ROUTE it through the seas
Trading is not new to India. The sea route was favoured by early traders to bring and take products from the country. They timed their journey with the monsoon winds to ensure quick and efficient travel.
In the old days, Arab traders using the sea route watched for the monsoon winds that would take them to ports in India. They loaded their ships with spices and silks and returned with the summer monsoon. The Indian peninsula is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the south-west and the Bay of Bengal on the south-east, making it ideal for sea trade. The country was strategically placed between China and Europe and had potential for high revenue.
Trade with foreign countries began as early as the Harappan civilisation. The Harappans exported gold to West Asia and wool to China by land. They also traded in spices like cinnamon and black pepper, clothing dyes like indigo and luxuries like pearls. From China, they transported silk and pottery to West Asia. Around 600 BC, Indian traders began to use the sea route and ports along the coast became significant.
The port at Arikamedu (near Puducherry) traded in pearls and beads with The Philippines in the east and West Africa in the west. By 800 AD, Indian manufacturers began selling cotton cloth, silk, and glass beads to Arab and African traders, who sailed with the cloth to East Africa and brought back African ivory, gold, and slaves. Romans too frequented India to buy silk. Historical records state that they landed in the ancient Tamil country (present day Southern India and Sri Lanka) which was then ruled by the Pandya, Chola and Chera dynasties. Augustus came with 120 ships from Myos Hormos (Red Sea port) to trade in spices.
Sumerian records state that Kerala has been a major spice exporter from as early as 3000 BC. Its fame attracted the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians. And later, the Arabs and Phoenicians. In the last centuries BCE, the coast became important to the Greeks and Romans. The most prominent ports at that time were Muziris, Berkarai and Nelcynda. The value of Rome’s annual trade with the region was estimated at around 50,000,000 sesterces (an ancient Roman coin).
Sangam literature talks of Roman ships coming to Muziris laden with gold in exchange for pepper. During the reign of Ptolemy VIII, king of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, Eudoxus of Cyzicus (an ancient town in Turkey) is one of the earliest recorded traders. His visit is dated around 118 or 166 BCE.
Merchants from West Asia and Southern Europe established coastal posts and settlements in Kerala. The Jewish connection with Kerala started in 573 BCE. From the fourth century BCE onwards, Arabs also had trade links with Kerala. Herodotus (a Greek historian – 484–413 BCE) noted that goods brought by Arabs from Kerala were sold to the Jews at Eden.
After the arrival of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Jews and Arabs came the Portuguese and the Dutch from Europe. The Calicut Port gained popularity with the arrival of the Portuguese sailor Vasco Da Gama in 1498. Spices such as pepper, cloves and cinnamon were the commodities traded.
Today, India has 13 ports and 187 minor ports. The country’s international trade by sea amounts to over 90 per cent of its foreign trade.
Mumbai Port: One of the biggest, it is also the busiest of all the ports in India. It was built in June 26, 1873. Established by the Portuguese to ship silk, muslin, chintz, rice, cotton and tobacco, was popularly known as the gateway to India. The port is the reason for Mumbai being known as the commercial capital of India. Today, the port specialises in import of petroleum products, liquid chemicals and mineral oil and exports consist of cotton textiles, leather, tobacco, manganese, machinery, chemical goods.
Tuticorin Port: The port at Tuticorin was constructed around the sixth century and is the centre for maritime trade and pearl fishery. It was established by the Dutch. What started out as a port to trade pearls soon became the only pearl trading centre in India. Today it deals with trade of coal, salt, food grains, edible oil, sugar, and petroleum products and its trading is mainly with Sri Lanka.
Kolkata Port: It was established by the British East India Company after it received trading rights from Mughal emperor Aurangzeb around the 1870s. It played an important role in the Second World War being bombed twice by Japanese forces. A riverine port, it is the only one to have two docks — Kolkata and the Haldia. The former has the largest dry dock in India. It exports jute products, tea, coal, steel, iron ore, copper, leather and imports are mainly that of machinery, crude oil, paper, fertilizer and chemical products.
Chennai Port: The third oldest port, it is the second largest and was built in 1881. Chennai’s port has an artificial harbour. Its initial piers were built in 1861 but were destroyed by two storms in 1868 and 1872. The Portuguese arrived in the 1520s followed by the Dutch and the British. In 1693, the East India Company set up their factory trading in fish, spices (cloves, nutmeg and mace) silk, muslin and artefacts.
Lothal Port: An ancient city, Lothal was located in Ahmedabad District. Lothal was an important port city of India. The port was important as it served as a check point for and entry and exit from the country. The remains of this port were discovered in 1954 as a part of the Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed to have been used for export of jewellery, textiles and mineral ores.
Marmugao Port: It is an old port and is located on the west coast. It flourished as a trade route point between India and Persia, Turkey and Arabia. It is one of the premier iron ore exporting ports with an annual26.74 million tonnes of iron ore traffic. It served as a point for shipping of a variety of products, most important of which were horses, minerals like iron ore, manganese and mica and spices like pepper, ginger. Other items of export were velvets, silk, muslin, china ware, areca and betel
Kandla Port – Situated 90 kms from the Gulf of Kutch, the Kandla port was constructed in 1950 after the Partition. It is the second largest port (EARLIER YOU SAID CHENNAI WAS SECOND LARGEST) as it handles a large quantity of cargo. It was the first export processing port in India. The major imports that enter Kandla port are Petroleum, Steel and iron machinery, chemicals and salt, textiles and grains. It is not only the busiest but also the the richest port.
Visakhapatnam Port – Located in the Bay of Bengal this port was inaugurated by Lord Willingdon on December 19,1933. This port handles around 1.2 lakh tonnes of cargo every year. What’s unique about Visakhapatnam is that it has three main harbours: the outer harbour, the inner harbour and the fishing harbour. The port deals with the trade of iron ore, pellets, coal, Alumina and oil.
Jawaharlal Nehru Port: It is best known for being the largest container port in India located east of Mumbai. Constructed on May 26, 1989, the Jawaharlal Nehru port is completely controlled by the Indian Government. Named after two of the villages its situated in, the port is also called the Nhava Sheva.
Port Blair Port – Situated in the Andamans and Nicobar Island, it is the youngest sea port in India and is connected to the mainland of India through ship and flight.
Paradip Port – A deep water port that is situated on the coast of Orissa, the port allows it to handle heavy and bulk containers. This port mainly deals with iron-ore and coal and Iron-ore is exported to Japan in huge quantities. This port’s exports are always double the amount of its imports. This is the only port that can boast of its own railway system to make transport easy.
Cochin Port – Situated between two islands of Willingdon and Vallarpadamit is undoubtedly one of the largest ports and the fastest growing one too. Its export mainly consists of tea,coffee and spices while its imports consists mineral oil and chemical fertilizers. It is also a centre for shipbuilding.
Ennore Port – The 12th largest port in India, its situated 24 kms away from Chennai and is India’s first corporate port. The port has both road and railway links to ease transport. It mainly deals with the transport of coal and handles of over 16 million tonnes of coal per year. Apart from coal it also deals with trade of iron ore, petroleum products and chemicals.
New Mangalore Port: Located at the southern tip of the Karnataka coast, the port exports commodities such as granite stones, cashew, manganese and coffee and imports products like LPG, timber and cargo containers.