Culture Ministry is collaborating with Indian Navy to bring back a stitched ship, of which building has started in Goa. Set for a maiden voyage in 2025, the project will explore the original routes of times gone by. Sanjeev Sanyal, Member, PM Economic Advisory Council, is an active historian who is behind this pilot project. We caught up with him, in a brief conversation, to understand the nuances of re-creating history.
What’s the big idea behind this? What is its significance?
The idea is to build an ancient Indian ship and explore the original routes that sailed. To the extent possible, the ancient techniques will be retained so that we can understand exactly how maritime links were maintained in ancient times. I had collected a lot of material about the history of ancient maritime links for my book Ocean of Churn. Am now using it to design the ship.
What is stitching a boat mean?
India has a very long maritime history going back to the Bronze Age. This ship will replicate a ship from circa 4th century AD as depicted in a painting in Ajanta. Other inputs, including ancient texts, carvings and descriptions by foreign travellers. An interesting aspect of ancient Indian ship technology was that the vessels were “stitched together” rather than nailed. This technique was used for thousands of years but went into decline after the Europeans came to dominate the Indian Ocean.
Why now this project?
The technique is alive with very few remaining shipbuilders who make small boats and it may go extinct soon. Hence, this ship is a way to record the technique for posterity.
How much of this effort enjoys the seal of our Navy? Who are the other collaborators?
The stitched ship is being built through the collaboration of Union Ministry of Culture and the Indian Navy. Of course, I will be closely involved in the design, building and eventual voyage. The Navy will also help sail it and sailors will have to specially trained for managing an ancient ship. This is no easy task as we do not quite know the sailing characteristics of a stitched ship. It will be all learning on the job.
Is there a broader outreach behind this initiative?
The idea is to sail this ship from Odisha, India to South East Asia and create goodwill visits along the way. We will be also documenting both the construction and voyage. Many history and sailing enthusiasts have expressed keen interest. We hope to display it in the new Maritime Museum in Lothal after the voyages are done.
What is the present status of the project?
The construction started in mid-September 2023 in Goa and will take 18 months. Then there will be 6 months of sailing along the coast for testing.
When is the scheduled sail?
We hope to be ready in second half of 2025.
Will it be one time or become an ongoing new adventure?
As a project it is a one-time experiment. Of course, the idea is to trigger continued interest in India’s maritime history. Others may take up other projects.
How has the PM responded?
He was very happy to hear about it and has given us enthusiastic support. We would not have been able to put together such a project without his support.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sanjeev Sanyal is a member of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. He has worked on several editions of the Economic Survey of the Ministry of Finance. He has authored several books, including ‘Revolutionaries’, that was recently released by Home Minister Amit Shah.