he strategic location of Gujarat, as it opens out into the Arabian Sea, has been historically important for trade and commerce, with ancient countries like Sumer, Phoenicia, Rome, Iran, Egypt, East Africa, Malaya, Sumatra and China etc. As narrated in various religious and ancient literatures, Gujarat had a well documented maritime trade dating back to 4500 years. Ancient period was the Golden Age of Shipping and Ship-building activities.
Sir William Jones, a renowned scholar is of opinion that the Hindus “must have been navigators in the age of Manu, because bottomry (the lender of money for marine insurance) is mentioned in it”
A vast repository of ancient literature has random references to a brisk seafaring trade. Harivansh Purana
mentions that the Prosperity of Yadavas was due to the sea. Kautilya
has also mentioned in his Arthshashtra
that the main occupation of people living in coastline was navigation. The Bible refers to Phoenician sailors who sailed to Ophir (Abhira in Gujarat) and brought back treasures. The Greek ‘Periplus of the Erythrean Sea’
contains many detailed references to the Gujarat seaports as Barygaza
(Bharuch, Gujarat). Even, the Greek author Galazy
has mentioned in his book Batiyas
about the shipping activity of Kachchha in circa 246. The well known historian Huian- Tsang
described Saurashtra as Sa-la-ch’a
and referred it as ‘the highway to the sea where all inhabitants were traders by profession’
Ancient Gujarat marks one of the glorious chapters in Indian history. The State possesses a strong maritime lineage with a remarkable mastery over the seas, extensive trade links and expertise in Shipbuilding.
Ancient maritime centers, which flourished at the Gujarat coastline are:
Ports like Jakho, Lakhpat, Tuna, Mundra and Koteshwar had successfully been carrying out overseas business along the 352 Km stretch of Kutch seashore.
- Lothal - The ancient city of Lothal has the oldest dockyard in the world. The city boasted of 30 ships of 60 tonnes each. Lothal was an important maritime trading centre and had trade linkages with Egypt, Arabian and Sumerian cities.
- Padri - Padri, a site in the Gulf of Khambhat had also a strong maritime presence. It is believed that Harappans of Padri had mastered the technique of deep sea fishing, traversing the ocean in huge boats.
- Kuntasi – Kuntasi locally known as ‘Bibino Timbo’ was a port situated at the creek mouth during Harappan period. It was a centre for acquiring and processing raw materials for manufacturing articles for export.
- Dholavira – Dholavira, another Harappan site was an active port which was a safe harbour for anchoring boats.
- Bet Dwarka – It was a small port established in 2nd millennium BC. Dwarka was a well planned township. Its harbour consisted of a rocky ridge modified into an anchorage for berthing vessels, a unique feature in harbour technology which was attempted later by the Phoenicians.
- Malvan – Malvan was a post Harappan estuarine Port, dating back to 1400 BC. It was located on the banks of an oxbow lake formed by the Dumas branch of the Tapti river.
- Vallabhi – An ancient city located in Saurasthra Peninsula was a flourishing seaport during the Maitraka dynasty from the 5th to 8th centuries CE. It was famous for its catholicity and drew students worldwide.
- Bhagatrav – Barygaza or Bharuch was the most important ancient port. It was a commercial centre situated on the Narmada estuary. It established itself as shipment centre and a ship-building port. It acted as a link port to Asia, Africa, Europe and Mediterranean basin. Bharuch acquired a strategic importance during Maurya and Gupta periods. Around 4000 ships passed through the port.
- Khambhat – Khambhat was a prominent port during 11th to 17th century, and was a great seat of a flourishing trade renowned with its silk and gold articles. While indigo and fine buckram, agate and carnelian ornaments were prized products, a good deal of cotton and leather too were also exported.
- Mandavi – Mandavi or the Mart, also called as Maska, was an ancient ship-building centre on the right bank of Rukmavati River. The Port had multi-hued pennants fluttering atop ships from over eighty countries.
- Surat –Surat was positioned on the most important sea routes between Arabia, Europe and the East. The city emerged as a minor trading centre during the 1500s and reached its peak during 16th century. It acted as an export outlet for agro based products from Magdalla Port.