Indian Navy -A Perspective (From The Earliest Period To Modern Times)

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Item Code: NAE565
Publisher: Publication Division, Ministry Of Information And Broadcasting
Author: Dr. Baldeo Sahai
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 812301354X
Pages: 294 (36 B/W & 41 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch X 7.5 inch
Weight 800 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The book delves into the Indian maritime tradition and established its extent, richness and antiquity. It traces the growth of the Indian its avatars as the Bombay Marine, the Royal Indian Navy and ultimately though Independence and Republic in 1950, to the modern Indian Navy.

Dr. Sahai, the author of this book says that the history of the Indian Navy actually began not in 1830 AD but in the sixth century BC when a prince of Gujarat set sail to subjugate Java and when a prince of Sangha Dynasty in Orison Too sailed with his fleet to Sri Lanka, Many aspects of Indian Navy are discussed in a simple and lucid manner. The book with illustrations, maps, sketches, line drawings and colour photographs will be a valuable collect’s item for those interested in the Indian Navy.

About the Author

Dr. Baldeo Sahai is a Ph. D in History from the Netherlands and a Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, Government of India. As a Member of the Indian Information Service, he served as Information Officer for five years in the Directorate General of Defense Public Relations from 1964-1969.

He has written a number of articles and research paper and also over a dozen in English Including Indian Shipping-a Historical Survey and public Relation- A Scientific Approach. He has won many awards and is a member of several cultural and research organizations. He is also the founder-President of the Upanishad Society.


A new book on the Indian Navy is always welcome, particularly when it comes from the pen of as distinguished a scholar as Dr. Baldeo Sahai. It brings, hopefully, a fresh, up to date, perspective on the Indian Navy, which despite the antiquity sought to be attributed to it by Dr. Sahai, is still at a formative and growing stage in the modern sense. As the author of several books, and with a long journalistic career, a substantial part of which was in Defense Public Relations, Dr. Sahai is well qualified to write about Indian nautical matters over the centuries. His books "Indian Shipping - A Historical Survey" and "Ports of India" are works of special interest and value to seafarers.

The book traces Indian ventures to sea over a period of 2,500 years, from the sixth century BC to the present day, with some references to Indian seafaring going back even to 7,000 years BC! A basic contention of Dr. Sahai is that European historians have misrepresented, belittled and minimized the role of Indian seafarers over the centuries while glorifying and exaggerating their own. This was made possible by European colonization and control over material and intellectual resources. He argues that due to geographic and climatic factors, especially the predictable monsoon winds, the sailors of the Indian sub-continent were sailing the high seas and exploring and colonizing distant lands long before the Europeans learned the rudiments of high seas navigation. He quotes extensively from Western sources in support of his theories. Further, he states with considerable justification, that the Indian, essentially "Hindu," as that was the belief and culture of the people of the times, colonization of South- East Asia was settlement and cultural assimilation in the full sense of the word, willingly accepted and welcomed by the local inhabitants, and not rapine. And conquest typically associated with European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Australia and to an extent, India.

Dr. Sahai asserts that the history of the Indian Navy should properly be considered to begin in the 6th century BC and not in 1830 AD when it was formally so named by the British. Not all may agree with this view, with considerable justification. Mere sea going, mostly for exploration and trade does not a navy make. But he is right in claiming that the Indian tradition on sailing the high seas, as opposed to coasting, is far older than acknowledged by European historians in general, and predates their own trans-oceanic seagoing by several centuries. He quotes in detail from Indian and foreign sources to show the vast extent of Indian seafaring interaction with lands to the west and east of the Indian peninsula since ancient times, going so far as to assert that the Phoenicians and Chileans of west Asia were settlers from Indian trading communities from Gujarat and the Chula dynasties of south India. In the context of cultural, linguistic and trading evidence and well documented inter communication over land and sea between the 'pristine' Egyptian,

Mesopotamian, Indus Valley and Chinese civilizations, his views cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Dr. Sahai's book explores in some detail, the spread of empires of Indian origin in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Kampuchea and as far as present day Vietnam, and the extent of mutually beneficial trade relations with China.

The advent of European sea powers led by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, the rise of the English East India Company, the weakness of the Munhall at sea and the reasons thereof, the Zamora and Maratha navies and their harassment of the English and the Portuguese sailing ships attempting domination of Indian waters on the west coast are covered in detail. The barbaric nature of Portuguese actions against the indigenous people is cited as the main reason for the English being able to gain trading rights and cooperation of the local rulers to defeat and oust the Portuguese. In passing, the military forces on shore affecting alliances and outcomes at sea are touched upon. Dr. Sahai's canvas is vast and covers events and factors influencing interplay of sea powers from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

The book dwells in detail on the growth of the Indian Navy under British rule through its 'avatars' as the Bombay Marine, the Indian Marine, the Royal Indian Navy and ultimately from Independence and the Republic in 1950, to the Indian Navy.

In the British scheme of things, the Indian Navy had a relatively minor role and hence was equipped only with sloops, minesweepers and small craft. The seaward protection of did and British territories in and around the Indian Ocean was ensured by control of 'choke points' and naval bases at Simons town (South Africa), Aden, Trinomials, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fremantle and Sydney, rending the Indian Ocean into a 'British lake' into which no foreign sea power dare intrude in an inimical manner. World War-II and the rise of Japanese sea power in the east were to change all this and much else besides. Indian independence in 1947, hastened to some extent by the Naval Mutiny of 1946, resulted in the Navy being divided between India and Pakistan at partition in approximately a 3: 2 ratio, the ship numbers quite inadequate for the new maritime responsibilities of an independent India.

The author highlights the present strategic and security situation for India at sea and the need for the Indian Navy to be augmented, strengthened and modernized to face new challenges. He criticizes successive governments for insufficient understanding of maritime matters and starving the navy of funds, from mistaken concepts of peace and non-violence arising from two hundred years of British colonialism and 'deculturisation'

Sees a very bright future for the Indian Navy which he feels is being well planned and developed on sound lines by competent naval leadership. "Indian Navy - A Perspective" is much more than a book about the Indian Navy. It delves deeply into Indian maritime tradition and establishes from credible sources, its extent, richness and antiquity. It places this in the relevant political, economic and cultural framework of the times to make it vibrant and alive for the reader. The book makes a significant contribution to Indian maritime literature and highlights the ancient inheritance and traditions of Indian seafaring, of which, ultimately, the Indian Navy is the beneficiary and protector.


Geography has played a prominent role in molding the maritime history of Asia. Laying in the temperate zone it generally enjoys a balmy climate. The sky is clear for most part of the year and in the 'primitive' period of navigation, as termed by Professor Needham, the 'celestial signposts' of stars proved reliable guides to the mariners. They sailed by the sun during the day and by stars after nightfall. In the rainy season, ships were put to bed for repair and renovation. There was no snow or sleet, nor were the ‘roaring forties’, and the sailings mostly smooth.

The Indian Ocean has the additional advantage of monsoons. The wind is not so wayward as is supposed to be. And once the sailors understood the advantageous to venture on the high seas, than hugging the coast. No wonder, some circumnavigators are of the view that Indian Ocean is the birthplace of navigation. It continues to be one of the busiest waterways of the world.

Indians, along with the Egyptians and others, have been sailing since at least 3000 BC. The port of Lethal in Gujarat is dated 2200 BC by Carbon-14 method. The marine engineering used in constructing the port must have taken a thousand years to evolve. In the seventh century BC, a prince of Gujarat is said to have sailed with a couple of thousand followers to Java. About the same time, a prince of Killing sailed south to Ceylon. In the third century BC, Buddhist missionaries of Ashoka the Great went to many Far East countries to spread the message of his Master. In the first century BC, the Indian adventurer Kaundinya took his fleet to Furan - modern Kampuchea - fought a naval battle with the Queen and established the first Hindu kingdom. His descendants, Sri Vijay a, conquered several neighboring countries and expanded the Empire. Soon after, other stars rose in Shailendras who ruled the entire region - including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Far Eastern islands of Borneo and Celebes - till the early 14th century AD. On the mainland, the Cholas, Cheras and Pandas had powerful navies.

In the West, Persians established a vast empire and around seventh century BC went west up to Greece. That invited reprisal by the Captain - General Philip elected by the Greek city-states. His unfinished work was completed by his illustrious son, Alexander the Great, who routed Darius l l l and conquered the last Persian satrapy in the north-west of India ruled by King Pours. But his army refused to enter India where 'even women wielded swords'. Alexander left his trusted general, Nikator Seleucus, in charge of the areas he had conquered, and returned by sea. When Seleucus tried to repeat the conquests of his master, he had to suffer an ignoble defeat at the hands of Chandragupta Maurya, cede a large portion of Afghanistan, and give his daughter in marriage to the Maryann King.

It was a glorious period of the naval exploits of India which has been appropriately highlighted in the book. It was considered necessary because some European historians have blatantly misrepresented facts. They say that Indians had always been ruled by foreign powers; they only rowed boats on the Ganga, and had never crossed their coasts, or borders. Till the early l5'" century AD, on the other hand, no European Power ever sailed beyond their own waters. The Portuguese, and especially Henry the Navigator, laid the foundations of modern navigation. When his followers reached the shores of 'Indies', the brutality and barbarity they inflicted upon the local population gives an indication of the type of culture which prevailed in some of the European nations at that time. The Dutch, British and French who followed, behaved much better. Anyhow almost all conquerors try to de-culture the conquered, yet in a country like India with an ancient civilization, it was an anachronism.

With the new style of navigation supported by modern instruments and improved weapon systems, the Asian countries - which had been under colonial rule for centuries - have been left far behind, and are trying to catch up. However, Indian Navy has had a glorious past which - when we sing the paeans of praise of foreign and naval strategists - need not be ignored. We have tried to highlight Indian naval achievements. When Egyptian navy did not try to expand, Indians did go to south-east and the Far East as well as to the West.

Some 50 years ago, when in Defense Security, I read in the Defense Library a book by Bharadwaj entitled Art of Warfare in Ancient India. In Samarangana Stratham; a 600-page treatise by Raja Bhoja of Dhara (Tenth century AD), there is a chapter, Yenta Vedanta, or the art of making various instruments, where the principle of steamship is also given. It is no place to quote, but there are many mantras in Rig Veda giving details of designing weapons, some based on mercury. There is nothing wrong if some Sanskrit scholars of DRDO examine such literature. May be some ideas mentioned there could trigger a fresh line of thinking.

In dealing with the state of the Indian Navy, apart from historical developments, it was unavoidable to deal with important external and internal factors. Externally, it was necessary to discuss, howsoever briefly, political cross-currents, evolving weapon systems, both leading to the assessment of threat perception. Internally, approach to defiance depends upon cultural background, industrial and scientific strength, and political stability. Among the three Services of the Armed Forces, we found that, comparatively, Navy enjoys much more exposure and has greater dealings with other countries by way of holding joint naval exercises and ships calling on the ports of other countries. Our view, therefore, has been that naval officers have to be not only excellent sailors and administrators but also much more informed about various policies of their own country, as well as that of the countries of their call.

That is why we have included in the book certain topics which, from naval point of view may not appear to be relevant, but they will help the reader to acquire a holistic view. For example, the philosophy of truth and non-violence propagated by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle. It cast its shadow over the defiance policy of the country for many decades. Or, the brief outline of the wars independent India had to fight with her neighbors in which Navy did not play much part in the 1962 and 1965 wars, or the phenomenon of cross-border terrorism. We believe that Navy is an integral part of the Armed Forces, and the Armed Forces cannot be altogether divorced from the cultural, economic and political policies of the nation. The entire country is an organic whole, and in order to understand a part, it is necessary, and helpful, to have a general idea of the whole.

Over the decades, whereas the borders and skies of the country have more or less remained the same, the sea frontiers have enormously expanded. Today, the expanse of water the Navy has to take care of is almost equal to the total land mass of the country. Sufficient funds have to be provided to the Navy to discharge its enlarged responsibilities. It has been suggested that there should be a National Ocean Commission so that several organizations dealing with problems pertaining to mineral exploitation of the continental shelf, care of ocean and proper utilization of Exclusive Economic Zone, are expeditiously examined and decisions taken under one roof.

About the weapon system, attention has been invited to the growth of a new 'weapon' in cross-border terrorism. Here the enemy is not face to face. He can hit anybody, anywhere, on land, in sky and on sea. Nor is this threat confined to India where it has killed more people than all the soldiers killed in all the wars India has fought in recent years. It has assumed international dimensions. This war has to be fought jointly through well-coordinated international efforts, not only with weapons but also with the help of arts and cultural exchanges, so far ignored.

For the first time in 58 years since independence, a comprehensive national security system has been evolved. A revolutionary step has been taken to integrate the Services with the bureaucratic setup and decentralize decision-making. A new post of Chief of Defiance Staff has been created to ensure inter-service and intra-service co-ordination. He will eventually act like Military Adviser to the Defense Minister.

It has been noted that the major Powers seem to be moving from the path of confrontation to that of cooperation. Not only do we have numerous international trading groups but also fresh military alliances. There are Asia- Pacific Defiance Forum and Central Command of the US. An EUINATO Mediterranean dialogue is going on. It may as well be extended to the states of Maghreb like Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Such cooperation is financially economical and helps in forging friendships. India has the best of relations with most of the neighboring and rim countries of the Indian Ocean. For her a peaceful environment in the Ocean is of utmost importance. She holds regular joint naval exercises with the littoral states in the East and the West. If this cooperation is formalized into two Indian Ocean Naval Commands, and if further extended to include some more advanced countries, it should benefit the entire region.

I am grateful to all naval officers whose works I have consulted, especially those of Vice Admiral Sayonara Singh's two tomes, Histories of Navy by Vice Admiral G.M. Hiranandani, and Rear Admiral Mihir K. Roy. I visited various naval establishments and interviewed naval officers. I am extremely grateful to Admiral V.S. Sheikhabad (retd.) for kindly sparing his precious time to talk to me, and having agreed to enrich the book with his foreword. I thank Rear Admiral O.P. Sharma, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, for briefing me on the Laws of the Seas; Rear Admiral K.R. Srinivasan, ChiefHydrographer, and several other senior naval officers. I am obliged to Sri Rajiv Chandran of the UN for supplying UN reports and documents. Without the constant help of Director General, Defiance Public Relations and his staff, particularly the Public Relations Officers of the Navy, it would not have been possible to complete this work. I am much obliged to all of them. I am grateful to my son Yogi (Yogendra Sahai) for constant support.

I am aware of the shortcomings in the book. In covering a period of over 5000 years, the emphasis on various topics had to be thinly spread out. Once in the British Parliament, an MP taunted the minister in charge of the Royal Navy: "The First Lord of Admiralty has no notion about the motion of the ocean”. The Lord retorted: “That is the qualification I Possess.”

I am grateful to the Publications Division, ministry of Information & Broadcasting, to assign this job to me., and the Ministry of Defiance for according their approval. I am indebted to Naval Headquarter officers for vetting the MSS. I express my gratitude to the Publication Division, Government of India, especially to its Director, for publishing the book.


1Navies of Indian Ocean Civilizations1
2Indian Navy in Southeast Asia23
3From Bombay Marine to Indian Navy46
4Restructuring of the Navy68
5Baptism by Blood89
6The Law of Sea119
7Ships Take Shape150
8Training Man as Master of Machines 184
9Indian Navy Has a Bright Future214
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