had a kind of rudimentary flame thrower or a catapult type of weapon.

Great ships like the Colandia were used by the early Cholas which was used to sail to the Pacific islands from Kaveripatnam as a center. With the rise of the Vijalaya dynasty the Chola navy took shape in the aftermath of the Chola power and during the Pallavas’ rule took control of the territories as well as the cultural and socio economic affairs thus inheriting dominance over trade and control over seas from the Pallavas. Serious efforts during the reign of the Pallava king, Simavishnu, was done to control the piracy in South East Asia, to establish a friendly Tamil regime in the Malay peninsula though this effort was only accomplished three centuries thereafter by the new Chola naval power. The Cholas also excelled in maritime activity and foreign trade spreading their influence towards China and Southeast Asia and an inscription dated 1088, was found in Sumatra in the Chola country which indicates that there was an active overseas trade during the Chola period. At the end of the 9th century, southern India progressed extensively in maritime and commercial activity especially with the Arabs and the Chinese and the Cholas having control over the west as well as the east coasts of peninsular India were at the forefront of all these ventures.

ancient shipbuilding
Their main trading partners were the Tang Dynasty of China, the Srivijaya Empire in the Malayan archipelago under the control of the Sailendras and the Abbasid Kalifat at Baghdad. Trading with the Chinese was a very profitable enterprise and the traders needed the approval from the king and the license from the customs force department for overseas voyages in trading. The duration for normal trade voyage required three legs of journey beginning with Indian goods of spices, cotton and gems shipped to China with the return journey with Chinese goods of silk, incense and iron which were brought back to the Chola ports. Some of these materials were used for local consumptions while the remaining cargo along with Indian cargo was shipped to the Arabs where this transfer involved material cargo to many ships before they reached the final destination.

Ancient Chola navy’s trade vessel designs were upgraded to boarding implements which changed throughout history and the later navy was a specialized force with built ships suitable for any type of combat. In addition to the regular navy namely the Kappal-Padai, they had many auxiliary forces which could be used for naval combat. The Army depended on the Naval-fleets for logistics and transportation. Besides this, the Chola Navy also had autonomous service, a core for marines as well as saboteurs who were trained pearl fishermen and dived to disable enemy vessels by destroying or damaging the rudder.

 The Chola would also undertake peace time patrol, escort trade conveys and friendly vessels. They would also undertake naval battle close to home ports and at high seas, establish a beach head or reinforce the army whenever the need arose, denied passage for allies of the state’s enemies and sabotage the vessels of the enemies. Their multi dimensional force prepared the Cholas to achieve the political, military as well as cultural control over their huge dominion. The supreme commander was the king or the emperor of the entire navy and military force.

1 comment:

  1. Despite this rich history, INDIA still is SEA BLIND strategically.....
    Things are now changing though...
    Good Post !!


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