Gujarat's Maritime Saga
Geography shapes human destiny, directs Man's endeavours and determines history: terrains and tides, summits and seas, do not just mould life-styles; they leave their indelible mark on the minds of the men who dwell amidst them. Rugged mountains bring forth hardy tribes; undulating desert dunes and inclement weather breed fierce instincts of survival; and a long coastline begets an adventurous, seafaring race of traders, for the oceans cast a spell on all who thirst for adventure; and none can deny the call of the seas, the invitation to satisfy an eternal wanderlust!
It is scarcely surprising therefore, that seaborne exploration, naval warfare, and mercantile voyages have greatly impacted the course of world history! Indeed, seafaring adventurers have been the prime movers of progress, opening up new vistas into hitherto unexplored lands, facilitating an extraordinary cross-pollination of cultures and precipitating rapid expansion around the globe! The high seas have witnessed high drama… the oceans of the world have ever been entwined with the history of humankind, beckoning the brave, inspiring the imaginative and arousing aspirations of untold riches!
Since time immemorial, powerful civilizations have developed along sea shores; challenging and testing Man, teasing out his finest ideas, the oceans have spurred him on to create sturdy crafts that traverse vast expanses.
Encompassed by the waters of the mighty Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, the littoral Indian peninsula witnessed intense shipping activity even in the hoary past. The immense affluence of ancient India was in no small measure due to material prosperity gained through maritime activity. And Gujarat's contribution to this maritime trade of the country cannot be denied.
There are innumerable references in early texts to the Vanias, the mercantile community of Western India, undertaking trading voyages and perilous adventures by sea to the shores of the Persian Gulf and its rivers in the 5th and 6th century B.C.
It therefore scarcely comes as a surprise that Gujarat was an important trading post from time immemorial. With a coastline of about 1600 km, of India's total of 7517 km, along the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Khambhat and the Gulf of Kutch, it has the largest number of operational ports in India. Surrounded by the sea on three sides, Gujarat has always been a hub of maritime activities. Of its 26 districts, as many as 13 lie along the coast; it is this unique geographical location that has governed its history and made it a land of intrepid merchants, of commerce and cosmopolitanism.
The artifacts unearthed corroborate what ancient historical texts have chronicled: since the days of yore, Gujarat has had trade links with the civilizations of Sumer, Phoenicia, Rome, Egypt, Arabia, Iran, East Africa, Lanka, Brahmadesh, Malaya, Java, Sumatra and China, among others. Indeed, the remarkable mastery over the seas, the extensive network of trade links established, and the expertise demonstrated in ship building, had earned Gujarat fame in the western world as `the mistress of the sea'.
With such a rich legacy in the past, no wonder Gujarat today is termed as the maritime state of the country. Present day Gujarat has carried forward the rich maritime legacy handed over by the past and built upon what we have today.