Maritime History of Odisha: A sneak peek

Learning can happen anytime and it becomes all the more fun when you enjoy it while on a leisure trip. Recently , I had a chance to visit the Odisha State Maritime Museum and I was amused by the knowledge that I gained. hence, I thought of documenting it all and present it as a blog post and share it with you all. After all, sharing your knowledge and getting connected on an intellectual level is something that I absolutely adore. So let me take you through my experience.

I reached this place and little did I know that I was visiting a museum which is one of a kind in the entire country. No such state has a museum specially dedicated to it’s maritime history in India. Spread across an area of about four acres land, this is a unique tourist spot and is set amidst lush green environs. The weather was very pleasant adding to the eagerness quotient & my curiosity grew to know more about the rich heritage of my own state of Odisha. The museum has a very beautiful aquarium & is very well maintained .

Introduction:

This museum was initially a workshop set up by the British India at a place called Jobra, situated near the Barrage of river Mahanadi. This workshop was the brainchild of the then British Government after the great famine of A.D. 1866. One George Faulkner, an Engineer of Scottish origin, was put in charge of the workshop.An iron Plaque found in the workshop indicates that the foundation stone of the Jobra Workshop was laid on 01.01.1869 by Mrs. Faulkner. Machineries such as Lathe, Drillers, and Cutters etc were brought from England and fixed in the workshop. As per the then Commissioner of Odisha Province John Beams the workshop was able to provide anything from small boats to big boats and from nut-bolts to machine parts under the able guidance of the Engineer In-charge George Faulkner.

Jobra Workshop floor with all the machines

The workshop with the real machines & cranes that were used during the British era

But George Faulkner was more than just an Engineer. He had considered India as his second home and was a man who was very less understood among his peers because he had a different temperament. Utterly reckless and wild about money matters, always full of wild schemes and yet this rough old creature had the most exquisitely delicate taste as a designer and the greatest skill and fineness of touch as an artisan.  He painted, he carved, he moulded; designed buildings, boats, bridges; he grew the most beautiful flowers, planned and laid out the loveliest gardens and he could use a chisel or any other tool as well as his best workman. So, this workshop not just dedicated itself for just machinery but also crafted delicate most beautiful ivory and ebony croquet mallets for the ladies , fretwork brackets and screens, stained-glass windows, deigns in plaster or stone a bewildering variety of beautiful things. Today, this museum stands as a testimony to the craftmanship of the then artisans who marvelled in building various kind of boats & large ships with accurate measurements, repair canons to be used in wars, build navigation equipments , fabrication of sluice gates, requirements for use in irrigation canals, surface water transport and anicuts on rivers. It was also catering to the need of the then Bihar and Bengal regions under the then Bengal Province.

A canon that was used in the British era

Boat & Ship Building Expertise

Building a boat or a ship that would withstand the hazards at the sea requires a lot of expertise and knowledge. Without the existence of ship building industry, it would be very difficult for a country to have its maritime trade connections with other nations. The gallery & the sculptures in the museum showcase a variety of boats & ships built with every minute detail about it exhibited. I was amazed to know that more than twenty five types of boats & ships were built under three categories i.e. ‘Samanya’,’Diroha(Vishesha)’ & ‘Unnata(Vishesha)’ . They were mainly classified on their size. The type of wood & the procedure to carve it was all different & unique.

A depiction of a boat being built by the artisans

Maritime History

Ancient Odisha which was then called as Kalinga played a very significant role in the maritime history of India. From archaeological evidences and literary sources, it is evident that ancient Odisha, known as Kalinga, was a great maritime power from about 7th C.B.C to 13th Century A.D. It had overseas trade relations with ancient countries like Greece,Rome, Java, Sumatra, Brahmadesa, Simhala, Bali, Malay etc. But somehow due to lack of proper documentation, the contribution never received the lime light as it should.

Bay of Bengal was also known as Kalinga Sagara and this map depicts the sea routes that the merchants of Odisha used & established maritime relations with so many countries

The ancient Kalinga coast had famous ports like Tamralipti, Palur, Baruva, Che-Li-ta-Lo etc which were referred to by Geographers and Travellers like Ptolemy, Pliny, Fahien , Hieun Tsang or Ywan Chwang and others.

The findings of Roman pottery, coin, and terracotta objects from excavated sites of Sisupalgarh indicate the trade relation with ancient Roman empire. Similarly the discovery of roulleted ware, knobbed ware from sites of Odisha such as Radhanagar,Sisupalagarh,Kuruma,Manikapatna, Brahmavana, Khalkatapatna etc and their discovery in sites of Bali, Java, Kalimantan in Indonesia and Malayasia prove the ancient overseas connection between these regions. The findings of Chinese porcelain, ceramic, Arabic stone ware and Ceylonese coins from Odishan sites prove ancient maritime relation of ancient Odisha with China, Srilanka and Arab countries.

Diamond, Nilam, Pokharaj, Panna , Gomeda etc earned by the merchant class after profitable trade overseas

The maritime relation of Kalinga had left its strongest impact in countries like Srilanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The Hindu culture of the Island State of Bali in Indonesia has great similarity with Odia culture. The life and culture of Balinese and Odia people have strange coincidences in the sphere of language, dialect, religions practices, performing arts, crafts and architecture along with the cluster of place names.

Diamond which was earned by the merchants of Odisha after the trade
Cowry Shells used as a medium of exchange

Replica of Elephant transportation, 10th century AD from Odisha to abroad

depiction of a pleasure boat , 15th century AD at Jaganatha temple .Puri

Actual Weighing scales used for measuring gold & silver during maritime trade

In the year, 2018, a ten member delegation visited this museum and were overwhelmed to see the preservation of such memories when they visited the celebration of Bali Yatra . They were so pleased to see that such a unique museum was established in the country celebrating cultural ties and similarities. The Indonesian Government desired for a dedicated Indonesia Gallery . A number of of gifts were received from the Embassy of Indonesia in India & former Governor of Bali for the awareness of visitors . The gifts include the rare ‘GAMELAN’ musical instruments comprising 25 different instruments played by 25 artisans from Indonesia Embassy , the beautiful ‘Padmasana’ Temple made of volcano soil, the rare paintings, sculptures , masks and many other items . Thus , the museum has a special section dedicated to showcase the trade connections with the country of Indonesia.

A board showing the evidence of cultural linkages between Odisha & South East Asian countries
Gamelan

Musical Instrument from Indonesia at the museum

The similarities in the masks used by Odisha ( up) & Bali (below)

Ravana as depicted in Odisha folk tales

Ravana as depicted in Bali folk tales
Similarity between the cultural attire of a dancer from Bali( left) & that of Odissa( right)

It seems the ancient Odia traders were overshadowed by the Arab traders in maritime trade after 13th-14th century and the overseas trading of Odia merchants almost came to an end. 

Maritime Rituals

“Sadhabas” or merchants of Odisha used to sail to far off lands ( mostly South Asian Nations ) with goods to do business. Till this day and age, Odias perform the ritual of “Boita Bandana” to celebrate the glorious past of maritime voyage of Odisha or Kalinga as it used to be known in the past.

PC: Pattachittra Showing Boita Bandana( Source: Internet)

“aa kaa maa boi – paana gua thoi – paana gua tora – maasaka dharama mora”. ( A folk song sung while the Odias go for sailing small hand made boats in near by water bodies on Kartika Purnima festival).

The Sadhavas used to be the most prosperous clan of the state and were responsible for the economic development of the state as they traded with many countries . The sea linkages are celebrated till today.

The depiction of the famous ‘Khudurukuni Puja’ depicting a family of the Sadhabas at the Museum

Apart from this main celebration, there are various other rituals & pujas that are undertaken by other communities while starting the construction of the boat or while taking the first voyage . Many deities are also worshipped even today by the fisherman community as they sail across the ocean.

Goddess Baliharchandi at Puri worshipped by sailors of Voyage

Conclusion

When I returned back after my visit from this museum , I could only imagine the glorious yester years and the trade & commerce alliances that had been built over the years . The skillfull artisans, the tactful and risk taking merchant class were responsible to build a golden era of maritime history of the state of Odisha which is still celebrated today. How ever, as a clan Odias are quite, a little reticent and refrain from self glorification. May be this is the reason , why many of our achievements have been lost in the cycle of time and not many know about it. But, I feel this is only a loss to our own heritage and cultural significance. Hence , this blog post is my tribute from my side & if my readers gain any insight from my live experience, then I shall remain highly indebted to each one of you , who has stopped by this blog post.

Last but not the least, I would also urge that if you ever visit Odisha, do not forget to pay a visit to this beautiful museum.

Love,

Chinmayee

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nice that you have brought it up. This part of Odisha’s history needs to be explored more and brought to limelight lest we forget our glorious past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot for your supportive words.

      Like

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