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Where Heritage Awakens Maritime Consciousness!

Commodore Johnson Odakkal (Retd) PhD

MHS Website : www.mhsindia.org

An initiative that was given a “princely” sum of INR 1000/- by the then Commander-in-Chief of Western Naval Command, the amazing Vice Admiral RK Gandhi, with no hope of surviving a year, has crossed 43 years of relentless drive to showcase Indian Maritime Heritage. The Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar Winner and a Great Maritime Icon, Late Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati was the cause and concept of Maritime History Society. He found unmatched support in another founder trustee, Late Admiral Jayant G Nadkarni. 

The academic rigour of MHS that is today at global scale of recognition was built frame by frame by Late Professor B Arunachalam with strong input and lead in 16 of the 22 outstanding books published by the society. Passionate maritime enthusiasts joined to support the cause. Prominent among them was Wing Commander (Dr) MS Naravane (father of present Army Chief) who captured his scooter ride across Konkan forts into two valuable tomes for MHS. A galaxy of academics and mariners have and continue to build this fine institution of prominence in maritime India.

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HMS TRINCOMALEE: A LIVING PROWESS OF SHIPBUILDING

By Saba Purkar, Project Research Associate, MHS

The average lifespan of a ship at sea is considered as 25-30 years. After that, the maintenance of the ship becomes too expensive and dangerous to voyage in. However, today i.e 12 October marks the launch date of the Royal Navy’s Leda class frigate HMS Trincomalee who carries in her bones over two centuries worth of history, making her the oldest afloat surviving warship of Great Britain. What is interesting and makes it relevant to us is that this ‘Grand Old Lady’ was built in the Bombay dockyards by none other than the famed Wadia shipbuilders.

The ships of East India Company covered a wide range of trade routes and to tap into this network they established a shipbuilding industry in Bombay under the local builders, the Wadia’s in this case. The HMS Trincomalee was built after the end of the Napoleonic wars by the Wadia group in Bombay at a whopping cost of 23,000 pounds back then. It was in May of 1816 that the work of building this ship began after none other than the master builder Mr. Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia himself hammered a ceremonial engraved silver nail into the ship’s keel, which was considered vital for ships well-being, according to the Parsi Zoroastrian tradition. What sets this ship apart from her sisters is that, she is made of teakwood in place of the commonly used oak. This was probably because of the scarcity of oak wood in Britain, in those times, owing to the rapid shipbuilding during the Napoleonic wars.

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India’s Maritime Overture Towards UNSC: A Historical Narrative

By Krishna Kataria, Project Research Associate, Maritime History Society (MHS)

India will always be a voice of moderation, an advocate of dialogue and a proponent of international law”

Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, UNSC Presidency, 2021

 

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on August 09, 2021, via video conferencing at United Nations Security Council chaired the High-level Open Debate on ‘Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation’ that focused on ways to effectively counter maritime crime and insecurity and strengthen coordination in the maritime domain. The discussion witnessed the participation of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, and many more notable ministers.

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Seabird set to Soar

On 24 June 2021, Shri Rajnath Singh visited the Karwar Naval Base to review the progress of Project Seabird where he expressed his hopes for it to culminate into “Asia’s largest Naval base.” Karwar is known for scenic beaches surrounded by the lush Western Ghats, islands, and monuments. The beauty and serenity of this very place is said to have inspired Shri Rabindranath Tagore to write his drama ‘Prakritir Pratisodh’ during his visit to the city in 1882.  So, what is the story of Karwar that is set to become the Indian Navy’s stronghold of power in the coming decades?

Karwar, a coastal city, lies in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka located on the banks of the Kali River. Ancient records trace Karwar to the Kadamba Dynasty (345-525 CE) that ruled Uttara Kannada. The present Naval Base at Karwar is named INS Kadamba, commemorating this very dynasty. In successive centuries, the region passed through the hands of great empires like the Chalukyas and Vijayanagar Empire. ‘An Account of Trade in India’ by Charles Lockter (1711), refers to “Carwar” as an East India Company factory and mentions that “The best Pepper in the World grows here-abouts”. Portuguese traders referred to Karwar as Cintacora, Chitrakul, or Sindpur. The English Courteen Association built a factory at Kadwad village in 1638 and traded with Arabian and African merchants in commodities like muslin, pepper, cardamom and coarse blue cotton cloth. When the Courteen Association merged with the East India Company, Karwar was made into a Company Town.
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Rewiring India’s Maritime Leadership

By Krishna Kataria, Project Research Associate, Maritime History Society (MHS)

“Nature has ensured that India’s geographic configuration makes her as reliant on the seas as any island nation. Geopolitical imperatives have in the recent past served to confirm the importance of the maritime domain in our national security matrix.”\

– Adm Arun Prakash (Retd) [Indian Naval Despatch, Winter 2020]

Throughout history, the maritime domain has been a crucial space in establishing new and emerging powers shaping regional dynamics. India’s maritime  strategy represents the new strategic reality of the twenty-first century. The opening up of economies, growing seaborne trade, and the seamless connectivity in the maritime sector conveys India’s emerging role in maritime domain. As emphasized by K.M Panikkar, “It is the geographical position of India that changes the character of the Indian Ocean.” By the 21st century, Indian Navy’s global maritime outlook has become palpable in terms of trade, connectivity and security dynamics. Against this backdrop, the maritime strategy of India reflects the country’s maritime aspirations.

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A Tale of Pepper along the Sea Routes

By Leora Pezarkar, Senior Research Associate (Programs), Maritime History Society

An understated facet of colonial history of the Indian Sub-continent is the role played by food in inviting the Europeans to this huge landmass. If one is to study the voyage of Vasco da Gama and his passion for discovering the sea route to India, it all comes down to his one ambition – “For Christian and Spices.” The Portuguese, the Dutch, French and much later the English took on navigating the harsh seas in discovery of the land on the East in search of the priceless spices that weighed in gold, literally. The king of these spices, and the much sought after ingredient was the ‘piper nigrum’ or more commonly known as the Black Pepper. Native to the Indian Sub-continent, this Black Pepper built a reputation in Europe as the most eluded spice. Royal families, rich merchants and traders were willing to pay in gold and silver for a handful of Pepper to adorn their dining tables.

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National Maritime Day, 2021: Celebrating India’s Maritime Journey

By Krishna Kataria, Project Research Associate, Maritime History Society

Every year, on April 5, India celebrates National Maritime Day to commemorate modern Indian shipping embarked on its maiden voyage this day in 1919. The SS Loyalty, owned by the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, made an audacious venture, sailing from India to England.

This piece cherishes the day by taking us through the historical recall of the journey of India’s Shipping development, understanding the significance of National Maritime Day, and reminisce about the contribution of Mr. Walchand and Scindia Steam Navigation Company in India’s shipping history.

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SOPARA: AN ANCIENT PORT TOWN AND ITS RELIGIOUS REMNANTS

By Dennard D’Souza, Research Associate, Maritime History Society

Ports were where maritime trade blossomed, people from far and wide brought their ware to an assigned place which would often be near a port and would exchange it for other commodities. This was pretty much the role of all ancient port towns like Alexandria and Rhodes. Today however I shall introduce one such port town that is very close to our city–Mumbai and was at one time a major maritime hub on the western coast of India this city is the ancient port town of Sopara.

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Suez Canal: The sea route to prosperity

By Amruta Talawadekar, Research Associate, Maritime History Society

Roadways are often blocked because of broken cars or irresponsible drivers who travel recklessly on the streets. While you are mentally prepared for such circumstances on the roadway, have you ever considered what would happen if such an incident happened on an ocean route? Before you think about it, it’s already in the papers. The Suez Canal has been blocked by the huge container ship ‘Evergiver’ according to recent news headlines. This brings us to ponder upon the Suez Canal’s significance, and the global ramifications of this incident. 

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Salt Politics: A Maritime Perspective

By Janhavi Vilas Lokegaonkar, Research Associate, Maritime History Society

Imagine a plate of delectable food in front of you that turns out to be an unpleasant experience on your palate due to inappropriate use or rather absence of salt! Even in our imagination, food without salt paints such a bland picture. That’s the power of salt. In the Indian independence struggle, salt had a significant role to play.

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