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Introduction India's maritime heritage goes well beyond in the past than some of us might comprehend. With the Himalayas in the north, Indian for centuries have depended on sea routes for trade and communication with rest of the world. Vital sea links therefore emerged over a period of time for the exchange of trade, commerce and culture. Historians and scholars have traced our associations with the sea way back to the Harappan culture, around 3000 B.C. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa reveal personal ornaments of shell and pearls, picked up possibly from the Indian or Persian Gulf coasts. It is believed that Harappans came from, what is presently Jamnagar, to the Gulf of Cambay. A naval dock unearthed at Loothal in Ahmedabad district further confirms presence of large ships capable of being used at sea. Besides, there is also overwhelming evidence that commercial contact existed between the inhabitants of the Indus Valley and the People of Eygpt, Central Asia and Persia. Appearance of Warships in the Indian Ocean Towards the middle of the fifteenth century the Ottoman Turks had emerged as a major power in West Asia and Eastern Europe, and continued their thrust into Central Europe. Western trade routes were therefore cut off over land with the East, with the fall of Constantinople (now Istanbul) into the Turkish hands. Western Europe had therefore to find an alternative route for their trade and import of spices from Asia. The Portuguese were the first to take the initiative and in 1497 Vasco da Gama sailed on a long voyage around the African continent to explore the East. His vessel (San Gabriel) was a warship and was accompanied by two others. Portuguese efforts bore fruit when they landed at Calicut 10 months later. While the Indians had used the sea for military transportation earlier, the San Gabriel was the first man of war, fitted with 20 guns, to touch the Indian shores. Vasco da Gama was granted trading permission and the Indian seemed quite content as long as their requirements from abroad were met and their own trade was promoted. The Portuguese initiative would have given them very long-term benefits, had they not made the mistake of selling Indian spices at very high prices to rest of the West European community. Their second mistake was in not being able to maintain cordial relations with the Indian community from the beginning. Their mistakes drew the other European navies into the Indian Ocean. In due course, rivalries and hostilities grew within them, and finally the British emerged powerful and diplomatic enough to remain a prodominant power in the area. Portugal-Calicut relations worsened with Vasco da Gama refusing to pay the usual customs levy. It is said, Vasco da Gama and his soldiers had indulged in acts of barbarism unparalleled in maritime history. The situation further worsened due to Portuguese interference with Arab trading interests at Calicut; the latter having had long and friendly trade with the Indian coast. The Portuguese had to seek other avenues and sought Cannanore and Cochin. Besides capturing trade, their primary aim was to gain supremacy over the India Ocean and trade routes. They remained persistent in sending more and more ships to the Malabar coast and went to the extent of pronouncing that no Indian or Arab ship could ply without their permission. It is important to review the political conditions of India during this period. India was weak and divided into several small states and kingdoms. There was a Hindu-Muslim divide and even states belonging to the same religion had serious differences and rivalries. India's maritime importance had ebbed giving way to Arab traders. Armed traders of the West, therefore, took advantages and established their bases with full assent of the weaker rulers. On the west coast Portuguese ships started raiding Indian and Arab merchant ships which ventured without their permission. Following differences with Calicut, the port was subjected to a blockade and therefore commercial starvation. Portuguese intervention at Cochin further aggravated the traditional feud between the rulers of Cochin and Calicut. While these states raised their own armed flotillas, their individual seas power was no match for the Portuguese men of war on high seas
Besides. Ahmedabad and Cambay. the British relented to introduce a small fighting force in the name of the Royal Indian Navy. The company established its first trading center at Surat and expanded further. The Dutch followed the Portuguese initiative and ventured east. Having penetrated the Portuguese naval influence. Their first settlements were in Java and Sumtra which seemed to be their primary interests. In India.and Lisbon continued to consolidate its influence in the Indian Ocean and made other settlements along the west coast of India and Ceylon. The Indian Marine thereafter acquired the name Bombay Marine. predominately from the Konkan Coast. when she married King Charles II. Portugal ceded Bombay to the British Crown as a part of the dowry of their Queen. Bombay became the HQ of the Royal Indian Navy and it was agreed that in due course it will predominantly be manned by Indians. the Royal Indian Navy expanded rapidly and some merchant ships were also converted into men-of-war. being better constructed and better armed. The arrival of the Dutch fleet was taken as a positive infringement by the Portuguese on what they by now considered as their area of influence. the East India Company remained pragmatic and persistent for the cause. to gain supremacy in the region. after making their initial base at Masulipatnam on the East coast. realizing the obstructional policy of the Portuguese. and later with the French. A large number of Indians therefore lost their jobs. From Indian Marine to Indian Navy The Indian Marine was formed in 1613 in England for the protection of the East India Company's ships and trade. Its strategic location and ship-building infrastructure proved to be an asset. the Dutch established a base at Patna. Their navies clashed for obtaining bases in the Persian Gulf. Besides the rivalry for the Indian coastal region. In 1661. Bombay. the British remained persistent and in 1615 formal trading rights were granted to the British by the Mughal court. It seems that of all. Nagapatnam. Mauritius. Recruitment of officers into the Royal Indian Navy started in the early 1930s. emerged victorious. Seven years later the Crown leased Bombay to the East India Company at a rent of 10 pounds a year. The East India Company was formed in England in 1599. Java etc. But the end of the war brought severe retrenchment and the Royal Indian Marine was reduced to a very small force capable of only defence duties of a few ports. Many battles were fought. The East India Company. they struggled for the neighbouring areas also. On the insistence of some prominent citizens. All officers and key sailors were British while the other staff were recruited from India. The two forces had a encounter off the port during which British ships. By 1735 a full-fledged shipbuilding dockyard was established and named Bombay Dockyard. The Indian Marine therefore continued to grow with an increasing number of ships. With the commencement of the Second World War in 1939. This motivated the British to establish their presence in the Indian Ocean. The force was augmented and it underwent some transformation. The Royal Indian Marine participated in the First World War and expanded considerably. came rather easily to the British which they used greatly to their advantage. With continued encounters with the Maratha Fleet the British found it more convenient to shift major forces and trading establishment from Surat to Bombay in 1688. Aden. therefore. and very early in the twentieth century was renamed 'The Royal Indian Marine'. Infanta Catherine. Cochin and Goa frequently. By 1782. Its main role was trooping and hydro-graphic surveys of ports and coast-line. The British established trading centers at Surat. The maritime defence of India was entrusted to the Royal Navy depriving Indians of valuable seafaring experience. . Four ships sailed and these were operated by privateers at Sumantra for the first two voyages. they spread southwards on the Coromandal coast. For the British it was not an easy task to overcome the Dutch and Portuguese resistance in the Indian Ocean. the British had firmly established their control over the Indian Ocean area and the hinterland. fitted their ships with armed merchant men and dispatched a squadron which reached Surat in 1612. On their voyage in 1609 an attempt was made to trade with India but was met with Portuguese protests. Having broken the Portuguese monopoly of Indian trade in Europe the Dutch also demanded exorbitant prices for pepper and other Indian goods. there was also the Maratha threat to counter. The two forces clashed at Pulict. Quilon.
© The Sunday Tribune. 02 September 2007 .More and more Indians were inducted into the service and they gave a very good account in maritime combat. Quite a few were given gallantry awards. In 1950 when India became a Republic. the term 'Royal' was dropped and the nomenclature was changed to just Indian Navy.
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