The Info List - Indian Maritime History

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INDIAN MARITIME HISTORY begins during the 3rd millennium BCE when inhabitants of the Indus Valley initiated maritime trading contact with Mesopotamia
. The Roman historian Strabo
mentions an increase in Roman trade with India
Roman trade with India
following the Roman annexation of Egypt
. Strabo
reports that during the time when Aelius Gallus was Prefect of Egypt
(26-24 BCE), he saw 120 ships ready to leave for India
at the Red Sea
Red Sea
port of Myos Hormos . As trade between India
and the Greco-Roman world
Greco-Roman world
increased spices became the main import from India to the Western world, bypassing silk and other commodities. Indians were present in Alexandria
while Christian and Jew settlers from Rome continued to live in India
long after the fall of the Roman empire , which resulted in Rome's loss of the Red Sea
Red Sea
ports, previously used to secure trade with India
by the Greco-Roman world since the Ptolemaic dynasty
Ptolemaic dynasty
. The Indian commercial connection with South East Asia
South East Asia
proved vital to the merchants of Arabia and Persia during the 7th–8th century. A study published in 2013 found that some 11 percent of Aboriginal DNA is of Indian origin and suggests these immigrants arrived about 4,000 years ago, possibly at the same time dingoes first arrived in Australia.

On orders of Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I of Portugal
, four vessels under the command of navigator Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
rounded the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
, continuing to the eastern coast of Africa to Malindi
to sail across the Indian Ocean to Calicut . The wealth of the Indies
was now open for the Europeans to explore. The Portuguese Empire
Portuguese Empire
was the first European empire to grow from spice trade.


* 1 The National Maritime Day * 2 Prehistory * 3 Early kingdoms * 4 Early Common Era—High Middle Ages * 5 Late Middle Ages— British Raj
British Raj
* 6 British Raj
British Raj
– Modern Period

* 7 Contemporary Era (1947–present)

* 7.1 Military * 7.2 Civil

* 8 Notes * 9 Bibliography * 10 References


5 April marks the National Maritime Day of India. On this day in 1919 navigation history was created when SS Loyalty , the first ship of The Scindia Steam Navigation Company Ltd. , journeyed to the United Kingdom, a crucial step for India
shipping history when sea routes were controlled by the British.


Further information: Lothal
and Indus Valley Civilisation

The region around the Indus river began to show visible increase in both the length and the frequency of maritime voyages by 3000 BCE. Optimum conditions for viable long-distance voyages existed in this region by 2900 BCE. Mesopotamian inscriptions indicate that Indian traders from the Indus valley—carrying copper, hardwoods, ivory, pearls, carnelian, and gold—were active in Mesopotamia
during the reign of Sargon of Akkad (c. 2300 BCE). Gosch "> Roman trade with India
according to the Periplus Maris Erythraei (1st century CE).

Eudaimon Arabia was called fortunate, being once a city, when, because ships neither came from India
to Egypt
nor did those from Egypt
dare to go further but only came as far as this place, it received the cargoes from both, just as Alexandria
receives goods brought from outside and from Egypt.

It should be mentioned here that Tamil Pandya
embassies were received by Augustus Caesar and Roman historians mention a total of four embassies from the Tamil country. Pliny famously mentions the expenditure of one million sestertii every year on goods such pepper, fine cloth and gems from the southern coasts of India. He also mentions 10,000 horses shipped to this region each year. Tamil and southern Sanskrit name inscriptions have been found in Luxor in Egypt. In turn Tamil literature from the Classical period mentions foreign ships arriving for trade and paying in gold for products. The first clear mention of a navy occurs in the mythological epic Mahabharata
. Historically, however, the first attested attempt to organise a navy in India, as described by Megasthenes
(c. 350—290 BCE), is attributed to Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya
(reign 322—298 BCE). The Mauryan empire (322–185 BCE) navy continued till the times of emperor Ashoka (reign 273—32 BCE), who used it to send massive diplomatic missions to Greece, Syria
, Egypt, Cyrene , Macedonia and Epirus
. Following nomadic interference in Siberia
—one of the sources for India's bullion— India
diverted its attention to the Malay peninsula
Malay peninsula
, which became its new source for gold and was soon exposed to the world via a series of maritime trade routes . The period under the Mauryan empire also witnessed various other regions of the world engage increasingly in the Indian Ocean maritime voyages. Muziris
, as shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana
Tabula Peutingeriana

According to the historian Strabo
(II.5.12.) the Roman trade with India
trade initiated by Eudoxus of Cyzicus in 130 BCE kept increasing. Indian ships sailed to Egypt
as the thriving maritime routes of Southern Asia were not under the control of a single power. In India, the ports of Barbaricum (modern Karachi
), Barygaza , Muziris
, Korkai , Kaveripattinam and Arikamedu
on the southern tip of India
were the main centres of this trade. The Periplus Maris Erythraei describes Greco—Roman merchants selling in Barbaricum "thin clothing, figured linens, topaz , coral , storax , frankincense , vessels of glass, silver and gold plate, and a little wine" in exchange for "costus , bdellium , lycium , nard , turquoise , lapis lazuli , Seric skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, and indigo ". In Barygaza, they would buy wheat, rice, sesame oil, cotton and cloth.

The Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum
was involved in the Indian Ocean trade network and was influenced by Roman culture and Indian architecture . Traces of Indian influences are visible in Roman works of silver and ivory, or in Egyptian cotton and silk fabrics used for sale in Europe. The Indian presence in Alexandria
may have influenced the culture but little is known about the manner of this influence. Clement of Alexandria
mentions the Buddha in his writings and other Indian religions find mentions in other texts of the period. The Indians were present in Alexandria
and the Christian and Jew settlers from Rome continued to live in India
long after the fall of the Roman empire , which resulted in Rome's loss of the Red Sea
Red Sea
ports, previously used to secure trade with India
by the Greco—Roman world since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty
Ptolemaic dynasty


Further information: Chola dynasty
Chola dynasty
, Chera dynasty
Chera dynasty
, Pandya dynasty , Pallava dynasty
Pallava dynasty
, and Maritime history of Odisha

Textiles from India
were in demand in Egypt, East Africa, and the Mediterranean
between the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, and these regions became overseas markets for Indian exports. In Java
and Borneo
, the introduction of Indian culture created a demand for aromatics, and trading posts here later served Chinese and Arab
markets. The Periplus Maris Erythraei names several Indian ports from where large ships sailed in an easterly direction to Khruse. Products from the Maluku Islands
Maluku Islands
that were shipped across the ports of Arabia to the Near East passed through the ports of India
and Sri Lanka. After reaching either the Indian or the Sri Lankan ports, products were sometimes shipped to East Africa, where they were used for a variety of purposes including burial rites. Chola
territories during Rajendra Chola I
Rajendra Chola I
, c. 1030. Port of Kollam - Established in AD.825 Model of a Chola
(200—848 CE) ship's hull, built by the ASI , based on a wreck 19 miles off the coast of Poombuhar, displayed in a Museum in Tirunelveli

The Chola dynasty
Chola dynasty
(200—1279) reached the peak of its influence and power during the medieval period. Emperors Rajaraja Chola
I (reigned 985-1014) and Rajendra Chola I
Rajendra Chola I
(reigned 1012-1044) extended the Chola kingdom beyond the traditional limits. At its peak, the Chola
Empire stretched from the island of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
in the south to the Godavari basin in the north. The kingdoms along the east coast of India
up to the river Ganges acknowledged Chola
suzerainty. Chola
navies invaded and conquered Srivijaya
in Maritime Southeast Asia . Goods and ideas from India
began to play a major role in the "southernization" of the wider world from this period.

Quilon or Kollam
in Kerala
coast, once called Desinganadu, has had a high commercial reputation since the days of the Phoenicians and Romans. Fed by the Chinese trade, it was mentioned by Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta
in the 14th century as one of the five Indian ports he had seen in the course of his travels during twenty-four years. The Kollam
Port become operational in AD.825. opened Desinganadu's rulers were used to exchange the embassies with Chinese rulers and there was flourishing Chinese settlement at Quilon . The Indian commercial connection with Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
proved vital to the merchants of Arabia and Persia
between the 7th and 8th centuries CE. Merchant Sulaiman of Siraf in Persia
(9th Century) found Quilon to be the only port in India, touched by the huge Chinese junks, on his way from Carton of Persian Gulf. Marco Polo
Marco Polo
, the great Venician traveller, who was in Chinese service under Kublahan in 1275, visited Kollam
and other towns on the west coast, in his capacity as a Chinese mandarin.

The Abbasids used Alexandria, Damietta
, Aden
and Siraf as entry ports to India
and China. Merchants arriving from India
in the port city of Aden
paid tribute in form of musk , camphor , ambergris and sandalwood to Ibn Ziyad , the sultan of Yemen
. The kingdoms of Vijaynagara and Kalinga established footholds in Malaya, Sumatra
and Western Java

The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia. Towards the end of the 9th century, southern India
had developed extensive maritime and commercial activity. The Cholas, being in possession of parts of both the west and the east coasts of peninsular India, were at the forefront of these ventures. The Tang dynasty
Tang dynasty
(618–907) of China, the Srivijaya
empire in Maritime Southeast Asia under the Sailendras, and the Abbasid
Kalifat at Baghdad
were the main trading partners.

During the reign of Pandya
Parantaka Nedumjadaiyan (765–790), the Chera dynasty
Chera dynasty
were a close ally of the Pallavas . Pallavamalla Nadivarman defeated the Pandya
Varaguna with the help of a Chera king. Cultural contacts between the Pallava court and the Chera country were common. Indian spice exports find mention in the works of Ibn Khurdadhbeh (850), al-Ghafiqi (1150 CE), Ishak bin Imaran (907) and Al Kalkashandi (14th century). Chinese traveler Xuanzang
mentions the town of Puri
where "merchants depart for distant countries."

and Buddhist religious establishments of Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
came to be associated with economic activity and commerce as patrons entrusted large funds which would later be used to benefit local economy by estate management, craftsmanship and promotion of trading activities. Buddhism
, in particular, travelled alongside the maritime trade, promoting coinage, art and literacy.


Further information: Shivaji
Further information: Maratha Navy Indian vessel as shown in the Fra Mauro map (1460).

Ma Huan
Ma Huan
(1413–51) reached Cochin
and noted that Indian coins , known as fanam, were issued in Cochin
and weighed a total of one fen and one li according to the Chinese standards. They were of fine quality and could be exchanged in China for 15 silver coins of four-li weight each. Image of Calicut , India
from Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg's atlas Civitates orbis terrarum
Civitates orbis terrarum
, 1572. This figure illustrates the path of Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
's course to India
(black), the first to go around Africa. Voyages of Pêro da Covilhã (orange) and Afonso de Paiva (blue) are also shown with common routes marked in green.

On the orders of Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I of Portugal
, four vessels under the command of navigator Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
rounded the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
in 1497, continuing to Malindi
on the eastern coast of Africa, from there to sail across the Indian Ocean to Calicut . Christian missionaries traveling with trade, such as Saint Francis Xavier
Saint Francis Xavier
, were instrumental in the spread of Christianity
in the East.

The first Dutch expedition left from Amsterdam
(April 1595) for South East Asia. Another Dutch convoy sailed in 1598 and returned one year later with 600,000 pounds of spices and other Indian products. The United East India Company forged alliances with the principal producers of cloves and nutmeg.

Bhonsle (reign 1664—1680) maintained a navy under the charge of general Kanhoji Angre (served 1698—1729). The initial advances of the Portuguese were checked by this navy, which also effectively relieved the traffic and commerce in India's west coast of Portuguese threat. The Maratha
navy also checked the English East India
Company , until the navy itself underwent a decline due to the policies of general Nanasaheb (reign 1740 – 1761).

Baba Makhan Shah Labana , a noted Sikh
of the 17th century is known for trade in sea route to Gulf and Mediterranean


Further information: British Raj
British Raj

The British East India Company
British East India Company
shipped substantial quantities of spices during the early 17th century. Rajesh Kadian (2006) examines the history of the British navy in as the British Raj
British Raj
was established in India:

In 1830 ships of the British East India Company
British East India Company
were designated as the Indian navy. However, in 1863, it was disbanded when Britain's Royal Navy
Royal Navy
took control of the Indian Ocean. About thirty years later, the few small Indian naval units were called the Royal Indian Marine (RIM). In the wake of World War I
World War I
, Britain, exhausted in manpower and resources, opted for expansion of the RIM. Consequently, on 2 October 1934, the RIM was reincarnated as the Royal Indian Navy
Indian Navy
(RIN). The Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1842 onboard HMS Cornwallis (1813) , made by shipbuilders at the Bombay Dockyard .

The Indian rulers weakened with the advent of the European powers. Shipbuilders, however, continued to build ships capable of carrying 800 to 1000 tons. The shipbuilders at the Bombay Dockyard built ships like the HMS Hindostan (1795) and HMS Ceylon (1808) , inducted into the Royal Navy. The historical ships made by Indian shipbuilders included HMS Asia (1824) (commanded by Edward Codrington during the Battle of Navarino
Battle of Navarino
in 1827), the frigate HMS Cornwallis (1813) (onboard which the Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1842), and the HMS Minden (on which The Star Spangled Banner
The Star Spangled Banner
was composed by Francis Scott Key ). David Arnold examines the role of Indian shipbuilders during the British Raj:

Shipbuilding was a well-established craft at numerous points along the Indian coastline long before the arrival of the Europeans and was a significant factor in the high level of Indian maritime activity in the Indian Ocean region....As with cotton textiles, European trade was initially a stimulus to Indian shipbuilding: vessels built in ports like Masulipatam and Surat from Indian hardwoods by local craftsmen were cheaper and tougher than their European counterparts.

Between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries Indian shipyards produced a series of vessels incorporating these hybrid features. A large proportion of them were built in Bombay, where the Company had established a small shipyard. In 1736 Parsi carpenters were brought in from Surat to work there and, when their European supervisor died, one of the carpenters, Lowji Nuserwanji Wadia, was appointed Master Builder in his place.

Wadia oversaw the construction of thirty-five ships, twenty-one of them for the Company. Following his death in 1774, his sons took charge of the shipyard and between them built a further thirty ships over the next sixteen years. The Britannia, a ship of 749 tons launched in 1778, so impressed the Court of Directors when it reached Britain that several new ships were commissioned from Bombay, some of which later passed into the hands of the Royal Navy. In all, between 1736 and 1821, 159 ships of over 100 tons were built at Bombay, including 15 of over 1,000 tons. Ships constructed at Bombay in its heyday were said to be ‘vastly superior to anything built anywhere else in the world’.


Further information: Indian navy
Indian navy
and Ports in India


In 1947, the Republic of India
Republic of India
’s navy consisted of 33 ships, and 538 officers to secure a coastline of more than 4,660 miles (7,500 km) and 1,280 islands. The Indian navy
Indian navy
conducted annual Joint Exercises with other Commonwealth navies throughout the 1950s. The navy saw action during various of the country's wars, including Indian integration of Junagadh , the liberation of Goa , the 1965 war
1965 war
, and the 1971 war . Following difficulty in obtaining spare parts from the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
, India
also embarked upon a massive indigenous naval designing and production programme aimed at manufacturing destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and submarines. Ships participating in the Malabar 2007 naval exercise from the navies of India
, United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore in the Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal

India's Coast Guard Act was passed in August 1978. The Indian Coast Guard participated in counter terrorism operations such as Operation Cactus . During contemporary times the Indian navy
Indian navy
was commissioned in several United Nations peacekeeping missions . The navy also repatriated Indian nationals from Kuwait
during the first Gulf War . Rajesh Kadian (2006) holds that: "During the Kargil War
Kargil War
(1999), the aggressive posture adopted by the navy played a role in convincing Islamabad
and Washington that a larger conflict loomed unless Pakistan withdrew from the heights.".

As a result of the growing strategic ties with the western world the Indian navy
Indian navy
has conducted joint exercises with its western counterparts, including the United States Navy
United States Navy
, and has obtained latest naval equipment from its western allies. Better relations with the United States of America and Israel
have led to joint patrolling of the Straits of Malacca
Straits of Malacca


This section needs to be UPDATED. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (September 2016)

The following table gives the detailed data about the major ports of India
for the financial year 2005–06 and percentage growth over 2004–05 (Source: Indian Ports Association):


Kolkata (Kolkata Dock System -webkit-column-width: 30em; column-width: 30em; list-style-type: decimal;">

* ^ A B Gosch & Stearns, 12 * ^ Young, 20 * ^ A B "At any rate, when Gallus was prefect of Egypt, I accompanied him and ascended the Nile
as far as Syene and the frontiers of Kingdom of Aksum
( Ethiopia
), and I learned that as many as one hundred and twenty vessels were sailing from Myos Hormos to India, whereas formerly, under the Ptolemies , only a very few ventured to undertake the voyage and to carry on traffic in Indian merchandise." —"The Geography of Strabo
published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917". * ^ Ball, 131 * ^ Ball, 137 * ^ A B C D E Lach, 18 * ^ A B C Curtin, 100 * ^ A B Holl, 9 * ^ A B Lindsay, 101 * ^ A B C Donkin, 59 * ^ "Genomes link aboriginal Australians to Indians""Human evolution: Migration from India
to Australia" * ^ A B C D "Gama, Vasco da". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press. * ^ Gosch & Stearns, 7 * ^ Gosch & Stearns, 9 * ^ Gosch & Stearns, 12–13 * ^ A B C Rao, 27–28 * ^ A B C Rao, 28–29 * ^ A B Sircar, 330 * ^ Sircar, 327 * ^ A B Young, 19 * ^ A B C Chakravarti (1930) * ^ A B C Shaffer, 309 * ^ Lach, 13 * ^ A B C Halsall, Paul. "Ancient History Sourcebook: The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century". Fordham University. * ^ Donkin, 64 * ^ A B C Donkin, 92 * ^ Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, 5 * ^ Kulke the production and marketing of subtropical or tropical spices; the pioneering of new trade routes; the cultivation, processing, and marketing of southern crops such as sugar and cotton; and the development of various related technologies. Southernization was well under way in Southern Asia by the fifth century C.E. * ^ Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta (1958) . History of South India
(2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. * ^ Kollam
- Mathrubhumi Archived 9 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine . * ^ "Page No.710, International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania". Retrieved 23 November 2016. * ^ Short History of Kollam * ^ A B Donkin, 91–92 * ^ A B C D E F Early History (Indian Navy), National Informatics Center , Government of India
. * ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 116–117 * ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 12 * ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 118 * ^ Kulke & Rothermund, 124 * ^ Tripathi, 465 * ^ Tripathi, 477 * ^ Nilakanta Sastri, The CōĻas, 604 * ^ A B C See A History of South India
– pp 146 – 147 * ^ Donkin, 65 * ^ Donkin, 67 * ^ Donkin, 69 * ^ A B Chaudhuri, 223 * ^ Corn 1999, pp 68-. "If the Portuguese had wrested the spice trade from the Arabs in those distant lands, then why shouldn't a people enslaved by a false doctrine be likewise freed? This rhetorical question became for Xavier his ultimate concern. It was Portugal's supremacy on the seas and in the spice trade that allowed it to flourish." * ^ A B C D Donkin, 169 * ^ A B Sardesai, 53–56, Shivaji
Bhonsle and Heirs * ^ Sardesai, 293–296, Peshwai and Pentarchy * ^ A B C D E F G H I J K Kadian (2006) * ^ Arnold, 101–102 * ^ The navy was used in national integration by ferrying troops and securing the coast during the Junagadh state operations—Rajesh Kadian (2006). * ^ the Indian navy, among other actions, sank the Portuguese frigate Afonso de Albuquerque—Rajesh Kadian (2006). * ^ The navy's fortunes were greatly restored in 1971. After East Pakistan ( Bangladesh
) seceded, leading to civil war between Pakistan's two wings, the Indian navy
Indian navy
trained four task forces of riverine guerrillas. Those frogmen sank or damaged over 100,000 tons of shipping in four months and disrupted ports and inland waterways, the lifeline of the country. In December, after the war formally started, an imaginative, daring raid by Osa missile boats on Karachi harbor sank two warships, damaged others, and ignited oil storage facilities. The Indian armed forces conducted amphibious landings for the first time toward the end of the war—Rajesh Kadian (2006).


* Radhakumud Mookerji (1912). Indian Shipping - A history of the sea-borne trade and maritime activity of the Indians from the earliest times. Longmans, Green and Co., Bombay. * Mehta, Asoka (1940). Indian Shipping: A case study of the working of Imperialism. N.T.Shroff, Bombay.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to MARITIME HISTORY OF INDIA .

* Arnold, David (2004), The New Cambridge History of India
: Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-56319-4 . * Ball, Warwick (2000), Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-11376-8 . * Chakravarti, P. C. (1930), "Naval Warfare in ancient India", The Indian Historical Quarterly, 4 (4): 645–664. * Chaudhuri, K. N. (1985), Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-28542-9 . * Corn, Charles (1999) , The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade, Kodansha, ISBN 1-56836-249-8 . * Curtin, Philip DeArmond etc. (1984), Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-26931-8 . * Donkin, Robin A. (2003), Between East and West: The Moluccas and the Traffic in Spices Up to the Arrival of Europeans, Diane Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87169-248-1 . * Gosch, Stephen S. & Stearns, Peter N. (2007), Premodern Travel in World History, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-203-92695-1 . * Hermann & Rothermund (2001), A History of India, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-32920-5 . * Holl, Augustin F. C. (2003), Ethnoarchaeology of Shuwa-Arab Settlements, Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-0407-1 . * Kadian, Rajesh (2006), "Armed Forces", Encyclopedia of India
(vol. 1) edited by Stanley Wolpet, pp. 47–55. * Kulke ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v

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