By Amruta Talawadekar, Senior Research Associate, Maritime History Society
At the very end of the Navy Nagar in Colaba, Mumbai is a naval establishment that overlooks the southern tip of Mumbai called INS Kunjali. INS Kunjali is the naval base set up to administer the Regulating School of the Navy, the School of Music, the Provost Headquarters of the Navy at Mumbai, the IN-Detention Quarters, and the Indian Naval Band. 01 Jul 1954 marks the 68th commissioning anniversary of the Indian Naval base INS Kunjali. On this day let us revisit the saga of its meritorious service.
Post-independence, the Indian Navy just like other forces had to be restructured to develop into a formidable naval force. The various services within the
Indian Navy also needed reorganization thus giving birth to INS Kunjali. The base has been named after Admiral Kunjali III, the greatest of four hereditary admirals of the Kunjali lineage who served the Zamorins of Calicut. Kunjali Marakkar was an honorific title given to the Muslim naval chief in the Kingdom of Calicut during the Zamorin reign. The Marakkars were expert naval warriors who aided the Zamorins against the Portuguese and foreign invaders in several battles. In 1569, when Kunjali Marakkar III took over, he re-acquired the Fort of Chaliyam, a strategic possession that was lost to the Portuguese earlier during the reign of Kunjali Marakkar II. The Kunjalis used remarkable guerilla tactics and would station small crafts along the narrow waterways. This tactic helped them stage ambushes on the Portuguese. As per Kerala history, the Kunjali Marakkars are considered to be freedom fighters who offered strong native resistance against colonialism during the 16th century.
The Kunjali valour can also be seen on the establishment’s crest that hosts a sail ship with Kunjalis’ Fort at Ponnani against a background of waves as well as in its motto ‘सत्यवद धर्मचर’ meaning ‘speak the truth and follow the righteous path’.
INS Kunjali has its wings spread across a wide canvas comprising training, security, operations, administration, ceremonial, sports and judiciary. Of the many chapters in the annals of Kunjali, the most important one is the introduction of an aviation wing in INS Kunjali in 1972. It played a crucial role in many humanitarian operations. The Mumbai Flight of Goa-based INAS 321 was formally established at Kunjali. Over time, INS Kunjali saw steady growth in the aviation sector. A Coast Guard squadron operating Chetaks was set up in 1987. Seaking Helicopters and a Marine Commando Force Flight was established in 1989. The naval aviation base was later hived off and separately commissioned as INS Shikra which continues to provide basing and maintenance to Sea Kings, Kamovs and Alouettes. Along with its key services, the establishment also manages the Mulla auditorium, the Kohli stadium, Coastal Wing Boat Pool, coastal batteries at Middle Ground and Oyster Rock and the Indian Naval Watermanship Training Centre.