Evidence to show that seafaring was carried out by Indians long before the rest of the world

Among many contributions of India to the world sea navigation is also one. Indians had knowledge of harnessing monsoon winds for navigation long before Hippalus, the Greek mariner and acclaimed discoverer of monsoon winds.

According to a study by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa,the people of Indus Valley Civilisation were already using monsoon wind and currents for maritime trade and navigation in 2500 BC. NIO scientist Sila Tripati has reported this in a recent issue of the journal of Current Science. Tripati has traced the origin of navigation in India with the aid of archaeological findings and literary sources.

He says his research positively disproves the belief that Hippalus, who lived during the first century B.C., is the discoverer of direct monsoon route from the Red Sea to India over the Indian Ocean. These were known to Indians “much before him.

Monsoon is a seasonal wind that reverses direction twice a year. Archaeological and historical evidences indicate that sailors of Orissa (now Odisha) were aware of the use of monsoon winds and currents for more than 2,000 years.

This study shows that the sailors from Odisha set sail during the northeast monsoon and returned during the southwest monsoon. The winds and currents were favourable during their voyages.

Western scholars have underestimated India’s achievement with regard to commerce, ship-building and navigation, and sea travel. These scholars believed in the Doctrine of Christian Discovery – According to which only Christians could be regarded as discoverers. Hence, the claim that Columbus “discovered” America , or that Vasco da Gama “discovered” India). The people already living on the land did not matter. This colonist bias against Indian culture is fully matched by the Indian ‘Marxist historian’ bias against Hindu culture.

India, situated at the central point of the ocean that washes on its coast on three sides, was involved very early in maritime trade and navigation.

  • In the Rig Veda, a passage represents Varuna having a full knowledge of the sea routes, and another speaks of merchants going everywhere and frequenting every part of the sea for gain.
  • The Ramayana refers to the Yavan Dvipa and Suvarna Dvipa (Java and Sumatra) and to the Lohta Sagara or the Red Sea.
  • The drama Shakuntala, Ratnavali of King Harsha, Sisupalvadha of Magha, relates stories of sea voyages of merchants and others, and the fabulous literature of India are full of stories of sea voyages by Hindus.

Historian R. C. Majumdar states, the peoples of the Sindhu valley carried on trade not only with other parts of India but also with Sumer and the centers of culture in Western Asia, and with Egypt and Crete.

  • the archaeological findings from Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal suggest that maritime trade existed between the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley Civilisations. The Harappan seal recovered from excavations depicts a ship with mast and sail, while a seal and a terracotta amulet from Mohenjo-Daro depict a ship with cabin and birds. Clay model boats have been found from Lothal excavations.

There was a time in the past, when Indians were the masters of the sea borne trade of Europe, Asia and Africa. They built ships, navigated the sea, and had control over international commerce, whether overland or sea. In Sanskrit books we constantly read of merchants, traders and men engaging in commercial pursuits.

  • Manu Smriti, the oldest law book in the world, lays down laws to govern commercial disputes having references to sea borne traffic as well as inland and overland commerce.
  • Sir William Jones(famous for his work on relation between Indian and European languages) was of opinion that the Hindus must have been navigators in the age of Manu.
  • Lord Elphinstone has written that “The Hindus navigated the ocean as early as the age of Manu’s Code because we read in it of men well acquainted with sea voyages.”
  • Manning, author of Ancient and Mediaeval India writes: “The indirect evidence afforded by the presence of Indian products in other countries coincides with the direct testimony of Sanskrit literature to establish the fact that the ancient Hindus were a commercial people.”

Indian traders would set sail from the port of Mahabalipuram, carrying cinnamon, pepper to the shores of Java, Cambodia and Bali. Like the Western world, the Indian world stretches far beyond its border, but India never used any violence to spread the influence.

Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) a Hungarian, whose valuable researches have added greatly to the knowledge of Greater India, remarks: “The vast extent of Indian cultural influences, from Central Asia in the North to tropical Indonesia in the South, and from the Borderlands of Persia to China and Japan, has shown that ancient India was a radiating center of a civilization, which by its religious thought, its art and literature, was destined to leave its deep mark on the races wholly diverse and scattered over the greater part of Asia”

These observations not only speak of seafaring of Indians but also speak highly of Indian culture leaving behind its influence in every part of the world, without ever resolving to violence.

Dr Sindhu Prashanth