Bengaluru: Indians had knowledge of harnessing monsoon winds for navigation long before Hippalus, the Greek mariner and acclaimed discoverer of monsoon winds, according to a study by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa.
"The people of Indus Valley Civilisation were already using monsoon wind and currents for maritime trade and navigation in 2500 BC," NIO scientist Sila Tripati has reported in a recent issue of the journal Current Science.
Tripati has traced the origin of navigation in India with the aid of archaeological findings and literary sources.
He says his research positively disproves the belief that Hippalus, the Greek mariner and merchant who lived during the first century B.C., is the discoverer of monsoon winds and the direct monsoon route from the Red Sea to India over the Indian Ocean. These were known to Indians "much before him", Tripati reports.
The report says that archaeological findings of the Indus Valley Civilization, as well as the Vedic and Sangam period texts, suggest that Indian mariners during the Indus Valley Civilisation as well as in the later period, who were trading in the Indian Ocean and adjoining seas, had knowledge about monsoon wind and currents and their use in maritime trade and navigation.
Monsoon is a seasonal wind that reverses direction twice a year. Archaeological and historical evidences indicate that sailors of Orissa (now Odisha) were aware of the use of monsoon winds and currents for more than 2,000 years.
"This study shows that the sailors from Odisha set sail during the northeast monsoon and returned during the southwest monsoon. The winds and currents were favourable during their voyages," says the report.
The Rig Veda -- the oldest literary work of the Indian subcontinent -- as well as the later Vedic period texts, vividly mention the monsoon winds, and oceanic circulations and terms related to ships and shipping, says the report.
For instance, several hymns in the Rig Veda refer to the wind, waves and tides, and monsoon winds are termed as "maruts" in it.
Similarly, the archaeological findings from Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal suggest that maritime trade existed between the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley Civilisations. "Undoubtedly, people of the Indus Valley Civilisation sailed across the Arabian Sea," according to Tripati.
The Harappan seal recovered from excavations depicts a ship with mast and sail, while a seal and a terracotta amulet from Mohenjo-Daro depict a ship with cabin and birds. Clay model boats have been found from Lothal excavations.
"There is no change in the seasons of monsoon over the past 2,000 years or so and the prevailing social festivals celebrated during northeast and southwest monsoons indicate the past glory of India's maritime trade," says the report.
(K.S. Jayaraman is a veteran science writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)