Heritage of Indian Sea Navigation
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Heritage of Indian Sea Navigation

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Item Code: NAR655
Author: B. Arunachalam
Publisher: Maritime History of India, Mumbai
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8190100033
Pages: 342 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 10.00 X 7.50 inch
Weight 1.19 kg
About the Author

The author of the book, Prof. B. Arunachalam, retired from the University of Mumbai as Professor and Head of the Department of Geography, after a stint of four decades of teaching and research.

Intimately associated with the academic activities of the Maritime History Society since its inception, he has deep and abiding interest in maritime studies, coastal geomorphology, nautical cartography and technology. He has authored many bobks and research papers. He edited the Society's first publication 'Essays in Maritime Studies' which was published in 1998.

The sequel to this book 'Essays in Maritime Studies Vol-II', also edited by him, will be published by the Society in December 2002.


Nav : ship, vessel (Sanskrit), Gati : progress (Sanskrit), hence Navgati. Navigation means the same thing in English. I am not trying to establish a connection between the two expressions in the two languages, an ancient Indian language and a modern European one. There could be a connection. That is a matter for philologists to decide. The ancient and medieval Indian navigator who regularly traversed the north Indian Ocean, and the adjacent seas in pursuit of trade and cultural exchanges, certainly knew the art of navigation and was well versed in the haven finding art. He used a set of stars, a different group for each hemisphere which showed his rhumbs on outward and inward voyages. He did not know how to establish his longitude. Indeed, the world had to wait until the eighteenth century before the Englishman Harrison invented his accurate time keeping device, the chronometer, which had a steady, unvaried error. This time keeping device, properly installed in a gimballed carriage onboard a ship, allowed the navigator to compare the local (ship's time) against the time at the standard meridian (Azores and later Greenwich) and thereby determine his ship's longitude, east or west.

The ancient and medieval Indian navigator had no way of comparing time. But he knew that the meridians converged as the latitudes rose, north and south of the equator in proportion to their poleward progress. He knew through years of practical voyaging experience, that on a northerly voyage, sailing along a rhumb would overshoot his position, while on a southerly voyage he would have to cover an additional distance along the rhumb. All that was necessary to do was to evaluate the allowance in distance (plus or minus) which would have to be made for sailing on a constant bearing. On east west voyages the problem would be much less complicated, making allowance for the ever-decreasing small circles of latitude poleward from the equator. He seemed to have managed quite admirably without a magnetic compass, which became generally available in these waters only during the eighteenth century, without an accurate time keeper and other aids to navigation. He knew the seasonal winds which blew from the southwest and the northeast; he knew the wind regime closer to shore, the ocean currents which helped or hindered him on his voyages, he knew how to judge distance off-shore from the colour of the sea and many other natural phenomena. Indeed the mariners of ancient India, from Kutch, Malabar and the Coromandel had devised wind roses from the sea wisdom they had gained over hundreds of years. These helped them in the haven finding art when in the shallower inshore waters, upto about 200 to 300 nautical miles from their destination. It was verily an alliance with Nature, natural forces and the fixed celestial bodies which helped the Indian navigator of yore.

The author of this somewhat 'unlikely' book, unlikely because of the manner in which it came to be conceived and written, has done extensive research among the seafaring communities of India, from Kutch to Coromandel who are still in possession of a huge repository of sea wisdom, passed on to them by their forebears. This is a conservative community, jealous of its knowledge of the traditional art of navigation, its tools, techniques and theories which it will not part with or share easily with strangers, no matter how persuasive they may be. The author has met and interacted with scores of Mu-Alims, Tandels and other seamen from the Gulf of Kutch, the Malabar, the Lakshadweep Islands, the southern seas of India and the Coromandel to gather the material for this extremely fascinating record of how the ancient and medieval Indian mariner found his way across the north Indian Ocean and the adjacent seas in pursuit of his interests. That mariner was certainly superstitious, he believed in omens, but he had faith in his sea wisdom, he had faith in Nature and he did look upon the sea as an environment which could be mastered with knowledge, experience and faith. Here is an account of how he did it.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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