India’s Ancient and Great Maritime History, by Stephen Knapp

(An Excerpt from Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture)

We should first take into account that ancient India, which was centered around the Indus Valley years ago, and was already well developed before 3200 BCE, stretched from Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean and points farther east and north, the largest empire in the world at the time. But its influence spread much farther than that. During its peak developments, it had organized cities, multistory brick buildings, vast irrigation networks, sewer systems, the most advanced metalwork in the world, and a maritime trade network that incorporated the use of compasses, planked ships, and trained navigators that reached parts of western Asia, Mesopotamia, Africa, and other ports far beyond their borders. 1 So they were certainly capable of ocean-going trips that could have reached even to the Americas.

Prakash Charan Prasad explains in his book, Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India (p. 131): “Big ships were built. They could carry anywhere upwards from 500 men on the high seas. The Yuktialpataru classifies ships according to their sizes and shapes. The Rajavalliya says that the ship in which King Sinhaba of Bengal (ca. sixth century BCE] sent Prince Vijaya, accommodated full 700 passengers, and the ship in which Vijaya’s Pandyan bride was brought over to Lanka carried 800 passengers on board. The ship in which the Buddha in the Supparaka Bodhisat incarnation made his voyages from Bharukachha (Broach) to the ‘sea of the seven gems’ [Sri Lanka], carried 700 merchants besides himself. The Samuddha Vanija Jakarta mentions a ship that accommodated one thousand carpenters.”

Marco Polo also related how, “An Indian ship could carry crews between 100 and 300. Out of regard for passenger convenience and comfort, the ships were well furnished and decorated in gold, silver, copper, and compounds of all these substances were generally used for ornamentation and decoration.” 2

Because of the Vedic civilization’s great reach, Aurel Stein (1862-1943), a Hungarian researcher also related: “The vast extent of Indian cultural influences, from Central Asia in the North to tropical Indonesia in the South, and from the borderlands of Persia to China and Japan, has shown that ancient India was a radiating center of a civilization, which by its religious thought, its art and literature, was destined to leave its deep mark on the races wholly diverse and scattered over the greater part of Asia.” 3

In this regard, Philip Rawson, in The Art of Southeast Asia (1993, p. 7), further praises India’s gift of its civilizing affect on all other cultures. “The culture of India has been one of the world’s most powerful civilizing forces. Countries of the Far East, including China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Mongolia owe much of what is best in their own cultures to the inspiration of ideas imported from India. The West, too, has its own debts… No conquest or invasion, nor forced conversion [was ever] imposed.” And this is the basis for the mystery of the widespread nature of the ancient Vedic empire, which in many ways still exists today. It was this subtle spiritual dimension that spread all over the world.


As Gunnar Thompson also explains, regarding the capability of Indian ships: “Extensive maritime trade between India and the islands of Indonesia is well documented and illustrated. A 1st century Hindu manuscript, the Periplus, mentions two-mates ships with dual rudders mounted on the sides in the fashion of ancient Mediterranean vessels. The ships are portrayed in 2nd century Indian murals. Chinese chronicles of the same era describe seven-masted Hindu vessels 160 feet in length carrying 700 passengers and 1000 metric tons of merchandise. Buddhist records of a 5th century pilgrimage from Ceylon to Java report vessels large enough to carry 200 passengers.” 4

India’s ancient maritime history is referenced as far back as the early Vedic texts. This is taken from my book, Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture (pp. 143-45). As we look at other cultures, what is often left out is the advanced nature of the ancient Indian civilization. As we look over this information, it becomes clear that ancient India had the means for sailing over great expanses of water, and also had a thriving trade industry based on shipping.

The fact is that the ancient Vedic texts, such as the Rig Veda, Shatapatha Brahmana, and others refer to the undertaking of naval expeditions and travel to distant places by sea-routes that were well-known at the time. For example, the Rig Veda (1.25.7) talks of how Varuna has full knowledge of all the sea routes that were followed by ships. Then (2.48.3) we find wherein merchants would also send out ships for foreign trade. 5

Another verse (1.56.2) speaks of merchants going everywhere and frequently to every part of the sea. Another verse (7.88.3-4) relates that there was a voyage by Vasistha and Varuna in a ship skillfully fitted for the trip. Then there is a verse (1.116.3) that tells of an expedition on which Tugra, the Rishi king, sent his son Bhujya against some of his enemies in the distant islands. However, Bhujya becomes ship wrecked by a storm, with all of his followers on the ocean, “Where there is no support, or rest for the foot or hand.” From this he is rescued by the twin Ashvins in their hundred oared galley. Similarly, the Atharva Veda mentions boats which are spacious, well constructed and comfortable.

We should keep in mind that the Rig Veda is said to go back to around 3000 BCE, which means the sailing capacity for the Vedic civilization of ancient India was well under way by that time.

An assortment of other books also referred to sea voyages of the ancient mariners. Of course, we know that the epics, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata referred to ships and sea travel, but the Puranas also had stories of sea voyages, such as in the Matsya, Varaha, and Markandeya Puranas. Other works of Classical Sanskrit included them as well, such as Raghuvamsha, Ratnavali, Dashakumaracharita, Kathasaritsagara, Panchatantra, Rajatarangini, etc.

Actually, ships have been mentioned in numerous verses through the Vedic literature, such as in the Vedas, Brahmanas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and so on. For example, in the Ayodhya Kand of Valmiki’s Ramayana, you can find the description of such big ships that could hold hundreds of warriors: “Hundreds of oarsmen inspire five hundred ships carrying hundreds of ready warriors.” The conclusion is that ships have been in use since the Vedic age.

In the Ramayana, in the Kishkindha Kand, Sugriva gives directions to the Vanar leaders for going to the cities and mountains in the islands of the sea, mainly Yavadvipa (Java) and Suvarna Dvipa (Sumatra) in the quest to find Sita. The Ramayana also talks of how merchants traveled beyond the sea and would bring presents to the kings.

In the Mahabharata (Sabha Parva), Sahadeva is mentioned as going to several islands in the sea to defeat the kings. In the Karna Parva, the soldiers of the Kauravas are described as merchants, “whose ships have come to grief in the midst of the unfathomable deep.” And in the same Parva, a verse describes how the sons of Draupadi rescued their maternal uncles by supplying them with chariots, “As ship wrecked merchants are rescued by means of boats.” However, another verse therein relates how the Pandavas escaped from the destruction planned for them with the help of a ship that was secretly and especially constructed for the purpose under the orders of the kind hearted Vidura. The ship was large, and provided machinery and all kinds of weapons of war, and able to defy storms and waves.

Also, in Kautilya’s Arthashastra we find information of the complete arrangements of boats maintained by the navy and the state. It also contains information on the duties of the various personnel on a ship. For example, the Navadhyaksha is the superintendent of the ship, Niyamaka is the steerman, and Datragrahaka is the holder of the needle, or the compass. Differences in ships are also described regarding the location of the cabins and the purpose of the ship itself. 6

In the Brihat Samhita by Varahamihir of the 5th century, and in the Sanskrit text Yukti Kalpataru by Narapati Raja Bhoj of the 11th century, you can find information about an assortment of ships, sizes, and materials with which they were built, and the process of manufacturing them. For example, one quote explains, “Ships made of timbers of different classes possess different properties. Ships built of inferior wood do not last long and rot quickly. Such ships are liable to split with a slight shock.” 7 It also gives further details on how to furnish a ship for accommodating the comfort of passengers, or for transporting goods, animals, or royal artifacts. The ships of three different sizes were the Sarvamandira, Madhyamarmandira, and the Agramandira.

The Shangam works of the South Indian Tamils have numerous references to the shipping activities that went on in that region, along with the ports, articles of trade, etc. Such texts included Shilappadikaram Manimekalai, Pattinappalai, Maduraikhanji, Ahananuru, Purananuru, etc. 8

Ancient Indians traveled to various parts of the world not only for purposes of trade, but to also propagate their culture. This is how the Vedic influence spread around the world. For example, Kaundinya crossed the ocean and reached south-east Asia. From there, evidence shows that rock inscriptions in the Sun Temple at Jawayuko in the Yukatan province of Mexico mentions the arrival of the great sailor Vusulin in Shaka Samvat 854, or the year 932. In the excavations in Lothal in Gujarat, it seems that trade with countries like Egypt was carried out from that port around 2540 BCE. Then from 2350 BCE, small boats docked here, which necessitated the construction of the harbor for big ships, which was followed by the city that was built around it. 9

In the period of 984-1042 CE, the Chola kings dispatched great naval expeditions which occupied parts of Burma, Malaya and Sumatra, while suppressing the piratical activities of the Sumatra warlords.

In 1292 CE, when Marco Polo came to India, he described Indian ships as “built of fir timber, having a sheath of boards laid over the planking in every part, caulked with iron nails. The bottoms were smeared with a preparation of quicklime and hemp, pounded together and mixed with oil from a certain tree which is a better material than pitch.” He further writes: “Ships had double boards which were joined together. They were made strong with iron nails and the crevices were filled with a special kind of gum. These ships were so huge that about 300 boatmen were needed to row them. About 3000-4000 gunny bags could be loaded in each ship. They had many small rooms for people to live in. These rooms had arrangements for all kinds of comfort. Then when the bottom or the base started to get spoiled, a new layer would be added on. Sometimes, a boat would have even six layers, one on top of another.”

A fourteenth century description of an Indian ship credits it with a carrying capacity of over 700 people giving a fair idea of both ship building skills and maritime ability of seamen who could successfully man such large vessels.

Another account of the early fifteenth century describes Indian ships as being built in compartments so that even if one part was shattered, the next remained intact, thus enabling the ship to complete her voyage. This was perhaps a forerunner of the modern day subdivision of ships into watertight compartments, a concept then totally alien to the Europeans.

Another traveler named Nicolo Conti came to India in the 15th century. He wrote: “The Indian ships are much bigger than our ships. Their bases are made of three boards in such a way that they can face formidable storms. Some ships are made in such a way that if one part becomes useless, the rest of the parts can do the work.”

Another visitor to India named Bertham writes: “The wooden boards are joined in such a way that not even a drop of water can go through it. Sometimes, the masts of cotton are placed in such a way that a lot of air can be filled in. The anchors were sometimes made of heavy stones. It would take a ship eight days to come from Iran to Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari).” 10

The famous archeologist Padmashri Dr. Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar says, “I had gone to England for studies, I was told about Vasco da Gama’s diary available in a museum in which he has described how he came to India.” He writes that when his ship came near Zanzibar in Africa, he saw a ship three times bigger than the size of his ship. He took an African interpreter to meet the owner of that ship who was a Gujarati trader named Chandan who used to bring pine wood and teak from India along with spices and take back diamonds to the port of Cochin. When Vasco da Gama went to meet him, Chandan was sitting in ordinary attire, on a cot. When the trader asked Vasco where he was going, the latter said that he was going to visit India. At this, the trader said that he was going back to India the very next day and if he wanted, he could follow him. So, Vasco da Gama came to India following him. 11

Sir William Jones, in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society–1901, relates how the Hindus, “must have been navigators in the age of Manu, because bottomry is mentioned in it. In the Ramayana, practice of bottomry is distinctly noticed.” Bottomry is the lending of insurance money for marine activities. 12

In this way, Indians excelled in the art of ship-building, and even the English found Indian models of ships far superior of their own and worth copying. The Indian vessels united elegance and utility and fine workmanship. Sir John Malcom observed: “Indian vessels are so admirably adapted to the purpose for which they are required that, notwithstanding their superior stance, Europeans were unable during an intercourse with India for two centuries, to suggest or to bring into successful practice one improvement.” 13

Mexican archeologist Rama Mena points out in his book, Mexican Archeology, that Mayan physical features are like those of India. He also mentions how Nahuatl, Zapotecan, and Mayan languages had Hindu-European affinities.

In this line of thinking, some American tribes have traditions of having ancestral homelands across the Pacific. A legend of Guatemala speaks of an ancient migration from across the Pacific to the city of Tulan. A tribe from Peru and Tucano of Columbia also relate in their traditions how ancestors sailed across the Pacific to South America. Tales of trade over the Pacific were also related to the earliest of Spanish explorers in Central America. 14

Georgia anthropologist Joseph Mahan, author of The Secret (1983), has identified intriguing similarities between the Yueh-chic tribes of India-Pakistan and the Yuchi tribe of North America’s Eastern Woodlands. The Yuchi tradition also tells of a foreign homeland from across the sea–presumably in India. 15

This information makes it clear that ancient India had the means to reach and in fact did sail to many parts of the world, including the ancient Americas, long before most countries. This is further corroborated by information in the chapter of Vedic culture in America in Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence, for those of you who would like more information on this.


Further evidence shows that shipping from Bharatvarsha was a national enterprise and the country was a leader in world trade relations amongst such people as the Phoenicians, Jews, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans in ancient times, and more recently with Egyptians, Romans, Turks, Portuguese, Dutch, and English.

The simple fact is that India’s maritime history predates the birth of Western civilization. The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2300 BCE during the Harappan civilization, near the present day Mangrol harbor on the Gujarat coast.

The earliest portrayal of an Indian ship is found on an Indus Valley seal from about 3000 BCE. The ship is shown being elevated at both bow and stern, with a cabin in the center. It is likely to have been a simple river boat since it is lacking a mast. Another drawing found at Mohendjodaro on a potsherd shows a boat with a single mast and two men sitting at the far end away from the mast. Another painting of the landing of Vijaya Simha in Ceylon (543 BCE) with many ships is found amongst the Ajanta caves.

That India had a vast maritime trade, even with Greece, is shown by the coins of the Trojans (98-117 CE) and Hadrians (117-138 CE) found on the eastern coast of India, near Pondicherry. This is evidence that Greek traders had to have visited and traded in the port cities of that area.

Kamlesh Kapur explains more about this in Portraits of a Nation: History of India: “Recent archeological excavations at Pattanam in Ernakulum district of Kerala by the Kerala council for Historical Research (KCHR) indicate that there was thriving naval trade around 500 B.C. According to the Director of KCHR, ‘The artifacts recovered from the excavation site suggest that Pattanam, with a hinterland port and a multicultural settlement, may have had links with the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the South China Sea rims since the Early Historic Period of South India.’ KCHR has been getting charcoal samples examined through C-14 and other modern methods to determine the age of these relics. These artifacts were from the Iron Age layer. The archeologists also recovered some parts of a wooden canoe and bollards (stakes used to secure canoes and boats) from a waterlogged area at the site.

“The radiocarbon dating from Pattanam will aid in understanding the Iron Age chronology of Kerala. So far, testing done by C-14 method to determine the ages of the charcoal samples from the lowermost sand deposits in the trenches at Pattanam suggests that their calibrated dates range from 1300 B.C. to 200 B.C. and 2500 B.C. to 100 A.D. Thus there is strong evidence that Kerala had sea trade with several countries in Western Asia and Eastern Europe from the second millennia B.C. onwards.” 16

The influence of the sea on Indian Kingdoms continued to grow with the passage of time. North-west India came under the influence of Alexander the great, who built a harbor at Patala where the Indus branches into two, just before entering the Arabian sea. His army returned to Mesopotamia in ships built in Sindh. Records show that in the period after his conquest, Chandragupta Maurya established an admiralty division under a Superintendent of ships as part of his war office, with a charter including responsibility for navigation on the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. History records that Indian ships traded with countries as far as Java and Sumatra, and available evidence indicates that they were also trading with other countries in the Pacific, and Indian Ocean. Even before Alexander, there were references to India in Greek works and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantity of gold from Rome, in payment for much sought exports such as precious stones, skins, clothes, spices, sandalwood, perfumes, herbs, and indigo.

The port cities included such places as Nagapattinam, Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), Udipi, Kollam, Tuticorin, Mamallapuram, Mangalore, Kannur, Thane, and others, which facilitated trade with many foreign areas, such as Indonesia, China, Arabia, Rome, and countries in Africa. Many other inland towns and cities contributed to this trade, such as Madurai, Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli, Ellora, Melkote, Nasik, and so on, which became large centers of trade. Silk, cotton, sandalwood, woodwork, and various types of produce were the main items of trade.

Trades of this volume could not have been conducted over the countries without appropriate navigational skills. Two Indian astronomers of repute, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, having accurately mapped the positions of celestial bodies, developed a method of computing a ship’s position from the stars. A crude forerunner of the modern magnetic compass called Matsyayantra was being used around the fourth or fifth century CE. Between the fifth and tenth centuries CE, the Vijayanagara and Kalinga kingdoms of southern and eastern India had established their rules over Malaya, Sumatra and Western Java. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands then served as an important midway for trade between the Indian peninsula and these kingdoms, as also with China. The daily revenue from the western regions in the period 844-848 CE was estimated to be 200 maunds (eight tons) of gold.

Not only was there trade from ancient times, going to many areas of the globe, but other countries may have also been going to India. It is reported that marine archaeologists have found a stone anchor in the Gulf of Khambhat with a design similar to the ones used by Chinese and Japanese ships in the 12th-14th century CE, giving the first offshore evidence indicating India’s trade relations with the two Asian countries. The stone anchor was found during an exploration headed by two marine archaeologists, A. S. Gaur and B. K. Bhatt, from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO). “Though there are a lot of references and Chinese pottery (found from coastal sites) indicating trade relations between the two Asian nations (China and Japan) in the past, but this anchor from the offshore region is the first evidence from Indian waters. Similar type of anchors have been found from Chinese and Japanese waters,” stated Mr. Gaur. 17

Furthermore, another recent finding that shows the ancient advancement of Indian maritime capabilities is the evidence that Indian traders may have gone to South America long before Columbus discovered America. Investigation of botanical remains from an ancient site, Tokwa at the confluence of Belan and Adwa rivers, Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh (UP), has brought to light the agriculture-based subsistence economy during the Neolithic culture (3rd-2nd millennium BCE). They subsisted on various cereals, supplemented by leguminous seeds. Evidence of oil-yielding crops has been documented by recovery of seeds of Linum usitatissimum and Brassica juncea. Fortuitously, an important find among the botanical remains is the seeds of South American custard apple, regarded to have been introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The remains of custard apple as fruit coat and seeds have also been recorded from other sites in the Indian archaeological context, during the Kushana Period (CE 100-300) in Punjab and Early Iron Age (1300-700 BCE) in UP. The factual remains of custard apple, along with other stray finds, favor a group of specialists to support with diverse arguments the reasoning of Asian-American contacts way before the discovery of America by Columbus in 1498. 18


In the south especially there was an established navy in many coastal areas. The long coastline with many ports for trade for sending out ships and receiving traders from foreign countries necessitated a navy to protect the ships and ports from enemies. According to records, the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, and the Cheras had large naval fleets of ocean bound ships because these rulers also led expeditions against other places, such as Malayasia, Bali, and Ceylon.

The decline of Indian maritime power commenced in the thirteenth century, and Indian sea power had almost disappeared when the Portuguese arrived in India. They later imposed a system of license for trade, and set upon all Asian vessels not holding permits from them.

The piratical activities of the Portuguese were challenged by the Zamorins of Calicut when Vasco da Gama, after obtaining permission to trade, refused to pay the customs levy. Two major engagements were fought during this period. First, the battle of Cochin in 1503, clearly revealed the weakness of Indian navies and indicated to the Europeans an opportunity for building a naval empire. The second engagement off Diu in 1509 gave the Portuguese mastery over Indian seas and laid the foundation of European control over Indian waters for the next 400 years.

Indian maritime interests witnessed a remarkable resurgence in the late seventeenth century, when the Siddhis of Janjira allied with the Moghuls to become a major power on the West Coast. This led the Maratha King Shivaji to create his own fleet, which was commanded by able admirals like Sidhoji Gujar and Kanhoji Angre. The Maratha Fleet along with the legendary Kanhoji Angre held sway over the entire Konkan Coast keeping the English, Dutch and Portuguese at bay. The death of Angre in 1729 left a vacuum and resulted in the decline of Maratha sea power. Despite the eclipse of Indian kingdoms with the advent of western domination, Indian shipbuilders continued to hold their own well into the nineteenth century. The Bombay Dock completed in July 1735 is in use even today. Ships displacing 800 to 1000 tons were built of teak at Daman and were superior to their British counterparts both in design and durability. This so agitated British shipbuilders on the River Thames that they protested against the use of Indian built ships to carry trade from England. Consequently, active measures were adopted to cripple the Indian shipbuilding industries. Nevertheless, many Indian ships were inducted into the Royal Navy, such as HMS Hindostan in 1795, the frigate Cornwallis in 1800, HMS Camel in 1801, and HMS Ceylon in 1808. HMS Asia carried the flag of Admiral Codrington at the battle of Navarino in 1827, the last major sea battle to be fought entirely under sail.

Two Indian built ships witnessed history in the making. The Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong to the British, was signed onboard HMS Cornwallis in 1842. The “Star Spangled Banner” national anthem of the USA was composed by Francis Scott Key onboard HMS Minden when the ship was on a visit to Baltimore. Numerous other ships were also constructed, the most famous being HMS Trincomalee, which was launched on 19 October, 1817, carrying 86 guns and displacing 1065 tons. This ship was latter renamed Foudroyant.

The period of 4000 years between Lothal and Bombay Dock, therefore, offers tangible evidence of seafaring skills the nation possessed in the days of sail. In the early seventeenth century, when British naval ships came to India, they discovered the existence of considerable shipbuilding and repair skills, as well as seafaring people. An ideal combination was thus available for supporting a fighting force in India. 19


When the westerners made contact with India, they were amazed to see their ships. Until the 17th century, European ships were a maximum of 600 tonnes. But in India, they saw such big ships as the Gogha, which was more than 1500 tonnes. The European companies started using these ships and opened many new factories to make Indian artisans manufacture ships. In 1811, Lt. Walker writes, “The ships in the British fleet had to be repaired every 12th year. But the Indian ships made of teak would function for more than 50 years without any repair.” The East India Company had a ship called Dariya Daulat which worked for 87 years without any repairs. Durable woods like rosewood, sal and teak were used for this purpose.

The French traveler Waltzer Salvins writes in his book Le Hindu, in 1811, “Hindus were in the forefront of ship-building and even today they can teach a lesson or two to the Europeans. The British, who were very apt at learning the arts, learnt a lot of things about ship building from the Hindus. There is a very good blend of beauty and utility in Indian ships and they are examples of Indian handicrafts and their patience.” Between 1736 and 1863, 300 ships were built at factories in Mumbai. Many of them were included in the Royal Fleet. Of these, the ship called Asia was 2289 tonnes and had 84 cannons. Ship building factories were set up in Hoogly, Sihat, Chittagong, Dacca, etc. In the period between 1781 to 1821, in Hoogly alone 272 ships were manufactured which together weighed 122,693 tonnes.

In this connection, Suresh Soni, in his book India’s Glorious Scientific Tradition, explains how India was deprived of its marine industry, but also from any notation in its ancient history of its ship-building ability. He writes:

“The shipping magnates of Britain could not tolerate the Indian art of ship manufacturing and they started compelling the East India Company not to use Indian ships. Investigations were frequently carried out in this regard. In 1811, Col. Walker gave statistics to prove that it was much cheaper to make Indian ships and that they were very sturdy. If only Indian ships were included in the British fleet, it would lead to great savings. This pinched the British shipbuilders and the traders. Dr. Taylor writes, ‘When the Indian ships laden with Indian goods reached the port of London, it created such a panic amongst the British traders as would not have been created, had they seen the enemy fleet of ships on the River Thames, ready for attack.’

“The workers at the London Port were among the first to make hue and cry and said that ‘all our work will be ruined and families will starve to death.’ The Board of Directors of East India Company wrote that ‘all the fear and respect that the Indian seamen had towards European behavior was lost when they saw our social life once they came here. When they return to their country, they will propagate bad things about us amongst the Asians and we will lose our superiority and the effect will be harmful.’ At this, the British Parliament set up a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Peel.

“Despite disagreement amongst the members of the committee on the basis of this report, a law was passed in 1814 according to which the Indians lost the right to become British sailors and it became compulsory to employ at least three-fourth British sailors on British ships. No ship which did not have a British master was allowed to enter London Port and a rule was made that only ships made by the British in England could bring goods to England. For many reasons, there was laxity in enforcing these rules, but from 1863 they were observed strictly. Such rules which would end the ancient art of ship-building, were formulated in India also. Tax on goods brought in Indian ships was raised and efforts were made to isolate them from trade. Sir William Digby has rightly written, ‘This way, the Queen of the western world killed the Queen of the eastern oceans.’ In short, this is the story about the destruction of the Indian art of ship-building.” 20

Of course, let us not forget that not only was commerce between ancient India and other countries made through maritime capabilities, but also through land routes that extended to China, Turkistan, Persia, Babylon, and also to Egypt, Greece, and Rome, which continued to prosper.

These days, India is still very much in the ship building business, mostly in small and medium size ships. As of 2009 there were 27 major shipyards, primarily in Mumbai, Goa, Vishakhapatnam, and Cochin.


In conclusion, the fact is that the ancient Vedic civilization had a strong connection with the sea, and maritime abilities. Even in their language of Vedic Sanskrit, words such as samudra, salil, sagar, and sindhu indicated the sea or large rivers. The word sindhuka also meant sailor, which became the name Sindbad for the sailor in Arabian Nights. Also, the English word navigation actually originates from the Sanskrit word Navagati.

Further evidence has been shown, such as that presented at a 1994 conference on seafaring in Delhi where papers had been presented that shows how Indian cotton was exported to South and Central America back in 2500 BCE. Another report suggested Indian cotton reached Mexico as far back as 4000 BCE, back to the Rig Vedic period. According to Sean McGrail, a marine archeologist at Oxford University, seagoing ships called ‘clinkers’ that were thought to be of Viking origin, were known in India a good deal earlier. Thus, India’s maritime trade actually flourished many years ago, along with many other of its advancements that are hardly recognized or accounted for today. 21

This helps reveal that India’s maritime trade actually flourished more and far earlier than most people realize. This was one of the ways Vedic culture had spread to so many areas around the world. Though the talents and capabilities that came out of ancient India’s Vedic civilization have often remained unrecognized or even demeaned when discussed, nonetheless, the Vedic people were far more advanced in culture and developments then many people seem to care to admit, and it is time to recognize it for what it was.


1. Lehrburger, Carl, Secrets of Ancient America: Archaeoastronomy and the Legacy of the Phoenicians, Celts, and Other Forgotten Explorers, Bear & Company, Rochester, Vermont, 2015, p.209.

2. Kuppuram, G., India Through the Ages, pp 65..527-31.

3. Ibid., pp.527-31.

4. Thompson, Gunnar, American Discovery: Our Multicultural Heritage, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, 2012, p.216.

5. Rao, S. R., Shipping in Ancient India, in India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, Published by Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai, 1970, p. 83.

6. Science and Technology in Ancient India, by Editorial Board of Vijnan Bharati, Mumbai, August, 2002, p. 105.

7. Ibid., pp. 108-09.

8. Ramachandran, K. S., Ancient Indian Maritime Adventures, in India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, Published by Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai, 1970, p. 74.

9. Soni, Suresh, India’s Glorious Scientific Tradition, Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2010, p. 68.

10. Ibid., p. 72.

11. Ibid., p. 73.

12. Shah, Niranjan, Little Known Facts About Shipping Activity in Ancient India, in India Tribune, January 8, 2006.

13. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 1) (Singhal, D. P., Red Indians or Asiomericans–Indian Settlers in Middle and South America, India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan Trust, Chennai, India 1970, p.644.

14. Thompson, Gunnar, American Discovery: Our Multicultural Heritage, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, 2012, p.223.

15. Thompson, Gunnar, American Discovery: Our Multicultural Heritage, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, 2012, p.235.

16. Kapur, Kamlesh, Portraits of a Nation: History of India, Sterling Publishers, Private Limited, 2010, pp. 414-15.


18. http://www.ias. jan252008/ 248.pdf.


20. Soni, Suresh, India’s Glorious Scientific Tradition, Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2010, p. 74-75.

21. Frawley, Dr. David, and Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram, Hidden Horizons, Unearthing 10,000 Years of Indian Culture, Swaminarayan Aksharpith, Ahmedabad, India, 2006, p. 79.

A Look at India From the Views of Other Scholars

(Excerpt from Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire by Stephen Knapp)

First of all, why should we consider that Ancient India was so important? What did it have to offer anyone? And what did others have to say about Vedic India? And what difference does it make if it did spread over such a wide area and into so many different countries? And even if it did, why would this make a difference today?

If we have not studied the ancient Vedic culture, then there may be more about it that we should understand. After all, it is still the oldest living indigenous culture on the planet. It is not dead yet, and never will be. That alone says something of its universal nature. And if we have studied it, then we should review some of the impressions that India made in the minds of other people to better understand its importance.


First of all, as explained in The Ancient World by John Haywood, “India is the birthplace of two of the world’s great religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, nearly half the world’s population live in countries whose cultural development has been influenced by one or both of these religions. Apart from India itself, these countries include China, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia. The influence of ancient India was not just limited to its religions. Indian mathematicians were the first in the Old World to discover the mathematical value of zero, and gave the world quadratic equations and the now universally used system of ‘Arabic’ numerals. The alphabets of Tibet, Mongolia and all of the Southeast Asian languages are of Indian origin. Yet despite their wide-ranging influence, the early civilizations of the Indian subcontinent are the least well known of any of the ancient civilizations.” 1

Let me add that how the influence of the Vedic culture of ancient India, Bharatvarsha, spread throughout the world is also hardly understood. This is why I have put together the present volume. And, as mentioned above, the advancements that were developed within and spread outside of India is also rarely recognized, which is why I have explained these ancient advancements, many of which the world now takes for granted, in my book Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture.

Many others also had complimentary things to say about the importance of India and its Vedic traditions, such as Mark Twain: “Let us remember,… That India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit, the mother of Europe’s languages; that she was the mother of our philosophy, mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother, through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.” 2

Mark Twain went on to say: “This is India! Cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations,… one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined. India had the start of the whole world in the beginning of things. She had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects. India is the prime source of human development.” 3

William H Gilbert said in his Peoples of India: “In the history of human culture, the contribution of the Indian people in all fields has been of the greatest importance. From India we are said to have derived domestic poultry, shellac, lemons, cotton, jute, rice, sugar, indigo, the buffalo, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, sugar-cane, the games of chess, pachisi, and polo, the zero concept, the decimal system, the basis of certain philological concepts, a wealth of fables with moral import, an astonishing variety of artistic products, and innumerable ideas of philosophy and religion such as asceticism and monasticism.”

In this same regard, Rabindranatha Tagore also related, “I cannot but bring to your mind those days when the whole of Eastern Asia, from Burma to Japan was united with India in the closest ties of friendship.”

A. L. Basham also felt that India was extremely important, as he says in his Cultural History of India: “There are four main cradles of civilization, from which elements of culture have spread to other parts of the world. These are, moving from east to west, China, the Indian subcontinent, the ‘Fertile Crescent’, and the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy. Of these four areas, India deserves a larger share of the credit than she is usually given, because, on a minimum assessment, she has deeply affected the religious life of most of Asia, as well as extending her influence, directly or indirectly, to other parts of the world.”

Pierre Sonnerat also explained, “We find among the Indians the vestiges of the most remote antiquity… We know that all peoples came there to draw the elements of their knowledge… India, in her splendour, gave religions and laws to all the other peoples; Egypt and Greece owed to her both their fables and their wisdom.” 4

The German historian and novelist Friedrich Schlegel saw in Sanskrit the “original language,” or what is now called the Proto-Indo-European language, and declared in 1803 that, “Everything without exception is of Indian origin… ” 5 Also, “Whether directly or indirectly, all nations are originally nothing but Indian colonies… The oriental antiquity could, if we consented to deepen it, bring us back more safely towards the divine.” 6

Regardless of how much various religions in the past or even today have tried to wipe out or minimize the advanced nature of Vedic culture, they still could not do that, as explained as follows by Higgins: “The peninsula of India would be one of the first peopled countries, and its inhabitants would have all the habits of the progenitors of man before the flood in as much perfection or more than any other nation… In short, whatever learning man possessed before his dispersion may be expected to be found here, and of this, Hindustan affords innumerable traces… notwithstanding … the fruitless efforts of our priests to disguise it.” 7

Even Vedic culture’s deep spirituality is found to be the underlying basis of other religions, as explained by Maurice Maeterlinck: “Thanks to the labors of a science which is comparatively recent, and more especially to the researches of the students of Hindu and Egyptian antiquities, it is very much easier today than it was not so long ago to discover the source, to ascend the course and unravel the underground network of that great mysterious river which since the beginning of history has been flowing beneath all the religions, all the faiths, and all the philosophies: in a word, beneath all the visible and everyday manifestations of human thought. It is now hardly to be contested that this source is to be found in ancient India. Thence in all probability the sacred teaching spread into Egypt, found its way to ancient Persia and Chaldea, permeated the Hebrew race, and crept into Greece and the north of Europe, finally reaching China and even America.” 8

Professor James Traub, in India–The Challenge of Change, goes on to say: “Five thousand years ago, civilization of India was age-old. This civilization should be much older with many millennia of human endeavor behind it. Five thousand years ago, when the peoples of Europe were hauling stones across the face of the continent and grubbing out a meager existence, Indians throughout what is now western and southern Pakistan and Punjab, and even farther to the East, were living in elaborately designed cities, with sturdy houses, broad, straight roads, public baths, and drainage systems that were hardly equaled until the Roman era three thousand years later…. But five thousand years ago, according to archeologist John Marshal, the Indus Valley civilization was already age-old and stereotyped on Indian soil, with many millennia of human endeavor behind it. Usually we think of Mesopotamia as the cradle of civilization, but evidence suggests that the society of northwestern India, which has preserved its essential spirit over countless generations, deserve equal billing.”

Not only was the Vedic Indian influence recognized to the west of India, but also far to the east, as explained by Rene Grousset in Farther India and the Malay Archipelago (Volume II): “In the high plateau of eastern Iran, in the oases of Serindia, in the arid wastes of Tibet, Mongolia, and Manchuria, in the ancient civilized lands of China and Japan, in the lands of the primitive Mons and Khmers and other tribes of India-China, in the countries of the Malaya-Polynesians, in Indonesia and Malay, India left the indelible impress of her high culture, not only upon religion, but also upon art, and literature, in a word, all the higher things of spirit… There is an obstinate prejudice thanks to which India is constantly represented as having lived, as it were, hermetically sealed up in its age-old civilization, apart from the rest of Asia. Nothing could be more exaggerated. During the first eight centuries of our era, so far as religion and art are concerned, central Asia was a sort of Indian colony. It is often forgotten that in the early Middle Ages there existed a ‘Greater India,’ a vast Indian empire. A man coming from the Ganges or the Deccan to Southeast Asia felt as much at home there as in his own native land. In those days the Indian Ocean really deserved its name.”

Will Durant in his Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, goes on to say, “It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to us such questionable gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all, our numerals and our decimal system. But these are not the essence of her spirit; they are trifles compared to what we may learn from her in the future. As invention, industry and trade bind the continents together, or as they fling us into conflict with Asia, we shall study its civilization more closely, and shall absorb, even in enmity, some of its ways and thoughts. Perhaps, in return for conquest, arrogance and spoliation, India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of the mature mind, the quiet content of the unacquisitive soul, the calm of the understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all living things.”

However, that may depend on how much the people of India retain their culture. Otherwise, the more Westernized they become in their thinking and values, the more the above statement may be called into question. Nonetheless, to remain aware of its possibilities, we should not forget the well-known and glowing words that Max Muller had for India and its culture: “If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow–in some parts a very paradise on earth–I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. If I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more universal, in fact more truly human, again I should point to India.” 9

Lord Curzon, while Viceroy of India, in his address at the Great Delhi Durbar in 1901, expressed, “Powerful empires existed and flourished here (in India) while Englishmen were still wandering, painted, in the woods, and while the British Colonies were still a wilderness and a jungle. India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind, than any other terrestrial unit in the universe.”

From a more political perspective, Lord Curzon, before he went to India as a Viceroy, two or three times emphasized the importance of India to the British Empire when he said: “India was the pivot of our Empire. If this Empire lost any other part of its dominion we could survive, but if we lost India, the sun of our Empire would be set.” (Times, 3/12/1898)

Lord Roberts, after retiring for good from India, also said a similar statement to the London Chamber of Commerce: “I rejoice to learn that you recognize how indissolubly the prosperity of the United Kingdom is bound with the retention of that vast Eastern Empire.” (Times, 25/5/1893)

“That retention of our Eastern Empire is essential to the greatness and prosperity of the United Kingdom.” (Times, 29/7/1893)

“However efficient and well-equipped the army of India may be, were it indeed absolute perfection, and were its numbers considerably more than they are at present, our greatest strength must ever rest on the firm base of a united and contented India.” 10

In this way, the Vedic empire was a different kind of empire and showed its influence by its qualities and beneficial nature to one and all, rather than by power and military dominance. In A History of India by Kulke and Rothermund (1986, p.152), they explain how the influence of ancient India traveled over many lands: “The transmission of Indian culture to distant parts of Central Asia, China, Japan, and especially Southeast Asia is certainly one of the greatest achievements of Indian history or even the history of mankind. None of the other great civilizations–not even Hellenic–had been able to achieve a similar success without military conquest.”

The attractive nature of the Vedic Aryan Culture is explained more completely by David Frawley: “In the beginning there was one culture–that of the Spirit–and one language–that of Truth. This culture was outwardly one of worship and inwardly one of meditation. The language was one of mantra and communication was from the heart. The outer life was simple. There were small cities and villages, mainly along the rivers. Agriculture was practiced with the use of domesticated animals. Boats and wagons were used for travel. The emphasis was on the inner life and the outer life was not considered important, nor was there any great effort or need to improve it. Nature was abundant. This culture did not come from the outside but came from within and was guided by the sages, who generally lived in retreat in the mountains, who visited the peoples periodically and gave them instruction. From it later cultures diversified, along with divisions of language and religion, as we gradually fell from truth and our connection to the Divine to pursue outward and sensate values.” 11

Some additional information of the peaceful and developed ways of the Harappan culture is described by Michel Danino in his book, The Invasion that Never Was. “Dancing, painting, sculpture and music (there is evidence of drums and stringed instruments) were part of Harappan culture. Probably drama and puppet shows too, as a number of masks were found. The Harappans may also have been the inventors of the game of chess, of which one terracotta set was found at Lothal. Other kinds of gaming board and pieces have come up at many sites, as well as cubical dice identical to those used today. Children do not seem to have been neglected, judging from the exquisite care with which craftsmen fashioned toy oxcarts and figurines, spinning tops, marbles, rattles and whistles. And they could also amuse themselves with pet dogs and monkeys, pet squirrels and birds, too.

“Naturally, with hundreds of rural settlements, agriculture was practiced on a wide scale, the result of a long tradition going back four millennia. There is evidence of networks of canals for irrigation, of carefully shaped ploughs and ingenious tilling methods: at Kalibangan, for instance, excavations revealed a field ploughed with two perpendicular networks of furrows, in which higher crops (such as mustard) were grown in spaced-out north-south furrows, thus casting shorter shadows, while shorter crops (such as gram) filled contiguous east-west furrows. In the Indus valley, wheat, barley, pulses, a number of vegetables, and cotton were some of the common crops, and were planted following the two-season pattern still in use today (rabi or winter, kharif or summer); in Gujarat, rice and various millets were grown, too.” 12


One of the major factors of the Vedic society was their spiritual orientation, which many people seek out even today. Max Muller mentioned this in one of his books: “I wish to point out that there was another sphere of intellectual activity in which the Hindus excelled–the meditative and transcendent–and that here we might learn from them some lessons of life which we ourselves are but too apt to ignore or to despise.”13

It was the Vedic philosophy that charmed and attracted people. As the Britisher Sir Charles Elliot explains, more than military or economic power, Vedic India spread into the hearts of people because of her way of thinking, and through that process spread over the globe. “Scant justice is done to India’s position in the world by those European histories which recount the exploits of her invader and leave the impression that her own people were a feeble dreamy fold, sundered from the rest of mankind by their seas and mountain frontiers. Such a picture takes no account of the intellectual conquests of the Hindus. Even their political conquests were not contemptible, and are remarkable for the distance, if not the extent, of the territories occupied… But such military or commercial invasions are insignificant compared with the spread of Indian thought.”

Sir William Jones (1746-94) once said about his admiration for India: “I am in love with Gopia, charmed by Crishen (Krishna), an enthusiastic admirer of Ram and a devout adorer of Brihma (Brahma), Bishen (Vishnu), Mahisher (Maheshwara); not to mention that Judishteir, Arjen, Corno (Yudhishtira, Arjun and Karna) and the other warriors of the Mahabharata appear greater in my eyes than Agamemnon, Ajax and Achilles appeared when I first read the Iliad.” 14

Arthur Schopenhauer, the German scholar (1788-1860), as quoted by Nehru, 15 once said that he expected Vedic Dharma to become accepted by the majority of people: “From every sentence (of the Upanishads) deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole world is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit… In the whole world there is no study … so beneficial and as elevating as that of the Upanishads… (They) are products of the highest wisdom … It is destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.”

It was also Schopenhauer who said, “The truth was recognized by the sages of India.” 16


Much of the reason for the qualities of ancient India and its great sages are held and can be seen by the greatness of the Vedic texts. This has been recognized by numerous scholars over the years. Here are a few, such as Professor Paul William Roberts in Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India: “The Vedas still represent eternal truth in the purest form ever written.”

Of course, we know that Henry David Thoreau greatly admired the Vedic literature, as mentioned in Quotes of Henry David Thoreau: “What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me like the light of a higher and purer luminary, which describes a loftier course through a purer stratum. It rises on me like the full moon after the stars have come out, wading through some far stratum in the sky.”

He also said in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions.”

Another famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is, “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

Even Aldous Huxley once related, “The Bhagavad Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value of mankind. The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the spiritual thoughts ever to have been made.” 17

Annie Besant brings up another idea, that even westerners who are now drawn to the rare teachings of the Vedic philosophy are experiencing an attraction that was attained in a previous life. In India: Essays and Lectures she says: “Among the priceless teachings that may be found in the great Indian epic Mahabharata, there is none so rare and priceless as the Gita… This is the India of which I speak–the India which, as I said, is to me the Holy Land. For those who, though born for this life in a Western land, and clad in a Western body, can yet look back to earlier incarnations in which they drank the milk of spiritual wisdom from the breast of their true mother–they must feel ever the magic of her immemorial past; must dwell ever under the spell of her deathless fascination; for they are bound to India by all the sacred memories of their past and with her, too, are bound up all the radiant hopes of their future, a future which they know they will share with her who is their true mother in the soul-life.” 18


1. Haywood, John, The Ancient World, New York, Metro Books, 2013, p.54.

2. Twain, Mark, Following the Equator, 1897, p. 347.

3. Ibid.

4. Sonnerat, P., Voyage aux Indes orientales et a la Chine, Paris, 1782.

5. Schlegel, Friedrich von, Letter to Ludwig Tieck of 15 December, 1803, quoted by Leon Poliakov in The Aryan Myth.

6. Schlegel, Friedrich von, Essay on the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, quoted by Roger-Pol Droit in L’Oubli de I’Inde, Paris Presses Universitaires de France, 1989, p. 129.

7. Higgins, The Celtic Druids) (Niranjan Shah, India: The Birthplace of Human Speech, International Vedic Vision, Sands Point, N.Y., 2013, p. 66.

8. Maeterlink, Maurice, in The Great Secret) (Niranjan Shah, Indian Origins of Ancient Civilizations, International Vedic Vision Foundation, New York, 2011, p.4.

9. Muller, F. Max, India, What can it teach us? Published by Rupa & Co., New Delhi, reprint in 2002.

10. Quoted in “Dadabhai Naoroji: Poverty and un-British Rule in India,” 1901, .

11. Frawley, David, Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization, Passage Press, Salt Lake City, 1991, p.239.

12. Danino, Michel, & Sujata Nahar, The Invasion That Never Was, The Mother’s Institute of Research, Delhi, 2000, p.91.

13. Muller, Max, India: What Can it Teach Us?, Longmans, Funk & Wagnalls Company, London, 1999, p.138.

14. Mukharji, S.N., Sir William Jones: A Study in Eighteenth Century British Attitudes to India, Orient Longman, 1987.

15. The Discovery of India, Calcutta, Signet Press, 1946, pp. 92-93.

16. Schopenhauer, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1, trans. E. Payne, New York: Dover Publishing Inc., 1969, p.3.

17. Galav, T. C. Philosophy of Hinduism–An Introduction, p.65.

18. Besant, Annie, India: Essays and Lectures, Vol. IV, The Theosophical Publishing Company, London, 1895, p.11.