The History of Shipbuilding in India

In the present era, the shipbuilding industry is being dominated by players from the US, European, and Eastern Asia. But there was a time in the ancient past, when shipbuilding in India was a major and thriving industry.

Some of the most important aspects of the Indian maritime history can be recounted as follows.


Ancient India

The maritime history of Indian shipbuilding begins right from the time of civilisation in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. The Rig-Veda – one of the four Vedas (Hindu holy writings) – documents about the variously termed parts of a vessel in the oldest existing Indian language: the Sanskrit.

Also, other detailing about the ancient marine industry is documented in the Arthashastra and various other writings of the ancient Indian folk-lore. In the context of these documentations, it needs to be noted that the ancient maritime India was also majorly influenced by the then-prevailing system of societal superiority.

Since the boats of that era were built of wood, there were stringent specifications and protocols laid down for the materials to be used. There were also numerous other superstitious beliefs that were documented in a book known as the Yuktikalpataru, regarded to be published around the 6th century AD.

The shipbuilding industry in India was mainly carried on in the coastal territories like Bombay, Cochin, Tuticorin, Mandvi and Cuddalore. The ships and the shipyards that existed in Ancient India were used to carry out and further the existing international trade with the then existing European empires. In addition to the European empires, trading through the oceanic routes also existed between India and some of the other South Asian territories


With the advent of the European voyagers like Vasco da Gama in the 13th century, shipbuilding in India suffered as these voyagers laid the foundation stone of colonisation in the country. However due to the political alliance formed between the Indian rulers in the Western part of the country to counter the shipbuilding and naval efforts of the Westerners, shipbuilding in India saw a resurgence of sorts towards the 17th century.

But during the British colonisation of the country in the 17th and 18th century, because of lack of competent rulers to hold the Indian maritime industry fort, Indian shipbuilding suffered. This lack of competence from the Indian perspective also ensured a further oppression for the Indians from the British rulers.

But while on one hand the Indian shipbuilding industry suffered a backlash, construction of several British ships were awarded to the Indian ship yards which kept alive the hopes and promises of the Indian ship construction industry in the chaotic times.

Present Scenario

The Indian shipbuilding industry does not feature among the top Asian nations in the shipping sector. This deficit in its international contribution has been taken as a majorly problematic area by the Indian government and all efforts are being made to change this debilitative statistics.

A very important aspect of the Indian shipbuilding sector however, is about its ship breaking yard located in the Western state of Gujarat. Alang has around 170 yards of which 50 are currently functional as ship breaking yards. Yet, because of lack of proper infrastructural support from the government authorities, the condition of the workers in the ship breaking yard is really poor and remains an arena needing to be addressed as a priority.

The Indian peninsula enables a strong viability for the marine industry. Owing to certain factors, while the full potential of the same has been failed to be capitalised contemporarily, it can be hoped that in the days to come, the situation will be substantially reversed.


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