Maritime War History Of Indian ocean

The ancient world leaders was the emperors from the civilizations in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Persia, Ancient Greece, India and Roman Empire, they were handling the most of the trading that time, also they have big influence on all sea routes.

The civilizations with faster and strong ships handled better naval power; they controlled sea routes on vast horizon and this lead to wars and conflicts in sea among them to keep trading privileges. The empires have their own international ports, kept their own navy under the command of eminent commanders.


If any Hindu crossed the seas, he would be expelled from his religion. That was a Hindu rule in ancient India, but there were some more adventurous marine geeks to break this law and those people from ancient India made colonies in different parts of world. Means before Briton have their “Empire on which the sun ever sets”, the Indians were already established it.

These are the ships build and used by Indians during ancient time Yukti Kalpa Taru: The ship building in India was a big industry from the time of Mohenjodaro Civilization. The artifact excavated from the ancient city depicting sailing crafts indicates, we were having an ancient maritime history. Yukti Kalpa Taru is an ancient Indian text about ship building says about the method and materials using for ship building, also classified ships into 2 classes – 1. Samanya means ordinary ship 2. Vishesha means special type ship

Ordinary ships were like cruise liners and this also classified into two –Dirgha type with long and narrow hull, Unnata type with highest hull. Decoration works, seating, accommodation and furnishing in a ship also specified in Yukti Kalpa Taru.

Sarvamandira vessels are the type with long cabins extending from one deck to the other used to transport of royal treasure and horses. Madhyamarnandira ships have have a cabin just at middle and used for leisure trips. Sure we have war ships known as Agramandira vessels have cabin at one end of deck.

The compass known as ‘Fish Machine’

This is also a big surprise that the Indian mariners used the compass nearly 1500 to 2000 years ago. The Hindu astrologers were utilized the magnetic compass and it looks like an iron fish that floated on oil contained in a small container. The Sanskrit word Maccha means fish adopted to name this compass as Maccha Yantra, later Arabs transmitted this idea to West.

India kept an important mark in the map of international trade route from ancient time and the Kingdom of Kalinga (Now Odisha) in Indian subcontinent were a big known naval power in Bay of Bengal during 200 B.C and they expanded their influence to Temasek (now Singapore), Siam (now Thailand) and Ceylon (now Srilanka) using their ships known as Boitas. They did trades with the distant lands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, Persia, china, Greece, Africa etc also and were the ancient marines in Kalinga known as Sadhabas.

The ancient scripts from Roman and Arab sources specifies about the traditional ship builders in Bypore (Calicut) in Malabar Coast of Kerala and Tuttukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamilnadu. Even in the modern time also the ship owners from Gulf and Red Sea are using the indigenous skill of the same people, because the present generation using the same method, that ancient techniques keeping handover to generation to generation.

Some of the ancient style ships using in present time are Big Urus from Bypore, Thoni in Tuttukudi, Kotias using in Mangalore, Kutch and Cuddalore, Mandvi’s traditional transom stern Baggalas, Machwas in Bombay coasts.

During the arrival of Europeans, they got impressed in Indian ship building techniques and they started to find service from our skill full ship builders to make war ships and trade ships. They also found that the Indian Teak is better raw material for a ship building than European oak wood.


Port of Calicut on 1572 under the ruling of Samoothiri Rajas In southern part of India, Chola and Chera empires had excellent navy forces and they did a fight known as Kandalur War happened at the end of the 10th Century AD in Kerala. Chola navy defeated Chera warriors and this victory lead domination of Chola power in South India and after this war they spread their power to all coasts around the Bay of Bengal under the Kingship of Rajendra Chola1. In a museum in Thirunelveli (Tamilnadu) is displaying the replica of a wrecked Chola Ship Hull, this wreck found 19 miles off the coast of Poombuhar.

Malabar Coast on 1580

Ancient ‘Spice Route’ and ‘Silk Route’

Kerala in South India were famous about its unique spices, and those were not available in any part of other lands and there were two special trade routes to India that touched in Kerala named as ‘Spice Route’ and ‘Silk Route’. Kerala is the famous backwater location, which had long coastal area known as Malabar Coast, deep lagoons and connected canals; there were many natural ports because of this geographical feature. So later Europeans named Kerala as ‘Venice of the East’

Emporia Musiris in Kerala were the main sea port in India, until the 13nth Century it remains so, the big flood happened in Periyar River on 1340s wiped out this famous port and so the destruction helped to get priority to another sea port in Kerala, Ponnani in Kozhikode (now Calicut), and the port is under the control of Samoothiri King.

Turkish, Egypt and Arab Navy forces united against the Portuguese, then starting of naval war series in Malabar Coast.

On 14th Century, the Great Vasco Da Gama from Portuguese found their new sea route to India and he reached in Kozhikode. This were the starting of big sea fights in the history of Kerala, that time Samoothiri didn’t have a proper navy, but he soon started a navy under the command of Kunjali Marakkar, a Muslim marine merchant to fight against Portuguese navy, there started a new legend in Kerala’s naval history.

Kunjali Marakar was the Greatest Naval Commander in ancient Kerala, who won number of wars against Portuguese for King Samoothiri of Calicut. There was 4 generations from his family respected under this position name. He was unbeatable in Malabar Coast and at last the 4th Marakar himself surrendered his powers in front of his King Samoothiri, and King handed over him to Portuguese authority to punish him as a war criminal, and they killed him in Goa, this was done according to the peace treaty done between Samoothiri and Portuguese. That was one of the biggest betrayal in the history of kerala. IT WAS AMAZING LIKE THE BLOCK BUSTER FILM 300. Even if Kunjali Marakar didn’t have big war ships, he won all of the fights using small boats and excellent warriors against Portuguese and their big navy lines. He used Subversive tactics against the Portuguese navy; and the small boats helped him in four ways – (1) To get closer to Portuguese ship undetected, (2) Can get into closer range compact with his traditional weapons, (3) To get invisible from Portuguese sight after the attack and (4) Could operate small boats in shallow or deep water.

Turkish, Egypt and Arab Navy forces also joined with Marakar to fight against Portuguese. The reason was they were keeping the full privilege to do trade in Muziris, and they knew the Portuguese invasion will be dangerous to their business interests.

THE BIGGEST AND LAST NAVEL BATTLE AGAINST PORTUGUESE IN INDIAN OCEANthat brought the spice route and Indian Ocean under the full control of Portuguese Empire happened on 1509, ‘Battle of Diu’. Portuguese commander Dom Francisco de Almeida and his navy won against the united naval power of Gujarat Sultanate, Mamluk Sultanate, Zamorin (Samoothiri) of Kerala, Ottoman Empire, Republic of Venice and Republic of Ragusa. In this war Portuguese got help from Kochi King, because Kochi King was in enmity with King Samoothiri.

The Invention of ‘Snake Boats’ in Kerala

Snake Boat – Ancient War Boats of Kerala

Ancient Kerala were small kingdoms, and war lords, feudalists were handled the power of governing the lands. On 14th Century, Kayamkulam and Chembakassery were the two feudal kingdoms always in enmity and conflict. King Devanarayana of Chembakassery ordered for a new war boat construction, that more efficient and faster than their enemy boats. This war boat named as Snake Boat or Chundan Vallam (‘Vallam’ means Boat), and Devanarayana won against Kayamkulam in next wars using Snake Boats.

Sthapathya Veda, a 1000 year old treatise was the reference to design the Snake Boat. The length of the boat vary from 100 to 138 feet, 83 feet length and six inch wide plank structure used for the hull, the height of rear portion about 20 feet, the front portion is long and tapering, so the structure looked like a snake with its raised hood. A single boat can occupy 100 oarsmen, six helmsmen who stand rear portion help to steer the boat.

Snake Boat Structure

A War Boat Changed To Peace Messenger

Later the snake boats turned to patrolling boats In backwater Kingdoms of Kerala and also used as Temple Palliyodams – divine vessel in temples. To celebrate the victory in wars and also as a thanks giving occasion to Gods, there held Snake Boat Races in backwater areas. The ancestors handed over these rituals to next generations; now modern society in Kerala turned the ancient Snake Boat Races to crowd puller events, which resembles the unity of Keralites, happiness and peaceful life. Some boat races are competitive such as Nehru Trophy Boat Race and other boat races conducting as a part of temple rituals such as Aranmula Boat Race. Most of the boat races held during Onam Festival Season, this is the national festival of Kerala

THE MYTH: Aranmula Boat Race is a world famous water carnival; there is a myth behind this temple occasion that relates to Onam. Long ago the Aranmula region under kingship, the Pumpa River used to transport collected rice and food materials in big boats to King’s palace from coastal villages. On one such occasion, the boats got stuck in the middle of the river near Aranmula Temple. Oarsmen, laborers and soldiers tried to make move the boats, but failed. The King reached at the location and consulted an Astrologer to know about this unusual incident. Astrologer revealed that, a very poor family near there, they are big Krishna devotees prayed to get food and Lord Krishna blocking the path of boats. The poor family must get food, otherwise boats never move. The King suddenly ordered to get the boats to the Temple and commended the goods to deity, provided food to poor family. From that day during Onam occasion, King started to do it as a ritual, associated with it conducted a colorful water carnival including Aranmula Snake boat Race.

There are other type of boats used in Kerala from ancient time, those are - Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam, Vadakkanody Vallam and Kochu Vallam. Now these boats are also participating in boat races.