Ports in Indian History

I had written an article last week on The Geography of India’s History. This is the second in that series, inspired by Sanjeev Sanyal’s, “Land of Seven Rivers”.

This article looks at the ports of India.

One of the primary themes in the typical narrative of Indian history is the numerous invasions that have happened from the north-west of India. What probably does not get as much mention is the maritime history of India. Right from the time of the Harappan civilisation with it’s port at Lothal, India has a rich history of trade and exchange along the seas.

I have mapped some of the key ports in India’s history, starting from the times of the Harappan civilisation and ending with the key ports of modern India.

Some of the most important times in ancient Indian history were those of Bharuch, Muziris (near present day Kochi), Arikamedu (near Puducherry) and Tamralipti (near Kolkata).

Moving forward from then, ports such as Calicut (Kozhikode), Kollam, Tuticorin, Nagapattinam, Mahabalipuram and ports in Odisha became prominent in the trade across the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Of these, what was an eye-opener for me was the rich maritime history of the erstwhile kingdom of Kalinga, present-day Odisha (Orissa). Seafarers from this region traveled to Sri Lanka, as well as Sumatra, Java and beyond in South-east Asia. In fact, to this day, Bali Jatra (voyage to Bali) is celebrated as a major festival in Odisha.

The next phase of India’s maritime history has to do with European colonialism. It was at this time that ports such as Surat, Goa, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata rose to prominence.

And finally, coming to the present times. While some of the above ports continue to remain important, a few new ones have come up. These include Kandla, JNPT (Mumbai), Mangalore, Kochi, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Haldia, as well as Port Blair in the Andamans.


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