In the aftermath of New Delhi’s diplomatic achievement in hosting the G20 summit, the government is reaching further back in time to showcase its ancient heritage as a naval ship-building and ocean-going power.
The government’s aim appears to be to create for India a narrative of a centuries-old naval power that the modern navy can hark back to. This would allow India to match 15th century Ming-era China, when the famous eunuch admiral, Zheng He, led a reputedly armada of huge warships and treasure ships to carry the Chinese flag to faraway destinations.
Zheng He’s success was nipped in the bud after six successful voyages, when his mentor, the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Emperor, died in 1424 AD. His son, the Hongxi Emperor, ordered an end to the voyages and the burning of the Chinese fleet. Many Chinese strategic thinkers, to this day, blame the ease with which western colonial powers subjugated Qing-era China on the lack of attention given to naval power in recent centuries.
India has created an ancient ocean-going narrative, centred on the port of Lothal in Gujarat. On Tuesday, a project will be inaugurated in Goa for the revival of what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has termed in a press release on Monday as “an ancient maritime marvel – the stitched ship.”
“In a momentous initiative by the government, the Indian Navy, Ministry of Culture, and Hodi Innovations, Goa, are collaborating to reconstruct an ancient stitched ship, reminiscent of the ships that once sailed the oceans on India's ancient maritime trade routes,” stated the MoD release.
The government said: “This endeavour, deeply embedded in India’s cultural and civilisational heritage, is a symbol of our nation’s rich shipbuilding legacy. Extensive research and consultation with a wide spectrum of subject matter experts have been instrumental in conceptualising this ambitious project.”
This initiative involves multiple ministries. The Navy is overseeing the ship’s design and construction and would be sailing the ship along what the government identifies as “ancient maritime trade routes”.
The Ministry of Culture has fully funded this project, while the Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of External Affairs will support the project to ensure seamless execution of the international voyage. The Project has been approved by the National Implementation Committee.
The stitching work in the construction of this ship will be undertaken by a team of traditional shipwrights, led by Babu Sankaran, who the MoD says is an expert in stitched ship construction. This technique involves shaping wooden planks into the shape of a hull, using a steaming method. The planks will then be stitched together, using a combination of coconut fibre, resin, and fish oil.
“Once the ship is ready, a unique voyage will be undertaken by the Indian Navy along the traditional maritime trade routes using ancient navigation techniques,” said the MoD.