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The Maritime Activities of the Ancient Tamils and Indus Valley Civilization

The Maritime Activities of the Ancient Tamils and Indus ValleyCivilization


K.V. Ramakrishna Rao B.Sc., M.A., A.M.I.E., C.Eng. (I )., B.L.,


A paper to be presented during the International Symposium on Indus Civilization and Tamil Language at Chennai on February 16th and 17th , 2007.


Introduction: The Maritime activities of the ancient Tamils have literary evidences in Tolkappiyam, the ancient extant Tamil work and the Sangam literature datable to c.1000 BCE and 500 BCE respectively. However, the seafaring activities of the people of IVC is dated to c.3,500 BCE to the peak period 2250 to 1950 BCE.The recent Sembiyan-Kandiyur Neolithic finding has also been dated to c.1,500 BCE, where historians have not recognized any �state formation� in the ancient Tamizhagam. Again archaeologists assert that Neolithic culture in Tamil Nadu is datable to 2,800 B.C. to 500 B.C., and megalithic culture from 500 B.C. to 100 C.E.


Even the post-Sangam Imperunkappiyangal have been glorifying the seafaring merchants and trading communities. The trend continued with the Pallavas and the Cholas, till the Arabs started gaining control in the west, China in the east and ultimately European dominance started in India itself. However, the presence of Pallavas in the SEA countries and even in Maldieves has not been studied properly. The books published on the shipbuilding technology based on manuscripts do not give details as one expect, as the editor or commentator obviously do not deal with technical details1. Of late, even the over-sea expedition of the Cholas has been questioned suggesting that the Rajendra�s maritime sojourn to SEA countries could be the excessive imagination of the poet, who rendered the text for the Tanjore inscription2.


Under such circumstances, the connection between the ancient Tamils and that of IVC is studied taking certain specific areas as follows:


Whether the Sangam literature can be correlated with IVC? The Western Indologists and IVC scholars based on Vedic studies tried to correlate the �Aryans� with IVC. Accordingly, Dravidologists have to consider the �Dravidians� of the Sangam period and their literature. The Sangam poets, flourishing from c.500 BCE have not mentioned anything beyond Ganges except Himalayas in the north. As for as the north-west is concerned, their knowledge has been NIL. For them the Southern Direction had been sacred as has been revealed through certain references mentioned. The end of IVC peak period c.1950 and the start of Sangam period c.500 / 300 BCE has to be linked and the gap explained. This has been the main problem for Indian history also. Therefore, for direct correlation, correspondence and connection, more material evidences have to be produced for the acceptability of historians. Few issues are taken up and attempt has been to correlate as follows.


The Maritime Capabilities of the Ancient Tamils: To correlate the archaeological evidences of the ancient Tamils with that of the people of IVC, the literary evidences are considered, as the existing archaeological evidences do not go beyond c.2,000 BCE and historic period c.500 BCE. First, the shipbuilding techiques are analyzed.


நளிகடல்இருங் குட்டத்து வளிபுடைத்த கலம்போல (அகநானூறு.26:1-2) = The ship was set to sail in the ocean. It was sailing at a depth with the winds forcing it through the bulging sails. Thus, it speeds through waters piercing.



மீப்பாய் களையாது மிசைப்பரந் தோண்டாது

புகாஅர்ப் புகுந்த பெருங்கலந் தகாஅர்

இடைப்புல பெருவழிச் சொரியும்

கடல்பல் தாரத்த நாடு (புறநானூறு.30:10-15) = The sail fitted to the mast was not stroked (this implies that it was anchored temporarily for doing business and ready to sail off). Balancing loads were not reduced (thus, the ship had been achored at a convenient position, so that the goods and men from the ship could go to the shores in small boats or the local merchants could come there on the board). The Big Ship entered the city of Puhar (and was anchored at a convenient distance). The local merchants came there to sell their goods and buy goods coming from different countries by sea. The description fits to a well-maintained Port.


சினமிகு தானை வானவன் குடகடல்

பொலந்தரு நாவாய் ஓட்டிய அவ்வழிப்

பிறகலம் செல்கலாது அனையேம் (புறநானூறு.126:13-16) = The Chera King (implying கடல்பிறக் கோட்டிய சொங்குட்டுவன்) with anger made his ships sailed without any hindrance bringing gold (to his exchequer). He also regulated that the ships of others did not tread waters in his area. The practice of restricting the vessel movement, specifying territorial waters and collection of money i.e, probably entry tax for the vessels to enter into his area for doing business prove the well-established Port, Port Administration and taxation of the material period. As the two way-ship movement has been mentioned, both imports and exports must have taken place from the port.


After describing the goods, including mounts of sacks of pepper, dumped at the Port of Musiri for export, the expecting import of gold is described as follows:

கலிசும்மைய கரைக்கலக்குறுந்து

கலம்தந்த பொற்பரிசம்

கழித்தோணியான் கரைச்சேர் குந்து

மலைத்தாரமும் கடல்தாரமும் (புறநானூறு.126:13-16) = The ship laden with cargo came to Musiri. (The Indian goods were transferred to the board by small boats by rows). The gold given in turn was brought to the shore in rowing boats. Thus, the goods produced at the mountains (mountainous regions) and seas (coastal areas, particularly in foreign countries) met there.


விண்பொர நிவந்த வேயர மாடத்

திரவின் மாட்டிய விலங்குசுடர் ஞெகிழி

உரவுநீ ரழுவத் தோடுகலங் கரை (பெரும்பாணாற்றுப்டை.348-351) = The sky high building had enclosures at the top, where lights were lit during the night. The glowing light was controlled by a stick, so that the beamed light would invite the ships roaming on the waters to the shores. This is a typical description of light house and the adjustment light-beam points to a fact that it was also used as a signaling apparatus for the ships.


சுள்ளியம் பேரியாற்று வெண்ணுரை கலங்க

யவனர் தந்த வினைமா ணன்கலம்

பொன்னொடு வந்து கறியொடு பெயரும் (அகநானூறு.30:10-15) = The well-built ship of the Yavanas entered into the waters of the Chulliyam Periyaru (from the sea), where the Port Musir was situated. As such a huge ship turned from the sea and entered into the mouth of the river, the upsurge waters produced foam on the surface due to turbine / whirling effect. The Yavanas bought the different varieties of spices (and other goods) giving equivalent gold.



கடல் ஆழ் கலத்தில் தோன்றி

மாலைமறையும் அவர் மணிநெடும் குன்றம் (குறுந்தொகை.240:5-7) = The ship appeared in the oceanic wavy waters (when it started sailing in the morning). The high mountains disappeared in the evening. Morning, both the ship and the mountain could be seen, but in the evening both disappeared, as the ship sailed away at a distance slowly from bottom to top (in the east), as if it was drowning and the mountain from bottom to top, as the Sun sets in the west. The rotation of the earth, the spherical shape of the earth, the telescopic view depicted by the poet � all these details could be understood in this poem for appreciation in the oceanographic angle.


சிதைவின்றிச் சென்றுழிச் சிறப்பெய்தி வினைவாய்த்துத்

துறைகலம் வாய்சூழும் துணிகடல் தண்சேர்ப்ப (கலித்தொகை.132:6-7) = the naval fleet returned without any damage or harm after achieving the purpose of journey from the places gone and reached safely. The ships had been anchored at the port (in a row just like the tied elephants in the garrison). So the damage or harm to the ships during seafaring activities is implied here. Thus, it could be due to voluntary expedition against the lands situated away separated by seas or oceans or even during a normal course of voyage, the ships could be damaged or harmed by the pirates. It is significant to note such an implied prevalence of such an exigency during the material.


After depicting the turbulent condition of the ocean due to natural phenomenon, a shipwreck is succinctly portrayed by the Sangam poet as follows:

கரைகாணப் பௌவத்துக் கலம் சிதைந்து ஆழ்பவன்

திரைதரப் புணைபெற்றுத் தீதின்றி உய்ந்தாங்கு  (கலித்தொகை.132:6-7) = There was no sight of land without any direction amidst of the ocean (after the shipwreck). A survivor was struggling swimming with heavy breadth. At that time, he could catch a wooden plank and breathed with relief. Then he reached the land alive safely. So that the shipwrecks had been also a common feature of the material period proves the large number of ships engaged in sailing both as cargo-ships and passenger-ships.


உலகுகிளர்ந் தன்ன வுருகெழு வங்கம்

புலவுத்திரைப் பெருங்கட னீரிடை போழ

இரவும் எல்லையும் அசைவின் றாகி

விரைசெலல் இயற்கை வங்கூழ் ஆட்டக்

கோடுயர் திணிமணல் அகன்றுறை நீகான்

மாடஒள்ளெரி............ (அகநானூறு.255:1-6) = The ship had been so huge like that of an earth (floating on the ocean). It sails through the fish smelling great ocean piercing. It sails thus days and nights with speed without halting. After a long journey, (perhaps when approaching a port), Nigam could observe the beam of light coming from a light house.


இதையுங் கயிறும் பிணையு முரியச்

சிதையுங் கலத்தைப் பயினாற் றிருத்தும்

திசையறி நீகானும் போன்ம் (பரிபாடல்.10:53-55) = The ropes (tied to the sail, mast, anchor and other parts) had been twisted and entangled. The joints parted away due to heavy shaking. The keel planks and other wooden parts had been completely collapsed and came away from their places. Some parts had been damaged due to direct hitting or collision. This type of ships was brought to Nigan, a trained ship repairing expert. He was not only an expert of ship-repair but also an experienced sailor knowing the directions (routes to different countries). Thus, the recording of ship-repair, maintenance and other activities has been more significant bringing out the existence of established Shipyards and workshops with facilities.


பனைமீன் வழங்கும் வளைமேய் பரப்பின்

வீங்குபிணி நோன்கயி றரீஇ யிதைபுடையூக்

கூம்புமுதன் முருங்கவெற்றிக் காய்ந்துடன்

கடுங்காற் றெடுப்பக் கல்பொரு துரைஇ

நெடுஞ்சுழிப் பட்ட நாவாய்��(மதுரைக்காஞ்சி.375-379).


The day was with Anusha Nakshatra (the 17th Lunar asterism) exalted. The Chanks roamed over the surface of the waters (perhaps due to the heavy winds). The swelling cyclonic winds were so strong that the ropes tied to the sail were about to snap. Even the mast was at the mercy of the furious winds. The ship was anchored under the circumstances and it was in the midst of encircling waters of huge radii at the port. Thus, the anchored ship with ropes tied to anchors also started to circle around with restricted movement.


மாக்கடற் பெருங்கலங் காலின் மாறுபட்

டாக்கிய கயிறரிந் தோடி யங்கணும்

போக்கன பொருவன போன்று.......(சீவகசிந்தாமணி.2231).


The direction of a big ship from the great ocean was changed due to heavy winds and thus it was anchored. But, as the rope tied to the anchor was snapped, it started moving without any directions.


கடலுட் கலங்கவிழ்த்தேன் (1805) = I made the ship wrecked (comparing an event of death). A ship-wreck is compared with the death of a dearer one.


கோடிக் கோடுங் கூம்புயர் நாவாய் (2331) = the ship was navigated according the location of the planets observed and thus, the sail was directed accordingly. In other words, the sail to the mast was regulated with reference to the planets and thus the ship followed the required directions.


வடகடற் படுநுகத் துளையுட் டிரைசெய் தென்கட லிட்டதோர் நோன் (2749) = If we drop a rod / stick through hole drilled at the south pole, it cannot be obtained at the north pole. Thus, the knowledge of South pole and North pole and that too drilling hole straight so that we can reach the opposite etc., clearly prove that the existence of geographical knowledge with the ideas of longitude.


மாக் கடலுடைகலத் தவருற்ற துறவே (2759) = the agony was compared with the people who got in a shipwreck and the ship was about to drown.


Naval fleet is mentioned in 1776, 1801, 2597, etc. and there have been abundant references about asterism, planetary motion etc. Thus, from the above the existence of shipbuilding techniques of the ancient Tamils cannot be doubted.


Coming to the archaeological evidences, NIO3 and Tamil University4 researching scholars have reported certain stone anchors findings in the coastal areas of South India. However, cautiously, they report about the dating �from the literary and archaeological evidences it can be safely presumed that the usage of stone anchors would have prevailed from the 3rd century BCE��. Therefore, unless material evidences are produced, the above literary evidences cannot be correlated and substantiated. Next, the conch-cell connection between the ancient Tamils and Sangam and that of IVC is brought out based on the literary and archaeological evidences as follows.


The Conch-shell Industry: The Conch-shell industry interestingly appears to have a connection. Sangam literature refers to the �Valampuri� i.e, �Right turned Conch� available in the seas.


Agananuru (அகநானூறு) gives the following details:


   வேளாப் பார்ப்பான் வாளரந் துமித்த வளைகைந் தொழிந்த (Agam.24:1-2) = The Parppan who does not perform Yagnas engage in cutting Conches with saw leaving the pointed head. The description gives a vivid picture of cutting a conch step-by-step (clearly a hard and skilled process) with a saw (thus, the job is tough), evidently of equal or required width (requires precision) so that the pointed edges are left out.

   இலங்குவளை (Agam.39:17) = immaculate dazzling bangles.


   வளைமேய் பெருந்துறை (Agam.150:7) = the conch crawling far and wide beach adorned Port / place. Here, வளை = bangle is equated with கோடு orவலம்புரி.


   இலங்கு வளை தெளிர்ப்ப = immaculate dazzling bangles produce sound (Agam.261:5).


Idampuri  (normal)                            Valampuri (Rare)


To differentiate between �Idampuri� (left-twisted) and �Valampuri� (right-twisted) Sangus, they are depicted as above.

   வயங்குவினை வாளேர் எல்வளை நெகிழ்த்தன (Agam.267:15-16) = the bangles come out of her shoulders / hands. The bangles have been manufactured by the technology known and sewn with a good saw. Thus, they are filed, shaped and polished to give luster. Here, thus, the bangle manufacturing �technology known� workers / experts are implied with their tools used like saw (specifically mentioned as வாள்) and file and water emery paper (implied).


 Ingurunuru (ஐங்குறுநூறு) has an Exclusive Ten (வளைப்பத்து) for Conch-Bangles.


   கடற்கோடு செறிந்த வளையார் முன்கை = the hand (of heroine) is adorned with well-sewn bangles obtained from the sea (Ingu.191:1).



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கோடு புலங் கொட்பக் கடல் = The Conches leave the oceanic waters and roam on the shores (Ingu.192:1). It goes to record that the bangles worn by the heroine came out of her hands by mentioning, நெகிழ்ந்தன = (the bangles made out of the above conches) come out of the hands (of heroine), as she laments about the separation of her hero (who went on an oceanic expedition) (Ingu.192:3).


   வலம்புரி யுழுத வார்மண லடைகரை = As the Conch crept and crawled on the sand, its path appears as if it has been ploughed. The sand has been spread lengthy and wide with the dashing oceanic waters hither and thither� (Ingu.193:1). It also mentions that the Hero gives Heroineஅறைபுனல்வால்வளை = the bangles made out of Conch procured from the roaring ocean (Ingu.193:4).


   கடற்கோ டறுத்த அரம்போழ் அவ்வளை = the bangles have been manufactured by sawing and shaping the conches obtained from the ocean with a File. Here a tool, அரம் is specifically mentioned used in the manufacture of bangles.

   வளைபடு முத்தம் பரதவர் பகரும் = The People of Neydhal Land, Paradhavar sell Conches and Pearls (from the oceans and seas) (Ingu.195:1-2). This shows that they sell them as such and as well as convert them into ornaments like bangles.

   கோடீர் எல்வளை =  the bangles manufactured by sawing (ஈர் = cut, split, saw) shine (Ingu.196:1).

   இலங்கு வளை தெளிர்ப்ப = immaculate dazzling bangles produce sound (Ing.197:1).


'Valampuri' chank, NaturalHistory MuseumLondon.

   வளையணி முன்கை = the forehand adorned with bangles (made of Conch in the context) (Ingu.198:1).


   செறிவளை நெகிழ்(த்தோன்) = the sawn and well made bangles come out of the hands (because of separation) (Ingu.199.4).


   இலங்கு வீங்கெ ல்வளை = dazzling,  shining and big immaculate bangles. Thus, the quality of the bangles has been evidently summarized in the last verse (200.1).


   தண்கடல் வளையினுமிலங்குமிவள் = the bangles made of conch obtained from the cold oceanic waters (Ingu.106:3). They are compared with the heroine in such way, it is portrayed that she over-shines than the dazzling white bangles made of conch.


   அரம் போழ்ந்தறுத்த கண்ணேர் இலங்குவளை (மதுரைக் காஞ்சி.316) = the bangles become shining and dazzling after the completion of manufacture of them from the conches (by cutting, sawing meticulously with a Saw and then ) polishing and honing a File.

   துணைபுணர் எழுதரும் தூநிற வலம்புரி Kalittogai mentions that, �� = Valampuri rise (from the oceanic waters) with companion or in two numbers, which are pure white in colour  (Kali.135:1)


From the above, the following points can be noted:


  The bangle-industry had been so popular among the ancient Tamils.

  The required Conches were obtained through the divers along with Pearls.

  The Tamil women of the material period used to wear the conch-bangles.

  The manufacturing process had been so hard and meticulous too involving physical strength and precision.

  To achieve such precision and excellence, special tools were used like saw, file and other cutting, honing, polishing tools.

  The tools must have been manufactured out of high tensile or alloyed metals as otherwise, Conch-like hard material could not have been subjected to work with.

  The process involved in the manufacture of conch-bangles are cutting, shaping, polishing, designing and painting.


The Conch Worskshop at Korkai: James Hornell5 describes the finds of Conch- workshop at Korkai as follows:


"I unearthed a fine series of chank workshop waste -- seventeen fragments in all. The whole numbers were found lying on the surface of the ground in a place where old Pandyan coins have from time to time been discovered according to information gathered in the village. The fragments unearthed all bear distinct evidence of having been sawn by the same form of instrument, a thin-bladed iron saw, and in the same manner as that employed in Bengal in the present day. Eight fragments represent the obliquely cut 'shoulder-piece', six consist of the columella and part of the oral extremity of the shell and the remaining three are fragments of the lips - all show a sawn surface, the positive sign of treatment by skilled artisans�It is also noteworthy that the huge funeral urns found in tumuli of the Tambraparni valley (at Adichanallur) have yielded a few fragments of working sections cut from chank shells, associated in the urns with beautifully formed bronze utensils, iron weapons and implements and gold fillets. So old are these tumuli that they are classed as prehistoric though it is obvious that the people of these days were skilful artisans in gold, bronze, iron and must have been contemporaries of historic periods in the story of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Ovari is the name of a small fishing village not far distant on the adjacent coast and may possibly be the Ophir of Solomon and the port whereto the fleets of Tarshish sailed to fright home the treasures of India�����.In several other cases (Srinivasapur in Mysore, Havaligi Hill in Anantapur, and Bastipad in Kurnul) pieces of iron sl*g were found in association." (pp. 45-61).


Details of bangle manufacture. "The tool employed for breaking away the columella is a hammer fashioned on the principle of the well-known geologist's hammer, sharp-edged on the one side and square on the other. The shell is now ready for the sawyer, who sits on the earthen floor tightly wedged between two short stakes of unequal length driven into the ground. Against the longer, measuring some 15 inches above the ground, the worker's back is supported, while against the shorter, only 4 to 5 inches high, his toes are pressed. The space between the two stakes measures no more than 18 inches, hence the workman although he sits with his knees widely separate -- is very tightly jammed between the rests. This is found essential as it is necessary that the limbs should be rigid during his work, as his feet have to function as a vice during the sawing of the sections, the shell to be cut being placed between the right heel and the toes of the left foot. After the columella and lip of the shell are removed, a disc of hard wood is placed over the moth aperture of the shell to provide a firm purchase for the foot pressed against the side of the shell. The worker is now ready to begin sawing the shell into sections. For this purpose he is provided with a heavy hand-saw of great apparent clumsiness. The iron blade�is of a deep eccentric form ending in an attenuate horn at each end. A little way from each of these tapered extremities the end of a long iron tang is riveted to the back of the saw; the further ends of the two tangs are connected by a thin cane cross bar or handle lashed by twine to the tangs, which are covered with a serving of the same twine. IT is noteworthy that the tangs are not straight but have a hook-like bend near the attachment to the blade. The latter is a stout forged iron plate, 2 mm. Thick except for a distance of one inch from the cutting edge where it is worked down to a thickness of 0.6 mm. Between the tangs the back of the saw if protected by a piping of iron. A saw of this description costs Rs. 12, each workman providing his own. After sharpening, a new saw is adorned on each side of the blade with a number of red spots as auspicious marks. In beginning work, the shell is placed somewhat obliquely between the feet, the apex directed to the right and away from the worker, who places his left hand on one twine-covered tang of the saw and the other on the horn of the blade at the opposite extremity. Balancing the saw carefully in his hands, and at right angles to his body, he applies the edge to the shell and begins a vigorous to and fro movement of the saw from side to side, the course of the hands being through a short arc of a circle at each swing. Several times he pauses momentarily to adjust the shell anew as the work progresses. On an average it takes 4 1/2 minutes to saw once through a shell�The rubbing down of the inner surface of the working circlet is accomplished in an ingenious manner by means of a wooden spindle 18 to 20 inches long, covered with an abrasive coating of fine river sand embedded in a rough lac basis�In Bengal and wherever in the adjoining provinces of Assam, Bihar and Orissa�every married woman of all castes which are thoroughly Hinduised is bound to possess a pair of chank bangles lacquered in vermilion as one of the visible tokens of her married state; the red sankha or shakha as it is called in Dacca is indeed as necessary of assumption during the marriage ceremonies as is the performance of that other Hindu custom of smearing a streak of vermilion on the forehead or down the parting of the bride's hair�bala and churi. The former are broad bangles worn on each wrist. The churi on the contrary is always quite narrow, generally 1/6 to 1/5 inch in widh, and usually of conventional scroll design worn in a set of three on each wrist�The section of the Kurmi caste found in Chota Nagpore and Orissa also wear chank bangles�in the hill tracts of Chittagong, we find the women of the Maghs, a race of Indo-Mongolian extraction and Buddhists by religion, using very broad unornamented sections of chank shells as bracelets�considerable demand for chank bracelets comes from Tibet and Bhutan�".


Besides, James Hornell has made some conjecture that conch craft concentrated in Dhaka rather than Korkai, because the people engaged in this craft fled toDhaka from the Tinevelli district following the invasion of Malik Kafur in the 14th century, which is not relevant to be considered in the context. Thus, the archaeological evidences in Tamizhagam have been a common feature. Even, in May 2005, when excavations were conducted at at Andipatti in Tiruvannamalai district and Modur in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu by the State Archaeology Department, conch-bangles have been found. The following figures show the manufacture of conch-bangles and the findings of IVC.


Turbinella pyrum shell bangle manufacturing process. [a to f]: preliminary chipping and removal of internal columella; [g to k]: sawing shell circlets; [l to n]: finishing the shell blank; [o]: final incising [After Fig. 5.23 in Kenoyer, 1998]. The manufacturing process explained by James Cornell is depiction below and the pictures are from the book of Dr. S. Kalyanaraman6: That the process explained by James Hornell fits with the pictorial depiction can be noted.


A worker cutting / sawing a conch holding with his legs is depicted:


Burial ornaments made of shell and stone disc beads, andturbinella pyrum (sacred conch, s�an:kha) bangle, Tomb MR3T.21, Mehrgarh, Period 1A, ca. 6500 BCE.

The nearest source for this shell is Makran coast near Karachi, 500 km. South. [After Fig. 2.10 in Kenoyer, 1998].



The following photos are from David Happell�s site7.

Chank gauging in Tiruchendur


A 2 � inch gauge, Madras


A diver�s catch, Tiruchendur



Valampuri Sangu and normal shell

Thus, the similarity of chank industry of the both civilizations has been interesting. However, because of the chronological gap i.e, c.1950 to 500 / 300 BCE of 1650 to 1450 years, it cannot be decided as to whether the technical; knowhow had spread from IVC to Tamizhagam or vice versa. The existing chronology goies to show that it could have passed on from IVC to Tamizhagam, as the other way would place Tamizhagam before IVC.


Now, the shipping and shipbuilding techniques of the ancient Tamils are considered to assess their maritime activities and capabilities.


Shipping and shipbuilding technology of the Ancient Tamils: The reference about the subject matter as found in the Sangam literature is not repeated, as they have already been pointed out by many scholars in various contexts one way or the other. Only the ship building technology, which has not been dealt with so far and hence doubted by the modern scholarship, is discussed here.


Civaga Cintamani (verse no. 882) mentions about the existence of �books on the knowledge of Oceans�, which is very significant in the context:


வாண் மின்னு வண்கை வடிநூற் கடற்கேள்வி மைந்தர்

தான்மின்னு வீங்கு கழலான்றனைச் சுழமற்றப்

பூண்மின்னு மார்பன் பொலிந்தாங்கிருந்தான் விசும்பிற்

கோன்மின்னு மீன்சூழ் குளிர்மாமதித் தோற்றமொத்ததே.


The brothers are having hands which are well-versed in the handling of glittering swords and as well as well-written books on Oceans (The sailors of all categories � traders, businessmen, should be warriors and also good navigators with the knowledge of shipping, astronomy, geography and oceanography). As Civaga, the hero is encircled with his brothers shining, the cool Moon is also encircled with other planets and asterism (visible clearly during the night, as could be observed by them on the ship during their voyage, i.e, the knowledge of stellar navigation is also a must for them).


6      The mention of availability of books on the knowledge of Oceans is significant.

6      �The Books on the Knowledge of Oceans� covers all aspects of Ships, shipping etc.,

6      That the sailors should be capable of handling swords and such books is also significant considering the dangers involved in ocean-trade, visiting many countries, the nature of peopled dealt with in trading etc.

6      Interestingly, both the Science of Ocean and the Sky are mentioned together in the same context figuratively.


Kappal / Navai Sattiram � Science and Technology of Ships and Shipping: Indians used to write books on Palm-leaves, particularly, in South India. They used different scripts to Sanskrit and Tamil languages o various subjects. Most of the original Sanskrit books are missing as they must have been destroyed by the Mohammedans, taken away by the Mohammedans for study and also by European missionaries. As the demand for books increased with the exigencies, more books could have been produced engaging the scribes. An expression, �Tiruppugira Pusthakam� found in �Kappal Sattiram� (Science and Technology of Ships and Shipping) proves that copies of books were made from the translations and as well as originals. The expressions �Edu Tiruppudhal� (turning the pages) and �Tiruppugira Pusthakam� (the book that is turned) convey copying a book from its original, so that the original could be preserved and the copy given away or sold. As per the directions of the Danish, in the house of Kangirayap Pillai or Kalingarayap Pillai, a Dubash, the book was dictated and a scribe had written down. The name of the book is mentioned as �Nikamasigamani�, a Sanskrit name. As the last line of 8th song clearly mentions that, �Salaikathirangan sorppadi idanai tamil seythittan�, it is evident that as per the directions of one Salaikathirangan, it was made into Tamil i.e, translated into Tamil from Sanskrit. As it was known that there was a work named �Nauka Sastra� in Sanskrit, that book might have been used for translation. Here, Kangiyap Pillai says that he is producing the book as per the directions of Danish in 1620 (of Salivahana Era) or 1698 of CE in his house. So the Danish used different tactics to get the science and technology books from the Indians.


The book gives the following details (the author�s comments are given in different colour):


  The standard measurement is given (Verse.3).

  The time suitable for manufacture of ocean-going vessels is given astronomically based on an earlier work, �Nigama Sigamani� (நீகம சிகாமணிVerse.4).

  The properties of ships (5).

  The suitable time for navigation is given (6-9).

  The best time for fixing of mast is given (13).

  A Tamil king �Parasi Vendan�, who helps shipping technology, is mentioned.

  When a ship could sail safely, when it might face with danger, when a ship may wreck, and such other exigencies are mentioned (23-28). Thus, it is amply evident that the Tamils knew the ship wreckage occurred as a result of piracy by non-Indians. As they followed the rules and regulations of nature and sailed in the prescribed time, the wreckage due to natural disasters like tempest, cyclones, rough weather etc., must have been minimal.

  Mathematics involving points / dots is mentioned (29). As it is not explained, it is not known exactly what mathematical method or mathematics involving points was used in the maritime context. But, it must have been connected with Cartography making points on the maps drawn, developed, corrected and modified. In those days, maps could have been produced only after undertaking any voyages. Ironically, such projection in navigation charts used is known as the Mercator, named after the Flemish mathematician and geographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-94), who reportedly devised it. But it is evident that they must have known from Indians, as existence of such method is mentioned here.

  Experts of Books without any weariness (31). It is mentioned that these details are given by the Experts of Books without any weariness implying that they exclusively engaged in such observatory and cartographic work making projections etc.

  When the destruction of a ship with cargo would occur (33) is mentioned.

  When a ship would return successfully with earned profits after selling the goods aboard (37) is given. These two exigencies have been given in astrological interpretation, but involving astronomical observation. The Tamils must have found out the arrival of Arab and European vessels to SEA countries at a particular time, as their starting with winds from their destinations had been different from that of Indians. However, they tried to coincide with the timings of Indians with an intention to compete initially and then seize cargo by piracy realizing their law abiding nature. Moreover, the cunning Arabs and Europeans  must have used Indian flags, symbols, dress etc., to cheat the Indians to complete their piracy.



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  Persons with two eyes and one eye are compared figuratively with Sun and Moon. Danger to cargo would come from the persons with one eye (39), as they stealthily attack other vessels without following any marine-ethics or Maritime regulations. This is clear indication that Tamils knew of the nature of pirates, who were not Indians, as they were not following the Indian ethics of not attacking the vessels of others. Incidentally, the western depiction  of standard pirates have been �one-eyed�!

  Interestingly, another point implied is about the persons with �Surya dhristi�, �Chandra dhristi�, �Raja dhristi�, Griha dhristi�, �Rakka dhristi� etc. They were nothing but persons with eye-sight of Moon, Sun, King, Planets, sides etc. in other words, the ocean going ships had such experts / observers of Solar, lunar, planetary motions and time calculations. As they had to visit different countries, they had to know about the Kings of such countries, thus the experts of Kings. And there were experts in observing directions also, as it is important in navigation. As such things could have been possible with past experience, it is evident that the experts mentioned must have had books on such subject matter.

  Suddenly, the work changes from poetry to prose giving statistical details of planets, asterisms, stars etc.

  Thus, the measurements for masts are given.

  The measurements for anchors are given.

  Measurement details of a �English ship� is given.

  At the end, it is appended with �Silpa sastram� (A Manual of Sculpre) only with 13 verses.

  As most of the verses have been written with defective words, language and grammar, it is evident that the Danish must have engaged poor scribes to write this work, evidently to substitute, as the original was taken away by them.

  Many verses have been adopted or imported straight away from the following earlier works:

            சரஸ்வதிஅந்தாதிசோதிடகிரகசிந்தாமணிகணக்கதிகாரம் and

நீகம சிகாமணி

However, the scribe has not acknowledged the source.

   As the work has been incomplete in many aspects, it is evident that the copy has been only a part of a bigger book.

  The Navai Sarittiram published in 1995 also proves the fact.


In view of the above, it is evident that before the Cholas-Pallavas period, there must have been books on astronomy, shipbuilding etc., and they must have been copied and circulated throughout India. As the Arabs / Mohammedans first and the Europeans later started wholesale collection of Indian palm-leaf books, many important books must have still been in the archives, libraries and private collections of westerners. Therefore, absence of evidence cannot be taken as an evidence to deny the incidence happened or taken place in the past. The finding of coins Romans, Chinese etc., and the goods of South India / ancient Tamizhagam have been found in many ancient civilizations, the maritime capabilities of the Tamils cannot be doubted.



Conclusion: In view of the above the following conclusions are drawn:


  1. The literary Sangam literature evidences amply prove the seafaring and maritime capabilities of the ancient Tamils from c.500 BCE.


  1. The scientific details as pointed out have been so interesting and the poets could not have recorded such events just out of their poetic fantasy or imagination.


  1. The astronomical knowledge of the Sangam Tamil and that of IVC could not be compared and correlated, because of the chronology gap.


  1. The striking similarity has been the usage of Chank in both the IVC and Sangam people, though separated by distance and chronology.


  1. The usage of Chank for other purposes other than bangles should be studied separately. Its usage in religious rituals, war, used for feeding children, relation to numbers is few examples.


  1. Its importance among the Hindus, Jains and Buddhists have been significant. The Jain and Buddhist domination could be noted in Imperumkappiyangal, which vividly describe certain details. That the �Manimekhalai� core story is found in all SEA countries is very interesting.


  1. The gap between the IVC peak period c.2250-1850 BCE and the Sangam period c.500 / 300 BCE has to be explained historically with evidences.


  1. The literary evidences pointed for the maritime activities, shipbuilding, repair, shipping technology etc., should be correlated with the archeological evidences.


  1. The dating of stone anchors has been done on relative method, as has pointed out and therefore, it should be correlated with other method, as otherwise, the literary evidences could not go beyond c.500 BCE.


  1. The dating of Sri Lankan Brahmi before that of Tamilnadu, the existence of �Pallave inscriptions� of SEA countries dating before Indian Pallava inscriptions are debatable points.



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Notes and References


1.     T. Chandrasekharan(Gen.Ed.), Kappal Sattiram, Madras Government Oriental Series, Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, 1950.

Kappal Sattiram published in 1995 gives no new details but for some generalizations.


2.     The Oriental Manuscript George W. Spencer, The Politics of Expansion, the Chola conquest of Sri Lanka and Sri Vijaya , New Era Publications, Madras, 1983.

Sinnappah Arasaratnam, Maritime India in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1994, see under chapter.9 �Shipping and sea faring, pp.246-264.

Though, he concerns about the 17th century, his remarks on shipbuilding technology of the Indians / Tamils have bearing on the subject matter.


3.     A. S. Gaur et al.,


4.     N. Athiyaman and P. Jayakumar, Ancient anchors off Tamilnadu coast and ship tonnage analysis, Current Science, Vol.9, May 10, 2004, pp.1261-1267.


5.     James Hornell, The sacred chank of India: a monograph of the Indian conch, turbinella pyrum, Madras, Madras Fisheries Bureau, Bulletin No. 7, 1914, pp. 91-107.


6.     S. Kalyanaraman,



7.     David Heppell, The chank shell industry in modern India, see in the following site:


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Many buried histories can be studied by exploring all the ancient trade routes and study their histories

1. Indus Valley Civilization - Created for Land Trade Hub/Route to outside India through khyber and bolan passes

2. Many Ancient Ports from South India including Colombo - Created for Sea Trade Hub/Route to outside India (especially, Asia pacific region), this could be evidenced from creation of a new Hybrid race called Polynesian in those islands

3. Many Ancient Ports from Indo China Region - Created a Sea Trade Hub in Champa Kingdom (Central Vietnam - Hue). Some scholar should study this in detail


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A small correction, the central Vietnam ancient port from Champa kingdom is called "Hai Anh" and not "Hue"

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