Wednesday , 24 October 2018

A Survey Of Ancient Konkan Ports

Tensing Rodrigues

Sopara, Ṭhana, Kalyana and Gharapuri probably formed a cluster of ports (very much like the Kutch – Little Rann – Nal-Bhal – Cambay cluster earlier) dispersed over the islands in the Mumbai archipelago. To this cluster, probably we have to add one more: the Borivali or Eksar port. Situated on the eastern bank of the Manori creek, it is about 17 kilometres to the south of Sopara and about 33 kilometres to the north of Gharapuri. Though no archaeological structures or artifacts have yet been found in the area, four virgal or hero stones have been found at Eksar, that portray naval battles. One hero stone has four panels; wherein one panel shows five ships with multiple oars and a single mast on each ship and these ships seem to be battle ready; another panel shows four ships attacking a big ship and casualties are shown on the ship and in the sea. [Tripati, 2006: Ships on Hero Stones from the West Coast of India, in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, no 35, 88] It is highly probable that Borivali/Eksar was a naval establishment; its protective topography makes it eminently suited for the purpose. And, to relate back to our Kathiyavadi identity, it has the hallmark Siva presence in the form of the Mamdapesvara caves. Though the hero stones are dated around the 11th century and the caves around 8th, the origin of the site could be much earlier; excavations could unearth evidence of its earlier history. The earliest sculptures in Kanheri caves, just 10 kilometres away, have been dated to 1st century CE; so also in the Mahakali caves (18 kilometres away) and the Jogesvari caves (15 kilometres). All are carved into a single basalt formation making up the Salcette island of Mumbai. Though we may find it difficult to look at them as associated because of the fact that some of them appear to be Saivaite and others Buddhist, we need to return to the Jaina-Buddhist-Siva triad we have discussed earlier to understand their fundamental cultural unity. [Ancient God of a Modern Metropolis, April 15, 2018]

According to Periplus (dated 1st century CE) there were other major market-towns to the south of Calliena (Kalyana); they were Semylla, Mandagora, Palæpatmæ, Melizigara and Byzantium. [Schoff, 1912: The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea, 43] Semylla probably is Symulla of Ptolemy (dated 2nd century CE) and Chimolo of Hwen Thsang (dated 7th century CE), that is modern Chaul, on the banks of Kundalika river, 60 kilometres to the south of Mumbai. Excavations in 2004 have discovered Roman and Chinese pottery and rare ‘micro-beads’ which were found to be identical to the ones found on the east coast of Africa.

Mandagora could be Bankot at the mouth of the Savitri river; according to Schoff, in former times it was a great centre for the trade in teak and blackwood, and for shipbuilding. Schoff identifies Palæpatmæ with modern Dabhola, in Guhagar taluka of Ratnagiri district, about 160 kilometres south of Mumbai; this is the same place as where the infamous Enron power project was to be set up. But we have argued earlier that Palæpatmæ could be the Valipattana or Balipattana of the South Konkan Shilahara plates of 988, 1008 and 1010 CE; and that this was most probably located somewhere in or around Quepem taluka of Goa, in a territory traditionally occupied by the velipa; therefore velipa+pattana (Valipattana). [Valipattana – The Shilahara Capital, July 23, 2017] But if Periplus is listing the market-towns in order, then Dabhola fits the list better. According to Schoff, Melizigara could be either modern Jayagada or Rajapur, both in Ratnagiri district, and both having maritime activities to date.

Next is the Byzantium. Schoff speculates that this could be Vijaydurga, on the southern bank of the Vaghotan River, in the Sindhudurga district. A 1995 exploration and excavation by National Institute of Oceanography yielded few shards of Chinese ceramics, chalcedony nodules and the wooden logs of wrecked ships. But none have been dated. The onshore and near shore structures revealed seem to be of recent (Maratha) origin.

Alternatively, Periplus’ Byzantium could be Vaijayanti or Jayantipura, better known as Banavasi, in the Uttara Kannada district. This is obviously not a port, lying on the eastern slopes of the Sahyadri in the Malenadu countryside. But that it was a major trading hub, is very probable; Periplus does not specify Byzantium as a port; calls it a ‘market-town’. Hwen Thsang refers to it as Kong-kien-na-pu-lo, which Cunningham reads to be Konkana-pura, the city or capital of Konkan. [Cunningham, 1871: The Ancient Geography of India, Vol. I, 553] But intriguingly, Burgess’s report on the inscriptions in Buddhist rock temples at Karle refers to Vaijayanti as “a town on the coast of Konkan”. [Burgess & Pandit, 1881: Inscriptions from the Cave Temples of Western India, 28] Was there another town by name Vaijayanti on the coast of Konkan, which Periplus referred to as Byzantium? Could Schoff be right? Or was Burgess simply giving expression to the fact that Banavasi was the capital of Konkan that extended to the sea?

Probably at this point we need to draw our attention to the fact that ‘ports’ and ‘market-towns’ at this time were less ‘official’, in the sense of being developed by a state authority, and were more the results of a free enterprise; they could have been organised by merchants’ guilds. This is the impression that one gets from the story of Purna we have seen earlier. This probably explains the existence of several small ports in close proximity. Of course this does not rule out the contribution of kings in the development of ports and market-towns, at least in later times; we see the evidence of this, for instance, in the Shilahara plates. [Valipattana – The Shilahara Capital, July 23 2017] The maritime trading expeditions too seem to have been organised in a similar manner. [The Story Of Purna, April 22, 2018] That raises of question of naval battles, depicted, for instance, on Eksar hero stones. Piracy seems to have been a big problem for the trade. Schoff infers “from the few words in the Periplus” that the South Konkan and Kanara coasts were those more particularly infested by pirates. Possibly the merchant’s guilds or just group of merchants trading across the oceans, organised for defence of the fleets. Not very different from what is happening today along the east coast of Africa and the entrance to the Persian Gulf; shipping companies are hiring mercenary forces to protect the ships plying in this area.

Our search for ports and market-towns could lead us to our roots; that is the reason I said, we need to search for the archaeological remains of ports in the Zuari bay or along the river; for that is where we have supposed the kathiyavadi chaadd’ddi landed and settled in Goa.


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