Monsoons are always filled with romance, with tales of warriors returning from far off lands and soulful Kajris. Kalinga, we all know, is the land where Ashoka renounced violence after a particularly blood filled war. How do these two tie up with Ancient Naval History of India?? Read on …
Ancient Indian Naval History of Eastern Coast
Legends of the ‘Stitched Boats and Sadhabas’
Many of us will not know that from 6 BCE onwards The Odiya-Bengali seafarers were visting and Settling in Sri Lanka. The Kalinga Kingdom was so powerful that the present Bay of Bengal was called Kalinga Sagar. The sea farers of Kalinga were called Sadhabas who were experts in art of boat making called Ambaboita or Boitas. Ancient and medieval travellers observed that the hulls of ships of Indians were stitched together with rope and not nailed. This made the ships more flexible, especially as the ships would use estuaries or protected harbours like Chilka lake.
Chilka Lake was protected from rough seas and was the main Port. Mahanadi, Godavari and Ganga connected the coast with central India. Ships used the mighty rivers to transport materials to eastern coast from where they went across the oceans to Sri Lanka and from there to Far East as Far as Bali in Indonesia. By second Century BC, the Sadhabas mastered the monsoon winds and ocean currents to reach Indonesia. Chilka Lake was an important starting point as it was a safe Harbour.
The tradition of Kartika Purnima and Bali -Yatra
The ancient Mariners used retreating Monsoons also called NE monsoon winds to sail out on Kartika Purnima. They Hugged the east course along Andhra, Tamil Nadu, reaching Sri lanka. They would take in fresh water and trade supplies before using ocean currents to cross the Indian Ocean to the Northern Tip of Sumatra (Swarndeep) to Sail down to Bali. They would be reaching Bali by Mid January. After staying there and trading for about 2 months, by Mid March they would start sailing back, in time to catch the early south west monsoon winds in May to reach back home.
Trade linkages gave cultural Linkages too-Bali adopted Hinduism and the way of Indian culture, which survive till today. The people of Indian origin are called Klings. There is a memory of Ramayan and Mahabharat and spread of Hinduism and Buddhism. Today too on Kartik Purnima in Odisha the memory of these ancient Mariners is celebrated when women sail paper boats with oil lamps in water bodies. A fair called Bali Yatra is celebrated annualy in Cuttak as a reminder of the far eastern port of Kalinga.
In Indonesia, traditional masks from Bali resemble those in Andhra and Odisha. The Indonesian Art of shadow puppetry has its equivalent in Odisha and Andhra, evolved by ancient Mariners using Sails to enact shadow plays.
Paan or Betal leaf came to India from south east Asia, where it is also used in many religious ceremonies. Centuries ago, the legend of Saraswati was carried across the seas by our ancestors. Today too Bali celebrates a special day to honour Betari Dewi Saraswati, Goddess of learning and knowledge. Offerings are given to lontar (palm-leaf manuscripts) and books. No reading and writing is allowed and students pray to Saraswati to ask for her blessings. With this Ode to our ancestors I rest my pen hoping I have bought to fore some interesting tales of yore.
Credit and Sources- Ocean of Churn by Sanjiv Sanyal, Odisha tourism site, Baijayant Panda’s tweets