By Captain D Chakrapani
There is an omnipresent theme of rich sailing heritage and history that runs across five thousand years of unbroken human history in India and the Indian Ocean region (IOR). The earliest recorded start point is perhaps in 3000 BCE in a small coastal village now in the state of Gujarat. The Monsoon trade winds in the IOR had a great role to play in facilitating this fundamental aspect between ancient trading outposts like Alexandria, Arikamedu in South India, and Java in present-day Indonesia.
The discovery of the steam engine has considerably reduced the ubiquity of this once all-pervasive aspect. However, our own heroes like Commander Dilip Donde (r) and Cdr. Abhilash Tomy (r) continue to prove that technology merely changes the shape; the spirit and challenges remain the same. The power of the sail, across ages, has defined our spirit of exploration and adventure as human beings.
The Indian Navy has had a fine tradition of sail training, which has kept this extraordinary skill alive. As a navy operating two sail training ships and other smaller sail training boats, we are indeed in a very elite club of nations that have maintained these fine traditions, keeping them alive. In maintaining these wonderful ships and sending them out all around the world, the Indian Navy is not only building up the requisite seamanship and leadership skills that are essential for all naval personnel, but it is also reaffirming the glorious maritime heritage of India that extends far beyond the recorded western history of the world.
Another key aspect that is at the heart of sail training in the Indian Navy is the clear and present need to build and foster a strong maritime consciousness amongst our countrymen. For a nation that has been the pioneer in terms of maritime trade, exploration and outreach, the colonial
repression, which started via the continental route around the 13th century CE with the Middle Eastern invaders, kicked off a prolonged period of ignoring the seas. This period led to the second era of colonial oppression under the Western powers, who reached our shores under the power of sails using the very navigation techniques that we had pioneered.
The systematic destruction of indigenous knowledge systems, coupled with the introduction of the western colonial educational system, slowly turned the nation’s youth away from our own rich maritime heritage. The situation deteriorated to the extent that a voyage across the seas was considered blasphemous by the descendants of a civilisation that established the great Hindu empire under the power of sails in the entire Southeast Asia barely a thousand years ago. The majestic Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, the Shiva temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and the ruins of the Ayutthaya temple complex in Thailand still bear witness to the extraordinary maritime heritage and legacy of our country.
Against this backdrop, it becomes essential that the last vestiges of ignoring the sea for long are shrugged off, and the nation rekindles the maritime consciousness that it once embodied. The task is not a simple one, as we are still hobbled with continental problems that drag us down. In the overall scheme of things, it is adequately clear that the strategic space available for our country to grow and expand its influence is certainly in the south. Our illustrious forefathers have already shown us the way. The Indian Navy, by way of sail training assets, seeks to rekindle this flame in the national mindset of our youth.
INS Tarangini, the first Sail Training Ship of the Indian Navy, celebrated her 25th anniversary on November 11, 2022. She has steamed over 2,70,000 nautical miles and successfully undertaken circumnavigation from 2003 to 2004 and five Lokayans in 2005, 2007, 2015, 2018 and the latest one that culminated after seven months in Nov 2022.
The credentials of her sister ship, INS Sudarshini, are no lesser. Commissioned in January 2012, the ship undertook a six-month long 12000nm voyage to 13 ports in nine ASEAN nations retracing the ancient sea routes used by Indian mariners in Southeast Asia. Sudarshini has been sailing the world extensively and has been embarking trainee officers from friendly foreign countries to give them a taste of the ancient ways of the sea.
While the bigger ships have been doing what they have to, it is the smaller sail training ships of the Indian Navy, INSV Mhadei and INSV Tarini, that have blazed a path of glory in the last ten years. Mhadei has been helmed around the world for two successive circumnavigation voyages. Tarini has completed a circumnavigation with an all-women crew. The navy also has other oceangoing sailing boats, such as Bulbul, Hariyal, Kadalpura, and Neelkanth. In addition to intense events, these sail training boats keep undertaking smaller but equally challenging voyages in and around the country. These voyages give an opportunity to a larger number of naval personnel to get a first-hand experience of the vagaries of the sea and build the necessary character to withstand these challenging circumstances.
With robust sail training and the constant endeavour to engender maritime consciousness in the popular discourse, the Indian Navy’s sail training assets continue to trace and retrace the paths that illustrious Indian mariners of yore have pioneered.
Capt D Chakrapani is a serving officer of the Indian Navy. The contents of this article are the personal views of the author and do not represent the official position of the Indian Navy or the Government of India