Hindu Shipbuilding

Hindu wood has castes– The Hindu wood like Hindus have 4 castes– Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra. There are also Varnasankar or mixed woods partaking of the character of two or more different classes. Ship built of Kshatriya wood are specially suited to long and difficult voyages. One steamer was 180 ft. long, 90 wide, and 90 deep. Another steamer carried 700 passengers, the third carried 800 passengers. There was a new device called the rocking-seat to prevent rolling in deep seas and consequent sea- sickness. The East India Company had their ship-building yard in Bengal. From 1781 to 1800 inclusive (19 years) 35 ships with a total tonnage of 17,020 tons were built on the Hooghly chiefly at Calcutta (average nearly 5,000 tons each).

Opinion– A Frenchman F. Solvyns in his book “Les Hindous” (1811) writes – In ancient times the Indians excelled in the art of constructing vessels and the present Hindu can in this respect still offer models to Europe, so much so that the English have borrowed from the Hindus many improvements in the construction of shipping. The Indian vessels unite elegance and utility and are models of fine workmanship.

The decline of Indian Marine began after 1840 when it was abolished in the assumption of sovereignty by the British Crown. Sir John Malcolm writing in the Journal of Asiatic Society says :– Indian vessels are so admirably constructed that European science has not been able to suggest one improvement.

The Great traveller Marco Polo testifies to the skill of Indian ship wrights. He saw ships so large as to require a crew of 300 men to man them. The bottoms of Indian ships were smeared with a new preparation to make  them lasting. The hold was divided into compartments and the boards were so well- fitted that in case of a leak the water could not pass from that compartment to any other.(TRUTH Vol. VIII– 714).

The Illustrated Weekly writes (TRUTH Vol. VI– 526)– India’s supremacy was due as much to the skill of Indian ship-wrights as to the courage and ability of those who manned ships. Indian ships were built of Malabar teak the strongest and the most durable wood in the world, and far better than oak. In the British Navy every ship is renewed after 12 years and Indian ships generally last about 100 years. A veteran pilgrim ship was not broken until 125 years old. An Indian built ship well over 100 years old is still in service in Scandinavia and her teak timbers are still sound. Apart from its astonishing durability Indian ships were also much cheaper.

Nelson’s fleet had teak sides 2 ft. thick and impervious to cannon shot and provided final proof of the skill of the Indian ship-wrights. Yet they were light and fast. “The Punjab” another India-built ship was the fastest vessel afloat and on one occasion beat the mail steamer between Hongkong and Singapore.

In the days of the Mahabharat machine driven ships were built in India.

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