The very word Navigation etymologically can be traced to the Indian word Nav for ship and "Navgath" to navigate in the Samskrt language.

The Indian sub-continent has a very long coastline of over 8000 kms.

The Indian civilization has a great naval heritage of over 5000 years. The world's oldest harbour has been excavated at Lothal in Gujarat which dates back to 3500 B.C.E.

Historically India has been a major exporting country of products like:

Iron & Steel
Cotton textiles

To have been continuously exporting these products to, China and South east Asia in the East and to Arabia, Egypt, Greece and Rome in the West, Indians have naturally been great navigators to accomplish this world wide trade.
Historical evidences worldwide show India's domination of maritime trade for an unbroken period of over 5000 years right from 3500 B.C.E to 1500 C.E. It is only after 1500 C.E., did the European hegemony of maritime trade begin.
To substantiate the above statements, in this subject capsule we look at the literary evidences for navigation in the

  1. Vedic texts
  2. Ithihasaor historical texts of the land namely the Ramayana and Mahabharatha
  3. The legends of India in the form of Purana.

Apart from the above there is other technical literature available on Navigation, in which the names of the large ocean going ships of the ancient Indian make along with their sizes are given. Some of the names of the ships in their class are:

Metres long


Class of the Ship Metres long
Gamini 48
Tari 55
Janghala 64
Plavini 72
Dharini 79
Begini 88

Apart from the above, there were technical names for each part of the ship, they being:

Navgath Terminology

Nava Bandhan Kilaha Anchor
Vata Vastra Sail
Stula Bhaga Hull
Keri Pata Rudder
Nava Tala Keel
Kupadanda Mast
Vruttashanga Bhaga Sextant
Maccha Yantra Mariner's compass

The Indian Naval industry literally sunk when the British took political control of India. The British found that the Indian ships built of teak had a life span of over 50 years, whereas the British ships built of oak had a life span of 10-12 years only.
The British sunk the Indian Navigation Industry through a series of administrative proclamations and orders.
Some of the prominent ones being:

The British administrators through the Calcutta Gazette order of 29th January 1789, prohibited the construction of Indian ships for overseas trade.

  1. Shipping Act, British Parliament, 1814
    1. Not to employ Indian mariners in ships, this does not have 75% British mariners.

No ship, even British, could enter London, which had not aboard, three-fourths of its crew of British mariners.

  1. East India Company Order 1st August 1814. Traders not allowed to use ships built in India.

Because of successive Acts like these, the British political masters with their octopus like arms, crushed the Indian Naval Industry of both the international and domestic shipping lines.
The Indians on their part in the 250 year British rule repeatedly offered their stiff resistance but in vain.
Now, the realization and understanding that India once had a pre-eminent position in Navigation for a long period of nearly 4000 years, will surely give us the confidence to build back the Indian Navigation Industry to its position of eminence in the world in the decades to come.