Gujarat and the Sea edited by Lotika Varadarajan (ed.) with 39 Contributors 653 pp., 230 b&w illustrations and some colourDarshak Itihas Nidhi Publishers, Vadodara, Gujarat, available Rangdwar Prakashan, G-15, University Plaza nr. Dadasaheb Pagla, Navrangpura Ahmedabad 380 015, Gujarat, India, 2011, $39 /1600 rupees (hbk), ISBN 978-8192263908
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
© 2013 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2013 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 42, Issue 1, pages 218–220, March 2013
How to Cite
Ray, H. (2013), Gujarat and the Sea edited by Lotika Varadarajan (ed.) with 39 Contributors 653 pp., 230 b&w illustrations and some colourDarshak Itihas Nidhi Publishers, Vadodara, Gujarat, available Rangdwar Prakashan, G-15, University Plaza nr. Dadasaheb Pagla, Navrangpura Ahmedabad 380 015, Gujarat, India, 2011, $39 /1600 rupees (hbk), ISBN 978-8192263908. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 42: 218–220. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12008_7
- Issue published online: 4 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
The volume is the outcome of a seminar held in October 2010 at Mandvi in Kutch, Gujarat, India, where 38 papers were presented over three days. The volume under review contains 35 papers, including an Introduction by the editor. Of the 18 overseas contributors there were one each from China, Singapore and Sri Lanka; two French, three Americans, four from Portugal and six from the United Kingdom. The subject is divided into seven themes. The first three papers relate to ‘Hydrography’, discussed largely with reference to the Harappan period; ‘Technology’ (equated in this volume with ethnographic accounts), and ‘Navigation’ dealing with Portuguese writings of sailing in the Indian Ocean, while the next three topics cluster around ‘Trade’, ‘Mercantile Communities’ and ‘Memory as Validation’. The seventh moves away from trade and shipping and instead represents a region; that is East and Southeast Asia. Perhaps an eighth should have been added to cover West Asia and Africa to complete the spatial coverage. The chronological span of the papers is very wide and ranges from the Harappan civilization of the third millennium BC to the present. To provide coherence and unity to the papers within this wide canvas was a challenge that required academic rigour and dialogue among the paper presenters.
The editor's primary objective in putting together the book, however, was different. As she states in the Introduction, it is to project Gujarat as ‘perhaps the only State in the Indian union, which has a substantive tradition of seaborne trade in which local communities have actively participated in ships which have been locally made’ (p. 1). A survey of the literature on maritime history of South Asia over the past six decades belies any such claim. Nor is this contention supported by many of the papers in the volume. It is time to confront assertions that boat-building traditions can be defined within present political boundaries, such as the present State of Gujarat which came into existence on linguistic grounds only in May 1960: while boat-building activity along the west coast (extending from the mouth of the Indus in present-day Pakistan) is in evidence at least from the third millennium BC onwards.
Patrice Pomey, for example, raises several pertinent questions with regard to the widespread use of the sewn tradition; the presence of parallel ship-building techniques in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, and the extent to which these overlapped with trading networks. He emphasizes independent origins of ship-building traditions rather than diffusion from a single place of origin, and also stresses evolution and change over time. There is evidence for the widespread use of the lashing technique in ship construction extending from Pharaonic Egypt to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, as also in the Mediterranean. In the case of the latter, the lashing technique seems to have been replaced by ‘mortise-and-tenon joints with pegs’ in the 4th century BC, while the former survived in isolated pockets in the Indian Ocean. How is this survival to be explained? There is no proof of Mediterranean contacts with the Indian Ocean in the 6th–4th centuries BC. At the same time there is evidence for the presence of diverse boat-building traditions within the larger lashing technique of boat construction. For example, the vadhera technique mentioned by Admiral Paris in the 19th century occurs all along the west coast of India extending from the Persian Gulf to the Malabar coast. According to the description provided by Paris, the technique incorporated the use of wooden wedges for tightening the lashings. It would seem that the use of lashings disappeared by the first half of the 20th century, thus indicating changes within the vadhera technique. Another method in use in ancient India was the dove-tailed tenon assembly, as evident from sculptural representations of a boat on the Buddhist monuments of Bharhut in central India dated to the 2nd century BC. Clearly there are no simple equations between ancient technological practices and present political identities.
Somasiri Devendra divides the watercraft of the Indian Ocean into several technological zones, such as the ‘sewn boat zone’, the ‘dhow zone’, the ‘single outrigger zone’, the ‘double outrigger’ zone, the ‘shaped-log-raft micro-zone’ and the ‘hybrid craft zone’. He then traces the local development of the oru or single outrigger canoe in the Sri Lanka-Kerala/Lakshadweep/Andamans area, based on the working environment, the available building materials and resources. Given these methodological questions, to what extent can ethno-technology or the study of the technology specifics unique to cultural groups of people become a useful tool of analysis? This is a theme that required discussion and clarity in the work under consideration.
Pierced stone has been used as an anchor for a very long time and provides important clues to the size of watercraft and the use of sea lanes. Stone anchors have been found at several sites in the Indian Ocean though dating them remains a problem. Honor Frost, known for her pioneering work on anchors, has long stressed the need to develop reliable typologies of stone anchors. Including photographs is not adequate. Instead the emphasis should be on recording and providing information on size, weight, nature of the stone, marine encrustations, breakage, etc. The paper by Sundaresh, Gaur and Tripati refers to 167 stone anchors discovered from the Okhamandal region of Gujarat. It is time that the authors are persuaded to provide detailed catalogues that enrich the data-base of finds from the Indian Ocean rather than giving impressionistic accounts of discoveries. Rigorous research on anchors along the west coast of India would help provide deeper understanding of the nature of early watercraft and the routes they used. Frost's draft contribution—she died just before leaving for the 2010 meeting so only the draft is included in the volume—raises an important issue: what is the significance of the presence of stone anchors in temples and mosques and the stories associated with them? Rigorous work on anchors along the west coast of India would help provide deeper understanding of the nature of watercraft and routes used.
Another section that could have been gainfully used to provide insights into the seafaring traditions of the Indian west coast is ‘Memory as Validation’, which includes four papers. Sonawane describes two sailing vessels painted in red pigment in a prominent hollow in the rock at Chamardi, a small village 6 km south of Vallabhipur in the Gulf of Cambay, while Ratan Parimoo discusses manuscript paintings of Śrīpāla Rāsa, a story located along the south Gujarat and Konkan coast of Maharashtra and composed in a Jain monastic establishment in the 18th century. It describes the maritime adventures of Śrīpāla and Dhaval Sheth. The sole paper on fishing communities is included in this section and discusses them through a linguistic reading of the short stories of a contemporary Gujarati writer, Nazir Manasuri. The last paper in the section, by Edward Simpson, refers to the withering of agricultural lands in Kutch in the late 19th century, which drove the Kutchis to take to the sea and travel to different lands (p. 537). The author goes on to argue that there was prohibition on voyages overseas among the communities of Kutch which was a deterrent to seafaring activity and created tensions among those who stayed at home and those who traversed the ocean (p. 544). More importantly how does this paper tie up with the last section ‘Mercantile Communities’? This traces the travels of Banias, Bhatias, Jains and Khojas from Gujarat across the seas. Clearly the tensions between anthropologists and historians need resolution.
‘Trade and Commerce’ is supposedly dealt with in section IV where trading activity is traced from the Harappan period to the Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean. Yet the allocation of papers to particular sections is somewhat baffling. The regional section for instance is largely devoted to trade in textiles from Gujarat to Southeast Asia. The papers by Pulin Vasa on the early historic site of Nani Rayan located on the Rukmavati River, 4 km from its confluence with the ocean, and by John Carswell on Mandvi highlight an important aspect of trade networks; the shifts in coastal settlements in history. Mandvi was founded in the 16th century on an island and later joined to the mainland. It was also the terminus for overland camel caravans crossing the desert from the north, thereby combining access to both land and sea routes. Another common feature was the location of port sites such as Cambay, Broach and Surat on the estuaries of rivers. Large ocean-going vessels docked at some distance from the coast and were serviced by smaller craft to transship cargoes to the coast. At the same time there were changes in the ethnic and religious communities involved in trade, as well as in the commodities required. Chinese celadon ware and blue-and-white porcelain were in demand in 15th-century Gujarat. Andaya discusses trade in textiles from Gujarat to Melaka and Aceh in the 15th and 16th centuries as also the spread of Islam from the west coast of India to the Malay world and the Indonesian archipelago.
Overall the book would have benefited from better engagement between contributors, comprehensive editing and a focused approach to maritime connections. Nonetheless it covers a lot of ground and there is much good stuff within the rather disorderly arrangement, and, it certainly opens up the potential of Gujarat for maritime studies of the past, the object of the conference and this book.